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Aliph Jawbone ICON Bluetooth Headset Review

The Holy Grail.  The perfect cherry blossom.  A four leaf clover.  The perfect bluetooth headset.  *BUZZ*  “What are things that are searched for?”  “That is correct!”  Personally I’m interested in the headset, but I wouldn’t mind finding a four leaf clover.  On my quest I’ve found headsets that were almost perfect, but failed for one reason or another.  Will Aliph’s latest Jawbone offering end my searching?  Read on to find out.

First the nitty gritty.  Aliph is known for its small, sleek headsets that have a sensor that rests against your jawbone (see, not just a silly product name) and detects when you’re speaking to eliminate background noise.  I’ve actually never used any previous Jawbone models, so this is my first introduction to this type of noise cancellation.  The ICON is 45 mm long, 18.25 mm wide and 24 mm high.  It weighs a puny 8.2 grams.  It has a very minimal design with a single button in addition to a dedicated on/off switch.  It’s rated for 4.5 hours of talk time and 10 days of standby time.

Image taken from Jawbone.com

The ICON itself is available in six different colors/textures (some are much harder to find online than others) and each are based around a unique “personality”.  You see, unlike other headsets this one talks to you.  Rather than showing you how much battery life is left with beeps, lights or other hard to decipher methods, this one happily tells you “About four hours of talk time remaining”.  When it’s ready to pair, it says “Jawbone is ready, waiting for phone to connect.”  This is actually amazingly simple and useful.  I could never remember if flashing blue was good or bad, and if purple meant I had a lot of battery life left or none.

The different designs are called the Hero, Rogue, Thinker, Ace, Catch and Bombshell.  The photos in this review are Julie’s Rogue, but I personally am using The Thinker in black.  The default voice is a friendly, but somewhat computer sounding female voice.  However, you can customize your ICON with different voices and applications.  In fact, after you register at mytalk.jawbone.com, you can change the voice, load applications, and manage connections on your device.

Use of the Headset

The ICON paired up with no problems to my Droid 1, Droid X and Palm Pre Plus.  To enter pairing mode you just hold the action button while powering it on which causes the indicator light to flash between red and white.  It really couldn’t be easier.

Using the ICON is just as straight forward as pairing it.  Just flip the power switch to on (which shows a spot of painted blue on the switch to indicate “on”), and you’re greeted by a chipper “Hey there.  Thanks for waking me up.” greeting in a non-computer sounding voice (the message may be different on other ICON “personalities”).

When the headset is paired with your phone and you tap the action button (which is nicely sized and perfectly positioned) you’ll be told how much talk time is left.  Right now mine is telling me “About three hours of talk time remaining”.  It doesn’t tell you standby time, but generally the actual talk time is more important.  One nice feature is when you’re on a call and the battery is getting low you’ll get a warning telling you that there is approximately 15 minutes of talk time remaining.  Much better than the headset just dying which is the case with most other devices.

A long press of the action button activates Voice Commands.  NOTE:  Not all phones or Mobile Operating Systems support this.  It works on my Droid X under 2.1 but didn’t work on my Droid 1.  This *should* be fixed with the Froyo (Android 2.2) update but you should check to be sure your device supports Voice Commands over Bluetooth.  In practice this is one of the weakest parts of Android.  The stock Voice Command app under Android 2.1 is awful (IMHO) and there are great third party apps that work much better.  Android 2.2 is supposed to offer a greatly improved app but I have not yet tested it with the ICON.  I don’t own any iDevices, so I can’t talk to how the device works with them.

A double-tap of the action button will redial the last number called.

While you are in a call a single tap of the action button will end the call.  If you press and hold the action button it will enable or disable Noise Assassin.  The only reason you would want to do this is to show how awesome Noise Assassin works (it really does work amazingly well).

