Back in May 2009, I reviewed a new Bluetooth headset called the BlueAnt Q1. I thought it was an interesting, if somewhat flawed, device -- it offered an effective use of voice-command technology and good voice quality, but it wasn't all that comfortable to wear.
BlueAnt has now come out with a new version of the product called, logically, the BlueAnt Q2 ($130). The upgrade offers some distinct improvements.
What does it do? The Q2, like its predecessor, is designed for business -- no candy-cane colors here. The textured black surface is broken only by a shiny black edging. At 2.18 by 0.62 by 0.34 inches in size and weighing 0.35 oz., it's slightly heavier than some of its more consumer-oriented competitors.
The Q2, like many newer headsets, has a separate on-off switch -- this one is on the end of the unit next to the Micro USB port. It's not always easy to find on the first try, but it's also highly useful and doesn't get in the way of any other controls. The volume rocker switch is on the upper edge of the unit, while the outer surface has the main multi-function button.
What's cool about it? One of the Q1's best features was its use of voice control, and the folks at BlueAnt have enhanced that nicely. The headset now comes with a variety of features that can make the Q2 a very useful tool.
It's very simple to operate: You press the multifunction button and get a male voice that says, "Say a command." Say something like, "Check battery" or "Redial" and the voice command function gives you the info you want or performs the action you want it to. I thought the "Am I connected?" command was especially handy, because if I wasn't connected, the headset immediately fixed the situation or told me what I needed to do. And if you can't remember what you should say, you can just ask "What can I say?" to get a list of commands.
You can now also upload up to 2,000 contact entries directly into the device; when one of your contacts calls, the headset politely tells you who it is and asks whether you want to accept or ignore the call. It uses Microsoft's Bing-411 service to let you call for stock quotes, movie times, etc. (be aware that this will count as a phone call); Android phone owners can use the Vlingo app to listen to text messages. And it comes with A2DP technology to let you listen to music and other audio.
The outgoing sound quality was excellent -- of the several people I talked to, most couldn't tell that I was talking on a headset rather than directly through a phone; the most critical told me it was "slightly echo-y." Noise control was reasonably good; my contacts had no trouble hearing me, even on a noisy street.
What needs to be fixed? Luckily, my Droid smartphone had been upgraded to Android 2.2, so I was able to test the voice command features of the Q2. It's simple enough: You say "Phone commands," and it activates the phone's voice command function; you can then tell it whom you want to call. However, it took practice -- at first, the Q2 couldn't seem to parse my commands at all. Out of about 10 tries, I only got a correct contact once. Switching the voice sensitivity to "low" helped somewhat -- I was eventually able to get the right contact two times out of three. (Maybe it was my Brooklyn accent?)
In addition, like its predecessor, the Q2 fit reasonably well in my ear, but I didn't find it completely comfortable. This may have been part of the reason why I found the incoming sound quality not as clear as the outgoing audio -- the volume was excellent, but I found the voices to be muddy on occasion.
Bottom line: The BlueAnt Q2's voice-controlled system makes it extremely simple to operate and includes a number of very useful features, such as the A2DP technology, the ability to be told who is calling, and the ability to make calls via voice command. The voice quality is, on the whole, excellent, and while I didn't find the fit all that comfortable, I haven't seen that complaint in other reviews of the product. At $130, the Q2 is a bit more expensive than comparable headsets, but if you like the features, it could be worth it.
Barbara Krasnoff is reviews editor at Computerworld. When she isn't either editing or reviewing, she blogs at The Interesting Bits ... and Bytes; you can also follow her on Twitter (@BarbaraKrasnoff).