BlackBerry headset throwdown - Battle of the big three

CrackBerry Idol - Kerri
By Kevin Michaluk on 11 Aug 2010 11:37 pm EDT
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BlackBerry Headset Throwdown - Battle of the big three

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.

Customizable (Making it "yours")

Jawbone Icon (The Hero) - 5.0

Jawbone ICON

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

Premium Headset

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

Plantronics BackBeat 903

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.

Set-up/Pairing (Ready to Use & Ease)

*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.

Comfort/Fit

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.

Controls

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.

Tone Quality

*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.

Battery Life

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.

Conclusion

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.

Overall Rankings

  • 4.6 - Jawbone Icon
  • 3.8 - Plantronics BackBeat 903
  • 3.3 - BlackBerry Premium Wired Headset (3.5mm)
18 comments

Kevin Michaluk

Kevin (aka Ryan Seacrest): Round 2 of CrackBerry Idol is nearing the end, with Kerri being our 7th contestant and third female to hit the blogs here with their featured accessory post. Our judge Georgia (aka Paula) is out tonight (not in rehab - just traveling and experiencing some technical difficulties) so it's on Dieter and Craig to provide the feedback for this one. Let's see what they had to say! 

CrackBerry Idol Judges

Dieter: Your video seemed to contain a little too much 'fluff' at the beginning - showing pictures with the song was nice but a bit long and, well, pretty much everybody these days knows the basics of how bluetooth pairing works. I really liked the level of detail in the written review and the well-formatted sections so people can look at what they care about the most - but why did you change the order in each section?

Craig: Kerri i liked your video with the exception that half of it was taken up explaining how to pair the headsets with your BlackBerry. I don't think it adds to the review in any way. Other than that the video was good. Your written review was very thorough and well written. I don't think that having the wired headset in the mix was a good idea. It seemed out of place.

Kerri Neill

I agree the video was not my best but I had to scrap my original script due to shipping problems (I would've had jets & helicopters otherwise).

As for the wired, it was suggested to include it to show the variety (thanks A lol). This wasn't meant to be a head-to-head but more of an option overview.

arrago

awesome you deserve to move on and phew phew to britney :)

dloeffler

I thought it was really good, there's a lot of in-depth details and comparing, but the beginning of the video was kind of annoying...at first it was funny, but as the song played it seemed to drag on and on and on....but other than that I liked it.

"but why did you change the order in each section?"

@Dieter- Correct me if I am wrong Kerri, but Dieter I think she put them in order of how well they did in each section (first being the product that scored the highest (or had the best numbers) and so on and so forth)...

I could be way out in left field but that's my understanding of it, even though it took me awhile to figure it out....I would just keep them consistent for each....

Kerri Neill

I did place them in the order of which scored highest (at my husband's suggestion. Teach me to listen lol). I also let the beginning run the length it did because others felt the slides moved too fast to read...

trjnberry

Gosh, guys, where have you been! Only a select percentage of BlackBerry users are getting BB OS 6 and even fewer are getting the Torch. For the rest of us, can't we get at least get our CB Idol fix? :D

insman1

The secret is go by a Ford equiped with Sync. Use it. And for those times you're not in the car, use the Jawbone. Simple.

dhyde79

do a backup before you tie your BB to anything with Sync....I've seen a small handful of customers come into my store absolutely livid because they linked their blackberry to their ford and it totally wiped their contacts out....and continued to do it every time they'd load a backup and then connect the vehicle again..... ford dealership blamed the phone so I did a backup, went out, tied mine, lost my phonebook, went back into the store, restored my data, and told the customer they could buy a Jabra speakerphone with FM transmitter if they wanted a painless way, otherwise, they should get used to doing restores every time they got in the car, cause it wasn't the phone(s)

trjnberry

With the video, I felt like I was watching a how-to video on setting up bluetooth. It looked like you were sampling popular headsets to show differences in how to set up the bluetooth. I found the sound tests hard to follow.

