Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Headsets by Plantronics, Jawbone hit high notes

If you've ever fussed with a Bluetooth headset, you know that answering calls can sometimes be a tad complicated. Apparently, leading headset makers agree.

A couple of nifty solutions arrive with the two premium headsets I've been testing. The Jawbone Era — which hit stores this week — lets you answer, end or switch calls by tapping against the surface of the headset twice. On the Plantronics Voyager Pro UC, you can answer just by putting the headset up against your ear, without pressing buttons or issuing voice commands.
Jawbone claims the Era is the world's first "motion-controlled" Bluetooth headset: It has a built-in accelerometer that can sense how you move and touch the device. Plantronics employs smart sensors in its Voyager Pro UC that detect when it is being worn.

I had mostly positive experiences testing both headsets on an iPhone. The quality of the audio was generally first-rate. Fancy features aside — the audio quality is what matters most.

Unfortunately, the headsets are pricey. Jawbone Era fetches $130; Voyager Pro sells for $200. At least Voyager does double-duty, as a headset for your smart phone and for PC calling through the likes of Skype. A closer look follows:

Jawbone Era

Jawbone (formerly Aliph) has always been an innovator in the headset space. The company's first Jawbone headset caught people's attention because of the military-grade, noise-canceling technology that kept a caller's voice audible at the same time that loud background noises were suppressed.

Last year, the company unveiled the Jawbone Icon as the first Bluetooth headset with downloadable apps for such actions as voice dialing.

Era, like Icon, is compatible with Jawbone's MyTalk apps website, which now includes a caller ID app that announces a caller's name in a voice that doesn't sound robotic. Another recently unveiled app called Thoughts — this one just for iPhone — lets you record and share voice messages.

The attractive new device felt comfortable against my ear, but I don't love wearing any headset for long periods. Jawbone sells Era in four colors with names only marketers could drum up — midnight, silver lining, shadowbox and smokescreen.

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