When you receive an incoming call the headset will tell you “Call from 510-555-1212″.  Unfortunately you can’t configure it to speak the name you have associated with a stored contact, but it’s still handy if you can remember important phone numbers of people you definitely do (or do not) want to talk to.  If you tap the button once the call will be answered.  If you press and hold the action button it will automatically send the call to voicemail.

MyTALK

At first I dismissed MyTALK as something that I wouldn’t need, but after playing with it more it’s quite useful.  When you download the software and plug your ICON into your computer, you are taken to a portal that shows you the current software/configuration on your ICON, allows you to choose different voices, and load software.  The following is the current configuration on my ICON:

As you can see the Voice (AUDIOAPP) I’ve selected is “Be Flirty”.  :-)  This voice is a flirty female voice.  Don’t judge me… :-)  I have everything else on the default.  If you click on “Edit” under Advanced Settings you are able to name your ICON (helpful I guess if you have more than one), turn voice announcements on or off, turn spoken caller ID on or off, and view or delete connected devices.

The description here is very important (and now is the first time I’m seeing it).  “Every time it is turned on it will attempt to connect to the first 2 [phones] it can find.”  You can’t drag/drop the devices to change the order, so if you want a different device on the top you need to delete the ones above it.

The ICON also supports A2DP which is great if you want to listen to audio books or podcasts (I personally don’t).  As of this review (8/31/2010) A2DP support is now part of the default software and will work out of the box (if you have an older ICON you may need to update your software from the MyTALK site).

Sound Quality

Okay, so you can have the remaining battery life spoken to you in a flirty female voice…but how do calls SOUND?  In a word: Great.  I’ve never had anyone complain about the sound quality even when I’ve asked them “how does this sound?”.  As the wearer, the sound is clear and loud.  I sometimes find that if I’m in a quiet room I need to turn the volume down on my Droid X.  I’ve never had to do that with previous headsets.

The ICON features Noise Assassin which in practice works amazingly well.  As mentioned, Jawbone models have a sensor that rests against your jaw to detect when you’re speaking.  With the ICON you do not need to have the sensor in an exact spot, anywhere on your face seems to work well for me.

I previously used the now discontinued Zivio Boom which I LOVED.  Well, I love the ICON more.  I wrote a review of the Sound ID 400 (which I did not like) and used the Zivio as the comparison device.  Here is the Jawbone ICON compared to the Zivio and Sound ID 400:

Jawbone ICON with NO background noise (30KB .WAV File)

Jawbone ICON in my car on the highway (31KB .WAV File)

Jawbone ICON in my car on the highway with the passenger window down (30KB .WAV File)

Jawbone ICON in my car on the highway with the passenger window down and Noise Assassin disabled (31KB .WAV File)

Sound ID 400 with NO background noise (33KB .WAV File)

Sound ID 400 in my car on the highway (66KB .WAV File)

Zivio with NO background noise (33KB .WAV File)

Zivio in my car on the highway (225KB .WAV File)

Conclusion

So, is the ICON perfect?  To me, YES.  For the first time since I switched from wired to bluetooth, I have stopped looking for a new headset.  The ICON has amazing sound quality on both ends of the line, it’s extremely comfortable and very rugged for its small size and light weight (mine’s been stepped on and dropped a couple times with no ill effects).  If you want something sleek and subtle or if you want something flashy and blinged out there’s an ICON personality that will give you the look you’re after.

 

Product Information

Price:$70 to $100 (Depending on
Manufacturer:Aliph
Pros:
  • Excellent sound quality on both ends of the call.
  • Comfortable and extremely secure in the ear.
  • Noise cancellation works extremely well.
Cons:
  • None.

{ 20 comments… add one }

  • Joel August 31, 2010, 10:34 pm

    Good review but you left out any mention of A2DP (need to load it on it from the website) being available for the Icon. This feature makes any single ear BT device a great way to discreetly listen to things like audio books, or play a quick game/video w/o bothering those around you.

    I love my Icon, best BT headset I’ve used and I’ve used a lot.