As this is a competition, you will be inevitably compared to other contestants. Joseph did an awesome review on a similar batch of headsets, so I found your review tough to watch and read because of what you lacked that he provided. For example, he had pics strategically placed throughout his written review, so you could follow along on with the visuals he provided. You didn't do that, so I got lost and had to re-read your some areas of your review a few times to get the right understanding. (This is an example of why pics are good to have, because sometimes the reader gets caught up in too much verbiage and misreads the material.) In his video, he tested ranges from the base. You mentioned a range here and there, but didn't go into any details. He gave simulated sound, but unlike yours, the way he did it, you knew what headset he was on without any confusion. You explained your video, so that's cool.

What I liked about your review was it was detailed, broken up into sections, ratings were pretty easy to follow. I liked your criteria, evaluating common user perspective with comfort and customization among your criteria. I just wished you had pics to help me with some of the details you wrote about. In two of your sections, your ranking order was off, which affects the flow of the review. But over all, I would say your written review was pretty good and your video was..well, you explained it!

angeluisa

I found it interesting in a way and some kind it cool. But I believe we have lots encountering problem in your products as well like those applications. Hear from your concerns.

Thanks and wish you goodluck.

Angeluisa

The_Adventist

"This video has been removed by the user"

What is up with that?!?

ibcop

it was a good review. Good job, Kerri!

kraski

The problem with a review is that it relies on 1st impressions & personal opinion. I own & use both BT headsets.

Hero: For me, some voices aren't as clear as they need to be. "The Ace" has been the clearest for me. There was no mention that, without a subscription of any kind, there's voice dialing & some voice app control. Audio in both directions is very good, but in ear volume could have been better. Whether the 2 button controls is a plus or minus is a toss up -- either too simple for those who want a lot of control at the headset or perfect for those who like to keep it simple. Button placement could have been better. And the review is right, this isn't a long term wear -- your ear will hurt after awhile. None of the earpieces was exactly right & the hook needed a little rebending.

Backbeat 903: Maybe they had to do it that way to get all the controls in, but having some on one earpiece & some on the other can be confusing, if you're not used to having that many options -- audio controls on the right, phone/call controls on the left. And holding the right center button for 2 seconds turns bass boost on & off. Listening audio is great! Outgoing voice, not so much. I get complaints of me being tinny on the other end. The 903 is very comfortable to wear, but there's an odd twist to the around the neck cable. If you don't properly turn the earpieces before putting them on, the review is right, they won't stay on correctly. Deal with the twist & they sit just right. My only comfort issue is the cord between the two -- there's something about the stiffness that just doesn't cut it, especially if the cord rubs your neck.

My standard of comparison for both is the Plantronics Voyager Pro. Great audio in both directions, just the right amount of control buttons & great placement. The electronics "blob" fits behind the ear & you find that, despite the size, the weight balance & lightness make you soon forget it's there. There's no voice messages for the functions, no A2DP. But, as long as you don't mind looking like you're starting to be assimilated by the Borg, there just plain BT goodness.

Xopher

Okay, I felt the video was a little bit too tutorial. The pairing of bluetooth just took up too much of the video, although "pairing" the wired headset was cute. It was also good to hear the differences between the different devices. I think that was something that was definitely missing from the other bluetooth headset comparison.

I think the written review was well done. I got the whole list-by-ratings for each section. The only big miss in the written review that I saw: PRICE. No prices are listed anywhere.

_X_

This was a hard video to watch, after two+ minutes of fluff I could not watch any more. I liked that you showed what devices you where going to review but spending 1 min on this topic is 1 min too long. Then followed with more than min on the basics of pairing the device I just couldn't watch the video any longer.

The written portion of your review is well done. However again no mention of price, which is one of the more important data points. The way you scored was very confusing. Most reviews give the score and the scale (3.0/5.0). It took me a bit to realize that both your numbers where scores. You did mention the convention, but it was buried in the second to last sentence in you intro.

=X=

Bold_until_Hybrid_Comes

NOT WHAT I WANT TO SEE. ON TO THE NEXT ONE

joryoung

Kerri I think you're written review was very good and detailed. Although I do tend to agree with the video being more tutorial then review. Overall I think you did a very good job and think that throwing the wired headset in was a good idea, and the changing order of sections would have been easier to follow with a little note in the beginning.