We see so many Bluetooth headsets here at CNET that most of them seem the same after awhile. That's why we sit up and notice when a unique one comes along. Last year, for example, we were awed at the stellar audio quality of the Plantronics Discovery 975 and praised the design of the Aliph Jawbone Prime. Aliph, in particular, has been bullish in pushing innovation in its Bluetooth headsets, consistently making it on our top Bluetooth headsets list year after year.
This year, however, it appears that Aliph has outdone itself with quite possibly the most innovative Bluetooth headset yet. It's called the Aliph Jawbone Icon and not only does it come in an array of designs that look as if they belong in an art museum, but it is one of the first headsets in the world to have a built-in "operating system." This internal chip can be programmed to provide a far richer experience than other headsets can; for example, this lets it have a visual battery meter right next to the one on the iPhone. Also, this is the first headset we can think of to have its own line of Audio or Dial "apps" that you can install via Jawbone's own MyTalk Web site.
We do have a few issues with its design, but its outstanding features and improved quality definitely makes the Jawbone Icon the best headset of the year so far--and it's very competitively priced at $99.
Similar to its predecessors, the Aliph Jawbone Icon is unquestionably the most fashionable Bluetooth headset in the market today. The Icon comes in six fashion-forward designs, in different jewel and metallic tones and shapes. All of them have different names: the Ace, the Rogue, the Bombshell, the Hero, the Thinker, and the Catch. The one we looked at was the Ace, which has a clear lens and a mirror finish, resulting in a very jewellike look. In fact, it looks like a piece of costume jewelry when worn on the ear. These names also correspond to different voice "personalities," which we'll get to later in the review.
The overall headset is quite petite in size. Measuring only 1.77 inches long by 0.95 inch wide by 0.72 inch thick, the Jawbone Icon is lightweight as well, about 0.3 ounce. It is slightly curved to sit gently on the side of the face. On the top of the headset is the multifunction talk button. It's a horizontal bar that's wide enough to almost span the width of the headset, plus it is raised above the surface so it's easy to find and press. Next to the talk button is the charger jack.
Flip the headset around and you'll find a power slider switch. This makes it much easier to turn the headset on and off, which also helps conserve its battery life. Below it is a tiny nub that acts as the Voice Activity Sensor. It is best to wear the headset so the sensor touches your cheek to ensure that your voice comes through clearly to your listeners. The audio quality won't be harmed if you don't have it touching your cheek (thanks to Jawbone's new fail-safe acoustic voice detector), but it'll be much better if it is. Surrounding the sensor is a round LED indicator.
Also on the back of the headset is the ear piece. You can either wear it with a special looped ear bud that fits in your ear without a hook, or you can fit in a nonlooped ear bud, plus a hook for added security. You have a choice of ear bud sizes, so you can mix and match until you get your best fit. For us, we found the default looped ear bud works fine for the most part, though we did have to go through quite a bit of practice to get it to fit right. To do so, you have to place it in your ear pointing down, and then twist it upward so the mic points toward the mouth. We did wish the fit was more comfortable; we feel it leads to a bit of ear fatigue after hours of wear.
The Icon is also noticeably missing a volume rocker of any kind. Aliph's justification is the headset already has automatic volume normalization so it is unnecessary. Still, it would be nice to have a manual option.