  • Ben Udkow August 31, 2010, 10:42 pm

    Hi Joel,

    Thanks for the comments. I just went to edit the review to add the A2DP part and it looks like the support is now part of the Default Dial app. I have updated the review to point this out and the fact that the ICON supports A2DP. Here’s the blurb from MyTALK:

    Welcome to MyTALK Innovations, home to our latest software innovations for your Jawbone.

    We are happy to announce that A2DP has now become part of the Jawbone Default Software. Thank you to our Beta testers who tried out A2DP and provided feedback.

    A2DP allows you to listen to music, podcasts, and turn-by-turn directions through your Jawbone ICON. If you don’t already have A2DP, you can get it by syncing to the latest update. As before, you can always disable A2DP in the Advanced Settings menu.

    How do I get going with A2DP?

    To get this latest default software, SYNC your ICON.

  • Kenneth Schoenberg September 1, 2010, 7:41 am

    I’m going to try one of these on your recommendation. eCost has them on sale for $47. I like that they’ve simplified their switches and mostly have gone to a standard micro USB charger. Perhaps Apple might consider the same thing with their devices.

  • Tiffany Texas September 1, 2010, 8:12 am

    Girl issue here. What about makeup? Where the device touches your jaw does it have any crevices that will catch makeup and end up really gross after a few weeks?

  • Andrew September 1, 2010, 9:05 am

    I have one of these and the sound quality is great. I have found that after a month or two, it doesn’t seem to stay in your ear as well. I have a friend who has one that says the same thing. I have tried cleaning the rubber bits, etc — just doesn’t work as well as when you first get it. I have gone to the metal ear loop things now instead. Interested to see if you find this as well.

  • APARK September 1, 2010, 11:06 am

    I just upgrade my Droid Incredible to Android 2.2 (Froyo) yesterday and indeed voice commands and voice dial work just fine. (Whew!) Now I’m a (relatively) safe driver on the road.

    -Droid Incredible w/ Android 2.2 (Froyo)
    -Aliph Jawbone ICON (The Hero)

    @Kenneth: $47 is a great price. You might want to double-check that it’s indeed the ICON and not an older model. There are at least 3 generations of the Jawbones and when I was shopping for mine, I would find a very low price and find out it’s for an older generation. $47 is around half the going price for an ICON.

  • Eric September 1, 2010, 11:09 am

    I would say out of the box that the Icon is ALMOST perfect. As Andrew says above, after a while the earpiece is uncomfortable and doesn’t stay in your ear.

    The solution that makes the Icon perfect is an Avery Sound earpiece. http://www.averysound.com/as.jawboneicon.html

    I had a custom earpiece made for my Jawbone I and I’m still using it for my Icon. It is so comfortable that I forget its in my ear. Sound quality is improved because the audio is channelled into the ear canal. I use a drop of glue to hold the earpiece to the Jawbone which keeps it in my ear securely. I also found that without the glue the earpiece tended to twist around or pop off the headset when in my pocket.

  • p51d007 September 1, 2010, 2:53 pm

    Same here! Had one since the release day. Great headset.
    Also, I 2nd the opinion above. Get a custom ear piece from
    Averysound. If you wear your BT all day long like I have to,
    you will wonder how you got along without it.

  • Andy Chen September 1, 2010, 4:53 pm

    I’ve got an Averysound custom earpiece I test with various headsets.

    The problem for me and the Jawbones in general- with our without a custom earpiece- is that the Voice Activity Sensor must be resting against your cheek in order for the DSP party trick to work. If you don’t have a good physical contact, then don’t count on the noise reduction to work as well, if at all.

    As for my life with the Averysound customs? They made the Jawbones stick out so much more, they couldn’t get the VAS to rest against my cheek. Your cheeks may vary.

  • Ben Udkow September 1, 2010, 11:07 pm

    Don’t forget that if your original earpieces don’t fit or feel right anymore, you can just buy a pack from Jawbone for $9.99. Personally mine fits great and I’ve been using mine every single workday for six months.

