Wires or Bluetooth? Headphones or earbud? Normally having a multitude of options is a good thing but when it comes to choosing a hands-free device where does one even begin? You read the reviews and most don't answer the questions consumers really want to know. Examples of those would be; "Will my glasses knock the headset off my ear?", "Is it comfortable enough to be worn for long periods of time?" or "Since I'm paying so much for it, can I use it with my MP3 player as well?". I really wanted to see the difference between some of the top sellers from each area (earbud headset, headphones & wired headset) and really put them to the test of the "average" consumer. I judged each of these on a 1.0 to 5.0 scale, 5.0 being the highest. I also tried to explain why I gave each device a certain score because some would say the wired device doesn't even compare to the other two. Everyone's preference is different so I wanted to make sure all styles of headsets were represented.
Jawbone Icon (The Hero) - 5.0
This headset is packed with options. Not only does it come in several different colors each with a different design & name (This one is The Hero) but it also comes with several ear buds & an earloop for you to customize the perfect fit. There is also an option to change the automated voice (male & female) once you log onto the Jawbone website & register. This headset even has the option to download software to use the headset for music & GPS turn-by-turn directions (A2DP - free download) as well as speaking your SMS text messages/emails (this is a paid app called Dial2Do - & is $40 a year) & more.
BlackBerry Premium Wired Headset (3.5mm) - 3.0
This old school style headset offered a bit more when it came to customizing. It has 3 different size ear gels and came with 3 removable colored plates (Red, black & silver with the BlackBerry logo) that attach to the ear piece. I could see those coming in handy if you had more than one set in the household belonging to different people. It also came with a nice leather carrying case with storage pockets inside for the extra ear gels & plates (or even a spare BlackBerry battery).
Plantronics BackBeat 903 - 1.0
You get what you see & that's it. Only comes in one color and you can't adjust the length of the cord. These headphones already have the A2DP software installed and ready to go straight out of the box so that was a point in its favor.
*See video for demonstration
Plantronics BackBeat 903 - 5.0/5.0
Again, with this device there is no additional software to download so set-up is already complete straight out of the box. Pairing of the device is accomplished in a few steps. The headphones can also be used with a laptop and Bluetooth enabled MP3 devices. *There is also a BackBeat 906 which comes with an adapter to allow you to use the headset with non-Bluetooth enabled MP3 devices.
Jawbone Icon - 4.5/5.0
In order to setup this device, it's recommended you visit the company's website and download the additional software for A2DP with the included USB cable. While this does take a few minutes, it's worth it. Pairing of this device is very simple and is accomplished in a couple of steps. A bonus to this device is the ability to pair two devices at once (say a business cellular device & a personal cellular device) & easily switch between the two similar to call-waiting.
BlackBerry Premium Wired Headset (3.5mm) - 5.0/NA
There is no additional software to add to this device so no setup was needed & since this is a wired headset there was no need to pair it. It is recommended that your cellular device have OS 4.6 or higher (I also tried it on a BlackBerry with OS 4.5 and the headset worked just fine). You plug it in & you're ready to go. I tried using on my MP3 device and though it allowed me to hear the music I was unable to use any of the control buttons.
To test each of these devices for comfort & fit I wore each device for a full day (9 AM till approximately 9 PM). While I know the "average" consumer doesn't usually wear it that long, I make a 13 hr drive one way about every other month.
Jawbone Icon - 5.0/4.0
This device is so light that I actually forgot I was wearing it. This was by far the most "secure" feeling of the devices I tried when it came to exercising or just general running around throughout my day. I had no problem wearing this device with glasses even with the optional ear hook attached. I thought I had selected the correct size earbuds but by the end of the day my ear was a tiny bit sore.
BlackBerry Premium Wired Headset (3.5mm) - 3.5/4.0
I've never been a fan of having the earbud directly in my ear canal so that irritated me a little bit. The cord was long enough that I could still place my BlackBerry in my car console area like usual or even in my pocket while exercising. The cord did get caught on my button up shirt once or twice so I can see the advantage of being "wireless". The fit was secure and not once did I feel like they were slipping out.
Plantronics BackBeat 903 - 4.0/2.0
Once you get this device in place they are pretty comfortable & they are very lightweight. I ended up wearing them around my neck however because I couldn't get them to stay on my ears. With the back "cord" on the headphones being so short it kept sliding one way or the other and would eventually slide off my shoulder. I had several others try them on and it seemed to fit men better than women. The headphones were a bit hard to wear with sunglasses but not with my regular glasses (I'm thinking this is due to my sunglasses having thicker earpieces then my glasses). These are promoted as being great for exercising but I just found them more of a hassle as they fell off if I tried to lie down.
