A Bluetooth headset is no longer the punchline of a joke or an apparatus that makes you look like a spaceship captain -- it’s a very convenient and practical tool for everyday use. Whether you want to chat on your cellphone while driving, power-walking, or just doing things around the house, a headset will allow you to get through your calls without getting tangled up in wires.
A top of the line model can run you more than $100, and with all the options on the market, it can feel like you’re up to your ears in choices. When deciding on a bluetooth headset, first narrow down the field by your budget, then look at the device’s design, usability and sound quality. Here are five headsets that we think rise to the top.
Jawbone Era (2014) Editor's Pick
When the sleek new Jawbone Era came out earlier this year, it had the tech blogosphere abuzz, many hailing it as a gamechanger in the headset world. It’s near top of the market at $130, and it looks luxurious too. The slim, light design gives it extra wearability, even prompting one reviewer to call it the “the Bluetooth headset for people who hate Bluetooth headsets.” The sound quality is great on both ends, with technology called NoiseAssassin that successfully eliminates background noise during calls made from a loud area.
The Jawbone Era does more than let you talk hands-free -- a button on the back allows you to play and pause music, and you can use it to activate either Siri or Google Now voice commands. There is a companion app for Android and iPhone that allows you to customize these controls. One possible drawback is the short battery life, which maxes out at about 4 hours, though it does come with a portable charging case, which gives you up to 10 hours of talk time.
Jabra Supreme UC
The Jabra Supreme UC headset features an earpiece with a flip-out boom microphone, which allows you to conveniently turn the device on and off by flipping out the mic. When the arm is extended, the headset is on the large side, though overall the product is rather lightweight and comfortable. The device offers very clear sound quality, and the noise-cancellation works well, allowing you to make calls from a noisy street or restaurant without distraction.
Another useful feature of the Supreme UC is the voice command function. By pressing a button on the boom mic you activate Voice Control, which recognizes commands such as voice dialing by name or number, redial, or you can ask how much battery is left. If you run out of ideas, try “What can I say?” which will give you a list of options.
Jabra has a companion app available on the Android market (sorry iPhone users) giving even more features, like adjusting the noise cancellation for different environments, such as office, outside or car. The package comes with a Bluetooth USB adapter, which enables you to link the headset to your PC. Jabra says the battery life of the Supreme UC lasts up to 6 hours. Overall, this is a solid high-end choice, especially for Android and PC users.
Plantronics Voyager Legend
Despite having a bulkier shape and size than other headsets, the Plantronics Voyager Legend is known to be extremely comfortable to wear. It consists of a large earpiece and silver boom mic, which provides excellent voice quality to complement the device’s great audio clarity, giving it high overall marks for sound. The design is very secure and the boom mic can be adjusted to work for either ear. The big size might make this a choice for people who only use their headset while driving around or at home -- or for those who just don’t care about being fashionable.
The Voyager Legend has a sensor that detects when you have the headset on your ear, so it will automatically answer a call when you put the unit on. Likewise, it will turn off when you remove the headset. It has a multipoint feature, meaning you can pair it with up to 2 devices and alternate between them. The headset comes with a magnetic charger, and Plantronics says the battery gets up to 7 hours of talk time.
The BlueAnt Q3 is lightweight and comfortable to wear -- and compared to some of the more cumbersome headsets out there, the design is pretty clean and compact. The sound quality is decent -- with help from the noise cancellation function, which works well -- though overall not as crystal clear as the audio on other top-rated headsets (see above).
Like the other premium headsets, the Q3 includes built-in voice commands such as “Pair me,” “Check battery,” and voice dialing from your phonebook. BlueAnt offers a companion app for both iPhone and Android, making it compatible with Siri and Google Now voice commands. This can allow you to do things like launch Google searches or have your text messages read aloud to you through the headset. BlueAnt says the device gets up to 7 hours of battery life.
Another solid product by Plantronics, the M55 may be the best low-cost option around. The M55 has a smaller, sleeker design than it’s premium cousin, the Voyager Legend. It also offers great sound and voice quality, though in noisy environments, the noise cancellation isn’t as good as other upmarket headsets.
Though known as a ‘budget’ headset, this doesn’t mean ‘basic.’ The M55 offers some nice features, like voice commands for making calls and the use of the Plantronics Vocalyst service, an app that lets users dictate emails, tweets or Facebook updates and listen to news all by voice. Battery life is another plus -- Plantronics says it should last up to 11 hours. There is also a DeepSleep mode, which preserves the battery when the device has been inactive for more than 90 minutes. Overall, this little device packs a lot of value with an appealing price tag.
Choosing the right Bluetooth Headset depends a lot on personal preferences: some opt for sleek design and special features, while others just want an affordable device that works well. With these five reliable options, you’ll find something that fits your style and price range.
And with the recent boom in wearable technology -- from smart watches and fit bands to Google Glass -- don’t worry about looking like a nerd in your new headset. You can now feel cool and confident while talking to yourself in public. ;)