    As with all in-ear things, it’s all a matter of the shape of your ear. Other headsets never fit me right, but the ICON is just perfect.

    @Tiffany: Depends on how much make-up you have and how close you get it to the hairline. There definitely is a gap between the voice sensor and the headset that I could imagine foundation could cake up in. Honestly it’s something you’d have to just try out, but you could probably just give it a quick wipe down after each use.

    @Kenneth: Wow, great price! I checked and it’s listed as a New ICON for $46.99. That’s a crazy price. I think the “catch” is this: (Product Ships in OEM / Non-Retail Packaging). I don’t know what’s included so it may be JUST the headset without the earpieces, so carpe diem. :-)

  • Ken S September 2, 2010, 12:23 am

    @Apark – it is the Icon. eCost has some pretty good sales every now and then. You can also find the Icon on eBay for about the same price.

  • Rick Swift September 9, 2010, 7:03 am

    Ben, I just got mine in…where do you adjust the volume? Cant seem to find this.

  • Ben Udkow September 9, 2010, 8:55 pm

    @Rick Swift: Interesting. It seems that since I wrote the review Jawbone has released new software. With the new update you can choose the action for when you press and hold the action button. The choices are now to cycle Noise Assassin (not needed) and adjust the volume (also really not needed).

    Honestly, the headset works great for me with just adjusting the volume using my phone. Choose for yourself by installing the latest update at http://mytalk.jawbone.com then going to Edit Advanced Settings and select “IN CALL”.

  • roy October 16, 2010, 9:51 pm

    Love the icon but button configuration sucks. They are backward. Press h hold for 3 seconds to voice dial is a pain & dangerous in traffic. Pressing & releasing for voice dial make much more sense.

  • Monique December 16, 2010, 2:08 pm

    None of the test calls would play. Tried it on several browsers. Oh well….

  • Ben Udkow December 16, 2010, 2:28 pm

    Hi Monique,

    Please try the links again and let me know if there are specific ones that don’t work. Some of the links were broken due to a URL change. They’ve since been fixed and all do work now on my browser.

  • Rick Marchus February 12, 2011, 12:16 am

    I have had my Icon since it first came out and it’s still Great! First thing I did was put a custom molded earpiece on it from http://www.custom-ears.com, and the fit and finish were perfect from day one! It’s comfortable all day without having to adjust the fit and the sound is excellent. I was able to turn the volume down to 2 on my iPhone and can hear my conversations way better than before. Best of all, NO EAR WIRE! No jiggle, no discomfort, and better sound. I love mine, go check them out online at http://www.custom-ears.com (don’t forget the hyphen). The Voice Assassin button stays in perfect contact with my cheek all day long, and I never have to adjust the fit, ever! I did have to put a very tiny drop of crazy glue to keep the icon from moving in the earpiece, but once that was ironed out, no problems at all.

  • George February 23, 2011, 11:36 pm

    Thanks for your comment.

    I listened to your test results, but seems that the Sound ID 400 and the Zivio sounded much better than the ICON. So why do you still like the ICON more?

    I myself just bought the icon and am testing it. I don’t know if mine is defective, so just want to compare mine with yours

    Thanks!

  • Eric Marchus June 30, 2011, 4:43 pm

    I loved my Icon, and recently upgraded to the ERA. Both are excellent bluetooth devices. The only thing I did to make mine better was add a custom earpiece from custom-ears.com. They make a custom molded earpiece that fits the ear exactly, as well as holding the Icon or ERA in perfect position for the ‘button’ to rest on my cheek. They make the earpiece for less than any other site i’ve seen.

  • john k March 7, 2012, 12:47 pm

    I have the ICON. Good headset(but my first) .
    If I had realised that the entire phone number was read out during an incoming calls then I would not have bought one.
    Really” incoming call from +31634346677 is not helpful. I have 700 number in the contacts list!

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