BlackBerry Premium Wired Headset (3.5mm) - 5.0
The controls for this headset are on the cord that connects the device to your cell and there is no power button. The one set of controls is used for both music & calls. There is a volume up/down button, skip forward button, play/pause button & skip backwards button. I found these controls the easiest to use since I could actually see the buttons in front of me.
Plantronics BackBeat 903 - 4.5
On this device the controls are split between the two different sides of the device & the power button is on the back of the left earpiece. All of the "phone" controls (as well as the microphone) are on the left earpiece while all "audio" options are on the right earpiece. The volume button is a little tricky at first as it's on the earbud of the right ear piece. I had to readjust the earpiece each time I adjusted the volume.
Jawbone Icon - 4.0
There are only two controls for the Icon, a switch on the underside of the device & a button on the back of the unit. To turn the device on/off you just slide the switch. It took me awhile to get the button options correct which is why I gave it the rating I did. Pushing the button once makes the automated voice speak your approximate battery life remaining while holding the button down activates the voice dialing option. When you're ready to end a call you just push the button once. While on a call, you can adjust the volume by pressing the button. A tone will sound when you've reached the max or min volume. You can set the volume during one call & the device will save the setting until you change it.
*See video for sound test
Jawbone Icon - 5.0
Call quality on this device was by far the best out of the three. I could hear all my callers clearly & they in turn said that they could tell I was using a hands-free device but the quality was almost as good as talking directly into my BlackBerry. The NoiseAssassin software on this device is amazing & you can even turn it off to demonstrate the difference while on a call. This software combined with the Voice Activity Sensor actually distinguishes your voice from background noise & filters out the noise. Music on this device was great but I don't think I would generally use it for that since I prefer the "stereo" effect for music. The automated voice is clear & easy to understand (my husband loved having the sexy voiced Bombshell whispering in his ear). The automated voice can only be heard by you & not your callers. I did notice that I had to stay within 6 feet of my device or the call would start to have some static.
Plantronics BackBeat 903 - 4.5
One nice feature on this device was the ability to use the OpenMic button which allows you to hear your surroundings (awesome to have while driving). The stereo sound is amazingly clear even on a call & has a bass-boost feature. If listening to music, the device will automatically pause if a call comes in & resume once the call has ended. With this device I was also only able to be about 6 feet away from device when the call would start to have some static.
BlackBerry Premium Wired Headset (3.5mm) - 3.5
As with the BackBeat, the BlackBerry headset was great for listening to music & I could hear my callers clearly but they complained about outside noise making it hard for them to hear me. I also didn't like not being able to hear my surroundings as well while wearing this device. Since this is a wired device I pretty much had to have my device within arm's reach.
Plantronics BackBeat 903 - 5.0
This device boasts 7 hours of talk/listening time & 7 days in standby mode. I made 14 calls each ranging from 10 minutes or more as well as listening to music & watching videos and the device was still going strong. To find out how much battery life is remaining you simply tap the Power button & the red indicator light flashes a certain number of times for each level (1 = more than 2/3 full, 2 = 1/3 - 2/3 full & 3 = less than 1/3 full). By the end of the day the blinking light option showed that I still had more than 2/3 of a charge left on my device.
Jawbone Icon - 4.5
This device says it has approximately 4.5 hours of talk/listening time & 10 days in standby mode. I made 11 calls each ranging from 10 minutes or more as well as listening to music & watching videos. By 9 PM that night I still had approximately 1 hour of talk time available. You can find out your battery life remaining by simply pressing the button once & the voice (mine was the sexy Antonio Banderas wanna-be Hero voice) will tell you, even while on a call.
BlackBerry Premium Wired Headset (3.5mm) - NA
This headset will always be "fully charged" and ready to use. I decided it wouldn't be fair to rank this device on a battery life category since there is no battery.
These ratings are based on my experiences while using the devices. I threw in the wired set in order to show the variety available & to give an option to those who may have the Bluetooth option unavailable on their devices due to company security policies. Each of these devices would get the job done and save me from a costly ticket here in Illinois but I'd have to say the Jawbone Icon would be my first choice with all the extras & features.