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.

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Selecting a Bluetooth headset is a very personal decision that involves many variables. For me, comfort, audio quality and battery life are at the top of my list.

Motorola's CommandOne came close on all counts except for battery life, and the Plantronics Voyager Pro UC was just too bulky and heavy for me. The Jabra Stone2 didn't get loud enough, and i.Tech's EasyChat 306 was too basic for my needs.

With that in mind, I consider the Jawbone ERA to be the best compromise among these competing interests. It can run for a full workday and had very good sound, and I was able to wear it for hours on end, often forgetting I had it on.

How we tested

To gauge how these five Bluetooth headsets perform, I gave them each a good workout with two phones (a Sony Ericsson W518a and a BlackBerry 8800 smartphone), an iPad and a notebook computer over a one-month period. During business hours, I used each extensively for making and taking phone calls.

If the headset came with a Bluetooth dongle, I used it with the dongle but also tried to use the laptop's built-in Bluetooth.

I started by measuring and weighing each headset and rating it for comfort, based on whether it fit correctly in my ear and was stable on my head. For those that came with multiple ear inserts, I tried them all out and picked the one that felt best. I then checked to see if the headset could be used on the left as well as the right ear.

Audio quality is a key concern, and with the headset connected to the phone, I made several calls and rated their quality in a quiet office and in a car with the windows open moving at 50 miles per hour. I made dozens of calls with each headset, to land-line and mobile phones and via Skype. With an assistant on the other end of a call, we both rated the audio quality of the call. I also left several messages on a digital answering machine to hear and rate the audio quality.

Next, I used the headset's buttons to take, reject or dial new calls, followed by trying out the voice control features of those headsets that included it.

After setting up a call, I walked away, noted where the connection was lost and walked back slowly to see if it automatically reconnected. If the headset had Bluetooth's A2DP audio-streaming technology, I played music on the phone to see if it could be streamed to the headset.

Then I completely charged the battery overnight and checked the battery level for those with a battery gauge. For those that required a dock for charging, I tried it out. Finally, I set up a call between a land-line phone and my cell phone, put the phone's handset next to a radio and let it play until the headset's battery was dead. I repeated this three times for each headset and averaged the results.

5 Bluetooth headsets -- performance

i.Tech EasyChat 306 Jabra Stone2 Jawbone ERA Motorola Command One Plantronics Voyager Pro UC
Battery life (hrs:min) 2:08 2:25 4:57 4:02 7:37
Connection range (ft.) 30 33 45 25 42

Brian Nadel is a freelance writer based near New York and is the former editor in chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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