For years I have been a Bluetooth headset evangelist. I have reviewed many Bluetooth headsets for The Gadgeteer (see related links for some of my reviews). I have long since gotten over any self-conscious feelings about looking like an employee in the McDonald’s drive-thru, and I have embraced my inner, and outer, geekness. Then along comes the BlueParrott Xpress Bluetooth Noise-Cancelling Wireless Headset from VXi Corporation . Now I am conflicted, excited, and verklempt, all at the same time. Let’s find out how the Xpress stacks up!
(NOTE: click the images for a larger version.)
When I opened the box for the VXI BlueParrott Xpress ,my first reaction was “wow, this is big.” (Please, no Michael Scott jokes!) I mean, I have embraced my geek-ness, but this is pushing the limit, which causes me to question just how vain I am. The headset, as you can see from the pictures, is quite large compared to other Bluetooth headsets you might have seen. My personal observation of the trend over the past couple of years in Bluetooth headsets is that manufacturers are trying to make them smaller and smaller, while trying to improve the sound quality at the same time. So in that regard, the VXi BlueParrott Xpress seems to be blazing a trail here by going in the opposite direction for size.
The list price of the BlueParrott Xpress is $119.99. In the box you will find the headset, a small user’s guide, a USB cable for charging via a PC, a car charger that also uses the USB cable, an ear loop, and a couple rubber ear buds that fit on the piece that is inserted into your ear. What you won’t find is a wall charger, which for this price point is a little shocking to me. I am not always around a computer or a car, so that means at times I am using a wall charger from another device to charge this headset. Very disappointing.
The ear loop that comes with the Xpress fits just fine, but with a headset this big I had some issues with it falling off my ear if I moved my head too fast. To be fair, I have had issues with other Bluetooth headsets that used the ear loop type of hook that fits over the ear. So I also got the Xpress Convertible Wearing Style Kit ($12.00) that includes 2 types of over-the-head bands. One of them goes over the top of your head and the other goes around the back of your head. When I use those headbands, I almost can’t tell that I am wearing the Xpress. They are extremely comfortable and I highly recommend getting these if you are going to get the Xpress.
The USB charging port is on the end of the device, and on the side of the device, you will find the volume up/mute button and the volume down. The mute button is nice because you can hold that down for 2 seconds during a call to mute it, and the headset will beep in your ear every 10 seconds to remind you that it is muted. On the outside of the headset is the multi-function button which does many things, of course, regarding answering calls, rejecting calls, pairing, etc. The volume up and down buttons also do some neat things, like turning off that blue blinking light that you always see on Bluetooth headsets. That annoys me, so it is nice being able to turn that off and on when I want.
The headset takes about 2-3 hours to fully charge, which is a little longer than some of my other Bluetooth headsets. But then again, the battery on the Xpress lasts longer than other headsets. The specs say that you get about 7 hours of talk time, but I got slightly longer than 7 hours. Battery life is very, very good on the Xpress. With that large size you also get a much longer boom mic, which is bendable, so you can fit it directly next to your mouth. That means you don’t have to speak as loud, and the folks on the other end can hear you better. I have no complaints about sound quality on the other end of the line. Everyone who I spoke to using the headset said that it sounded great. You can pair the headset to multiple devices at the same time, which I did, and I had no issue with that. It worked flawlessly in that regard.
The Xpress paired very easily with multiple devices that I have – cellphones, tablets, iPods, etc. It comes with A2DP, which means I could listen to music over the headset, which is a nice addition to the feature list. I can’t say the music sounded that great, but then again, I don’t think that this device was meant to be used for listening to music all the time. You will hear a pleasant British woman’s voice saying prompts in your ear when certain things happen, like, “power on”, “your headset is connected”, etc. I do wish there were more voice prompts though – for example, when the headset is getting ready to die. It beeps at you and then just dies. The Xpress will say “power off” when you intentionally power it down, but not when the battery dies. It would be nice to hear something like “power off” in that situation, because there have been times when it beeped at me as it was turning off, but I kept talking and didn’t realize that the beep meant that the headset died. Not a big deal, but I just wish it had more voice prompts.
If you want to see the full list of specs for the device, check the BlueParrott Xpress page on the VXi website. I will talk about more performance aspects of the Xpress in the next section.
I wanted to compare the Xpress to another very popular Bluetooth headset which I reviewed here on The Gadgeteer and still use daily, the Plantronics Voyager Pro HD (herein referred to as the ‘HD’). I used to think the HD was big, however, compared to the Xpress the HD is small.
Both pair and connect very quickly. Both of them have voice prompts, although the HD has an edge there with a few more prompts such as letting you know how many hours of talk-time you have when you turn it on, and it says “power off” when it turns off and “recharge headset” when you are getting close to dying. Both of them have A2DP, and I listen to music on both of them. I will give that edge to the HD though, as the music has clearer, deeper, and richer sound. But again, these devices aren’t meant for listening to music, it is just an added feature. The Xpress battery lasts longer than the HD, by over an hour, so if battery life is an issue for you, you’ll love the Xpress. Both are very comfortable to wear with no fatigue over long periods of time. I literally forget that I am wearing these headsets.
One of the most important features of any Bluetooth headset is background noise cancellation. Both claim to have excellent noise cancellation, so I put both of them to the test in side-by-side real-world comparisons. I did 2 tests calling my voicemail at work and leaving a message. For the tests, I stood on a busy, noisy street with lots of traffic, and I drove in a convertible down the road at 55 MPH with the radio turned up really loud.
In the convertible, the Xpress wasn’t able to handle it. The background noise and wind were so bad that I couldn’t understand most of the recording. The HD didn’t block out 100% of the background noise and wind, but it was easy to understand everything that was said. On the busy street, I got different results. I didn’t hear one bit of background noise with the Xpress, but with the HD I did hear some background noise. It wasn’t enough to ruin the call, but I could definitely hear noise. So my conclusion is that the Xpress has issues with wind noise, but does a great job otherwise with general background noise.
I am going to give the VXi BlueParrot Xpress a rating of 8 out of 10. It has excellent battery life, a very comfortable fit, and very good voice quality, so I believe you will be happy with it. My recommendation if you buy this device is to also buy the accessory kit that gives you those headbands, so considering that, the price point is over $130, which is really steep. You can get comparable headsets like the HD for much less than that, and you’ll get a wall charger to boot. And the Xpress is one of the largest headsets I have seen, so you’ll have to be prepared for that. To be honest, I restrict my use of the Xpress to my office or in the car simply because I am self-conscious about how large it is. I am going to chalk that up to being vain, so don’t hold it against the Xpress. It is a great headset with lots of features, but you’ll have to be the judge whether or not that awesome battery is worth the premium price you’ll be paying.