5 new Bluetooth headsets: Not just for phone calls anymore

These small headsets offer style, features and their own apps. We look at five of the latest models.

A headset can do more than keep your hands on the wheel while you're on the phone. It can free you to take notes while talking with a client, sip coffee during a conference call or even doodle while waiting on hold. In other words, a headset today is essential equipment for anyone who spends a lot of time talking on a mobile phone.

Also, it's the law. Eight U.S. states have laws against driving with a phone in your hand, while 30 ban texting behind the wheel. In other words, if you pick up a phone while driving, you're not only doing something dangerous, but risking a hefty fine.

As a result, it's no surprise that headsets are the most popular Bluetooth accessory, according to ABI figures, with 80 million headsets sold worldwide in 2010, one quarter of which were sold in the U.S. Mike Morgan, senior analyst for mobile devices at market research firm ABI, forecasts that figure will rise to 100 million by 2015.

With so many headsets out there to choose from, where do you start? "The key is comfort," says Morgan. "It needs to stay in the ear for hours on end, and if it doesn't fit right, it ends up in your pocket and is worthless."

But without performance, comfort is meaningless. Morgan reports that after comfort, people generally look for an earpiece that sounds good regardless of whether they're tooling down the highway or sitting in a noisy departure lounge. It also needs to be easy to use, with the ability to use voice commands to dial calls. Finally, battery life is important, especially if you're looking at a full day of on-and-off use between battery charges.

In this roundup, I look at five of the newest Bluetooth headsets, including the i.Tech EasyChat 306, Jabra Stone2, Jawbone ERA, Motorola CommandOne and Plantronics Voyager Pro UC.

With price tags ranging from $50 to $200, these five headsets couldn't be more different from one another. Some are extremely small, while others are larger but have longer battery life -- for example, the EasyChat ran for a little over two hours, while the Voyager Pro UC lasted 7.5 hours.

A number of interesting new features have started appearing among today's Bluetooth headsets. For example, two of the headsets reviewed here -- the i.Tech EasyChat 306 and the Voyager Pro UC -- come with dedicated Bluetooth dongles to help you link the headset to your computer. (Keep in mind, however, that these dongles do not work with other devices.) All but the EasyChat headset came with the ability to download phone apps that work with the headset. And two -- the Jawbone ERA and the Voyager Pro UC -- have introduced technology that allows audio to switch back to your phone automatically when you remove the headset from your ear.

Speaking of audio: If you plan to use your phone for more than calls, you should look for a headset that includes A2DP technology, which allows other types of audio to be streamed through a Bluetooth connection. Of the headsets reviewed here, only the i.Tech EasyChat 306 doesn't offer A2DP.

Over the course of a month, I wore the headsets every day and made hundreds of calls with my phone, as well as with my iPad and my notebook, using Skype's voice-over-IP service. I drove with them, used them while working and made after-hours calls.

I came away with an appreciation for having a small and light headset that not only fits comfortably into the ear but fits my lifestyle as well.

(Next page: i.Tech EasyChat 306)

5 Bluetooth headsets -- features

i.Tech EasyChat 306 Jabra Stone2 Jawbone ERA Motorola Command One Plantronics Voyager Pro UC
Dimensions (in.) 1.7 x 0.9 x 0.5 1.8 x 1.5 x 1.0 2.0 x 0.6 x 1.0 2.1 x 0.8 x 0.4 1.8 x 2.3 x 0.9
Weight (oz.) 0.32 0.25 0.35 0.38 0.83
Ear tips 1 4 8 5 5
Charging options USB AC dock/ USB AC/USB AC/USB AC/USB
Bluetooth dongle Yes No No No Yes
A2DP No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Dedicated on/off No No Yes Yes Yes
Apps No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Case No No Yes No Yes
Price $45 $130 $130 $130 $200
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