Now that technology has made cell phones more popular than watches and handbags, you can't go much of anywhere without seeing someone engaged in conversation with their hand plastered to their ear. This has become a bit of a problem since it ties up on of your hands and distracts you (while driving). That's probably why the most popular accessory since the phone charger itself is now the “bluetooth headset".
What Is a Bluetooth Headset?
Nearly all modern cell phones have “bluetooth" capatibility. Mobile phones equipped with bluetooth have the ability to create a “personal area network" or PAN. A PAN is a short-range radio frequency meant to connect small devices like cell phones, laptops, PC's, digital cameras, printers, video game consoles, etc. So a bluetooth headset is just a small earpiece with a microphone that connects to your cell phone via this short range wireless frequency on your personal area network. Now you know why you see so many people walking around talking to themselves that look like they're from the cast of Star Trek because of the futuristic device attached to their head.
What Makes a Good Bluetooth Headset?
A good bluetooth headset is comfortable and made out of quality materials that will last a long time. It has as decent battery life, and hopefully the audio quality doesn't sound like a semi driving through a tunnel. There are two sides to quality audio and the first is the earpiece. What you hear while talking on the phone through the bluetooth headset is in part determined by the quality of that speaker in the earpiece itself. A very low quality sub-$20 earpiece you bought in a bargain store or flea market is likely to have very tinny audio due to the speaker quality. Without some decent bass and mid-range response you're likely to have problems listening for any extended period of time. The largest factor of quality however lies in the microphone. It's garbage in - garbage out they say, and you'll only hear quality audio if that's what the microphone picks up. The same for the person you've called, the audio they receive on their end is only as good as what your microphone picks up. Often, that quality is affected by your physical location. If you are in a car with an open window, in a subway station, or at a restaurant - the microphone is likely to pickup much more than your voice. In contrast, if it's a nice sunny day at a quiet park or if you're inside on your sofa the headset will likely have much better audio.
What is Noise Cancelling Technology?
Noise Cancelling Technology is where a headset attempts to differentiate between your voice and background noise. It then separates the two to the best of it's ability, canceling out the noise and transferring along only your voice to make the audio quality cleaner. Of course this works with varying degrees of success from poor to stellar. Once again the quality of the noise canceling bluetooth headset (and price paid) are probably pretty good indicators of the audio quality produced. Noise cancelling in bluetooth headsets is also called “Digital Signal Processing" or DSP. Headsets with better noise canceling usually have more than one microphone (two or more) to be able to separate the noise better.
What are the Best Noise Canceling Bluetooth Headsets?
There are a handful that are simply exceptional and really stand out from the crowd you should take note of. I'll tell you what makes each one unique.
The Eliph Jawbone
The Jawbone has been getting absolutely rave reviews since it was first shown at CES early 2008. The Wall Street Journal, c|Net, engadget, Financial Times, and Macworld all give it stellar reviews. On c|Net the user reviews are a bit lower than what the editor's gave it, but all in all they are still above average. It uses “military grade" noise canceling technology. You can usually find it new for $80-100.
The Jabra BT800
There are online reviews of the Jabra BT800 going back as far as 2005, which means this headset has been out awhile. Jabra is the world's largest maker or bluetooth headsets, largely because of their lower pricepoint compared to others on the market. The thing that makes the BT800 popular to this day is what sets it apart - the digital display for caller ID. This is a feature not found in nearly any other bluetooth headset. The DSP in this headset boasts both noise cancelling and echo cancelling. Admittedly since this unit has been out a few years, newer units like the Jawbone will have better DSP, but then again you can get the Jabra BT800 under $40-50 now.
The Blueant Z9
The Blueant Z9 bluetooth headset came on the market in 2007 and retails for about $100. It claims to have advanced noice cancellation that “preserves the natural voice". They call this their “Voice Isolation Technology". In addition this unit has 2 modes for noise cancellation, both standard and “Max". I guess you could be at the market or in a dog kennel and having the options for extreme circumstance can't be all that bad. It's highly rated by most users at tech sites, in fact more highly rated that all the Motorola bluetooth headsets we viewed.
The Jabra 8040
The Jabra 8040 is brand new for 2008 and it has some new features as well that make it stand out. It has MultiPoint technology, which gives it the ability to connect to two different devices at the same time (very handy!). It also seems to be one of the only “mono" headsets on the market with A2DP technology for streaming music wirelessly. You usually only see A2DP in full headphones or speakers. It is listed as having intelligent volume settings, and active noise reduction, but also has “Acoustic Shock Protection" which supposedly protects your ear from sudden spikes in volume. For all these features this Jabra model seems to be a bargain compared to some of the high priced models at it's modest <$60 pricepoint.
Things to remember
If you're in the market for a new bluetooth headset try to get the highest bang for your buck. Spending a little more might result in better audio quality or a more comfortable earpiece. Buying a headset with better DSP or noise cancelling will results in better conversations and more effective use with your cell phone. Shop around and find the best price, and your new noise canceling bluetooth headset may just become your top new must-have gadget and mobile accessory!
John Pratt writes about cell phones and accessories at Used Cell Phones and Cell Phone How To . He's been working online for more than 13 years and his original site The Smorgasbord is all about gadgets and technology.