Holiday gift ideas: cell phones, smartphones and accessories

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Voyager PRO Bluetooth headset, by Plantronics

The latest premium Bluetooth headset by Plantronics, this noise-canceling headset is designed to appeal to mobile professionals who spend a lot of time on their phones and want performance and a business-acceptable look and feel. The Voyager PRO is designed much like an earlier Voyager product, the very popular Voyager 510, in which the battery is part of the behind-the-ear portion of the headset (rather than have the bulky part sit on the front of the headset). This design creates a more comfortable fit on the ear, as the user also doesn't have to jam something in their ear, and the flexible earloop creates a very comfortable fit. This allows the power users to keep their headset attached to their ear all day without getting the "I have an annoying headset on my ear" feeling.

Plantronics says the Voyager PRO features up to six hours of talk time and up to five days in standby mode, and offers audio alerts to the users when the battery is running low (at 30 minutes left, you get a "low battery" vocal warning, and at 10 minutes you get another warning asking you to recharge the battery). A "mute" function (by pressing the + and – volume buttons at the same time) is aimed at workers who may want to listen in on conference calls but not have their ambient noise be heard.

Noise-cancellation features on a headset are almost a requirement these days for a premium Bluetooth headset, and the Voyager PRO delivers, with dual noise-canceling microphones, Plantronics' Audio IQ2 proprietary technology and up to 80 db of noise cancellation. In addition to reducing ambient noise, the Voyager PRO includes "wind noise reduction", in which three levels of wind noise is reduced for users who want to talk on their phones while outdoors. The headset also features stainless steel wind screens and special acoustic fabric (made from the same folks who make Gore-Tex) to help separate speech from the wind. In my test calls with the headset, nobody complained or asked whether I was on a headset, the true judge of whether noise-cancellation is working or not.

The killer reason to try this headset is for its inbound noise improvements. Recognizing that communication is a two-way street, the Voyager PRO includes inbound audio quality so that the headset owner can hear the conversation as well. On earlier noise-canceling headsets I've tried, the person on the receiving end could hear my voice just fine, but I was stuck struggling to hear them. On the Voyager PRO, the custom speaker includes an adaptive 20-band equalizer and self-adjusting volume feature that adapts to the noise level around the user and increases or decreases the volume to a proper level. This made calls on the headset more enjoyable for both parties involved.

There are some downsides: In one noisy environment (a mall food court), the self-adjusting volume feature overcompensated a bit, and the volume in my ear got a little loud. Also, not so much a caveat but a warning – the headset is very comfortable on the ear, so you have to remember to take it off if it's raining outside, as the device is not weather-proof.

Cool Yule Rating: 5 starsPrice: $100Product Web site.Reviewed by Keith Shaw ~~

BlueAnt S1 Bluetooth Car Kit

The BlueAnt S1 is a fairly straightforward Bluetooth car kit – it is not a headset. Rather, this unit is placed on the visor of your automobile. Preferably the driver's side. And you can answer by yelling "Answer" at it.

It's a pretty good size, but it won't obstruct your view of the road. The buttons are large and well labeled – you won't fumble around trying to hang up. The speaker works great, audio quality is good (but of course dictated by your phone's reception), and the microphone works well. You charge and recharge by using a mini-USB cord, so if you have a GPS or BlackBerry, you can charge it in the car or at home with those cords.

The S1 did an admirable job isolating road noise on a call I placed to my credit card company’s customer service department. While driving across another torn up road on Interstate 84 in – you guessed it! – Connecticut, I hit a patch of grooved pavement – which I knew was coming eventually since I was in Connecticut. Knowing it was coming eventually, I placed the call. As we spoke, there was occasionally some hesitation on the part of the operator, but never once was I asked to repeat myself during the call. And I could hear just fine. Plus I wasn't hit by another errant shredded tire!

The unit does a good job staying on the visor too. I figured it would be a problem if, in an effort to block out sunlight, I had to quickly pull the visor down and have the unit fly into my lap or steering wheel. So I tried flinging the visor down as quickly as possible, but the thing never budged. I'm pretty confident it won't randomly fall out of place.

I'm not sure whether the S1 would be a complete alternative to a full-on headset, but for those still trying to avoid the Borg look of always having something in your ear (resistance is futile, you'll join us eventually), this is a safe and practical alternative … while you're on the road, anyways. At home or in the office and you're on your own.

Cool Yule Rating: 2 starsPrice: $59.99Product Web Site.Reviewed by Daniel Hunt

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This story, "Holiday gift ideas: cell phones, smartphones and accessories" was originally published by Network World.

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