Hands-on: The Jawbone Icon headset has style, a voice and an apps store

Aliph's latest Jawbone headset offers consumers six styles, voice feedback and the ability to download apps.

The Jawbone has always been the fashion queen of consumer Bluetooth headsets, and the Jawbone Icon upholds that reputation with flair. Dubbed with names such as "The Hero," "The Thinker" and "The Bombshell," Aliph's new $99 headset comes in six distinctive -- and, I have to admit, good-looking -- styles.

What's cool about it? The new Jawbone Icon isn't just handsome, it's very lightweight and quite nicely designed. For one thing, the headset now actually has a small but convenient on/off switch (rather than depending on a press of a button or a combination of buttons, the way many headsets do). Aliph has also moved the main button, which allows you to answer or hang up a call, to the end of the headset in a visible position; in the previous model, the Jawbone Prime, it was purposefully invisible, which may have helped the look of the gadget, but made the button difficult to find.

Another improvement over the Prime is that the Icon uses a standard micro USB cable to power it -- either from your computer using a USB connection or via an included AC power adaptor. It's much handier than the rather weird magnetic cable that the Prime employed.

Aliph has also given this Jawbone a voice; it tells you when you are successfully redialing or using voice dial; reports what number it's calling; and informs you of your battery status.

Don't like the standard voice? You can change it. Interestingly, Aliph has decided to incorporate the idea of an apps store in its new product. Jawbone MyTalk is a Web site that offers various ways to update and personalize the product. You plug the Icon into your computer via the USB cable and follow the directions on the site.

Jawbone Icon headset
Aliph's Jawbone Icon is a well-designed and snazzy-looking device, complete with its own app store.

At the time of this review, it offered the chance to use one of several different types of voices for the Jawbone messages (again with rather cutesy names such as "The Rogue," "The Thinker" and "The Ace"); you can also turn the voice off. (I chose to download "The Ace," and was thereafter greeted by a rather saucy British lady.)

You can also choose one of a few free "dial apps" (where the Icon will automatically dial through to the app), including 411 for directory assistance, and Jott and Dial2Do, both of which provide a way to text, e-mail or (in the case of Jott) tweet via voice.

I found general call quality to be quite acceptable; the Jawbone's built-in noise suppression seemed quite effective. I had no problem hearing any of my calls in reasonably noisy environments, and my callers reported that my voice was clear and audible.

What needs to be fixed? I did have a couple of minor complaints. First, there is no direct way to physically alter the volume of the headset. During a call, you can adjust the volume using your phone, of course. But although I found the Icon's information "voice" to be slightly too loud for comfort, I found no way to turn it down.

In addition, the Jawbone Icon doesn't come equipped with A2DP, the protocol that lets stereo-quality audio stream via Bluetooth, which is too bad in such an obviously consumer-based device. An Aliph rep I talked to was of the opinion that consumers would rather listen to music in stereo than through a single-ear device; but personally I'd rather listen using one ear and then be able to quickly switch to a call than have to start juggling earpieces.

Final verdict: Aliph has shown a lot of savvy in designing its headsets; in the Jawbone Icon it offers consumers a reasonably priced, well-designed and very snazzy-looking device. It will be interesting to see if the idea of an app store in the form of the MyTalk site actually takes off -- and if it's copied by other headset vendors in this increasingly competitive market.

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