Aliph had been a leader in mobile phone headset design since it released the first effective noise-reducing Jawbone in 2004. Its $99 Jawbone Icon, announced today takes bluetooth headsets another step forward will a slew of new features, including downloadable apps.
The Icon is a stubby, lightweight (8 grams), unit available in six styles, that is either held in your ear with an earbud or, for extra security, by an over-the-ear loop. The Icon maintains Aliph’s tradition of superb signal processing that allows its use even in very noise environments, but the big improvements are in user interface.
It has two controls, a positive on-off slider switch and a single multifunction button, supplemented by spoken status reports. Unlike the previous generation of Jawbones, where the button was somewhat vaguely activated by pressing the cover, the Icon now has a distinct and easy-to-find button at the top of the headset.
On most Bluetooth headsets, it’s impossible to tell the status of the battery until you start getting warnings that power is low. The Icon announces the amount of talk time remaining when you start it up and, if you use it with an iPhone, shows a battery meter in the phone’s status bar. When a call comes in, the Icon announces the caller ID number (a planned software upgrade will let it announce the name if the caller is in the phone’s contact list.)
The headset uses a standard micro-USB cable both for charging and for communicating with a Mac or Windows PC. The My TALK Web site is still in private beta, but once it goes live, it will let you select from several different voices for the Icon’s audio prompts and to choose and download an app that will be activated when you hold down the headsets button. Current “dial app” choices include your carrier’s voicemail or 411 service and the Jott transcription service. Aliph plans to expand the list of dial apps. The USB connection can also be used to update the Icon’s firmware.
All in all, the Icon is an innovative step forward in Bluetooth headset design at an attractive price.