Review: Jawbone Icon Bluetooth Headset 21
Jawbone headsets have been regarded as the gold standard in both audio quality and design for years, a tradition that the Jawbone Icon Bluetooth headset continues with aplomb. Going back to the original wired Jawbone headset from 2004, Aliph’s headsets have always been at the forefront of aesthetics and noise cancellation. The new Icon series of headsets does not disappoint, picking up a more compact design while still packing in even better noise cancellation technology. Even better, the Icon recently snagged a firmware update that adds in A2DP for Bluetooth music listening. As always, the newest Jawbone is easily one of the best headsets available on the market.
First things first, a Bluetooth headset has to transmit your voice to the other side, as well as the other side’s voice to your ear. The Jawbone Icon does this with ease, as you would expect. The military-grade NoiseAssassin noise cancellation tech has received a substantial bump to version 2.5, and it is superior to most, if not all, noise-canceling headsets on the market.
As with all previous Jawbone headsets, the Icon’s distinguishing feature is the Voice Activity Sensor, a little rubber nub on the inner side of the headset that rests against your cheek and picks up the vibrations of your voice. This isn’t a bone-conducting headset - the vibrations are used merely to determine what from the microphone input should be kept, with the rest discarded. This secret sauce mixture works incredibly well; I was able to test the Icon driving down the highway with the windows down and The Beatles blaring on the stereo, and the other end of the phone conversation was able to understand me as I spoke at a perfectly normal tone.
Of course, I couldn’t hear myself speaking or what that person was saying. Despite how well the Jawbone Icon works at cutting out external noise on its end, there’s nothing it can do about noise on the other side, or noise in your other ear. That said, the speaker still puts out extremely good quality and adequately loud voice audio.
You’ll notice that I said voice audio. The Jawbone Icon was the recipient of a recent software update that bakes A2DP support into the headset, essentially turning it into a mono Bluetooth headset. And you’ll notice that I said mono Bluetooth headset. Between my Pre and the Icon, only the right audio channel of stereo audio tracks was transmitted to the headset. Ninety-eight percent of the time this won’t be an issue for ninety-eight percent of users, but when you’re listening to something with very distinct left-right channels (such as certain tracks of the Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog soundtrack). That said, the Icon shows its stripes as a built-for-voice headset when listening to music; human voice comes through beautifully clear, but instrumental tones, especially bass, are less-than-impressive. Then again, A2DP isn’t really a headline characteristic for the Icon, is it?
Alongside high design and voice quality, minimal controls have always been a hallmark of the Jawbone line. The Icon both exemplifies and turns its back on its predecessors. Older Jawbone headsets came with a power/talk button and a volume cycling button, both artfully disguised as part of the outer shell. While this made for clean designs, it could also be frustrating to use the headset without any tactile feedback as to where you were pushing.
The Icon dumps the hidden buttons, opting to put the call button at the rear of the headset as a defined rectangular button with a ridged texture. The power button has been separated from call functions (a trend we’re really digging) and turned into a small fingernail switch on the inner face of the headset. The volume button, however, has disappeared, a loss we’re not mourning. The status light is the typical Jawbone subtle, pulsing white and red around the Voice Activity Sensor.
What the Icon has picked up is voice feedback. The headset now talks to you, communicating battery levels, on-off status, and incoming call numbers to you in a soothing female voice. The same browser-based portal used to update the Icon’s software for A2DP also allows you to install new voices. Our favorite: the cheeky “The Thinker.”
As is also typical for Jawbone headsets, a veritable cornucopia of fit customization options are provided. Due to the headset’s newly stubby size, it fits and stays in place perfectly well without the included ear hook. Three differently-sized earbuds with loops are provided for non-hook wear, while four circular earbuds are included for use with the ear hook. With seven different options for wear, not finding a comfortable fit means you’re probably doing it wrong. The re-engineered design of the Icon also swings the Voice Activity Sensor more firmly against the cheek than previous iterations, meaning the chance of losing contact, and subsequently noise cancellation, are greatly reduced.
The Jawbone Icon comes in six different versions, all of varying aesthetic designs. For this review we took a look at the subdued dimpled matte-finish The Hero. Also available is a wavy gold The Bombshell, the soft platinum The Catch, sculpted silver in The Ace, a patterned matte silver surface similar to the previous generation Jawbone Prime in The Thinker, and lastly The Rogue with subdued flame red accents on a shiny black base. As with the fit choices, there are more than enough options for style with the Icon, though if we had to make one knock on the headset we’d ask for interchangeable faces, but then that would impede the solidness of what would otherwise be one of the best-built headsets available today.
In the Box
The Jawbone Icon’s packaging is typical for a Jawbone headset, though it is a touch smaller than previous headset boxes (fitting, for the smaller headset). The layout is logical, though the fit and finish of the packaging didn’t leave us as impressed as we have been with older Jawbones. Regardless, the box does contain the previously mentioned two extra earbuds with loops (the third being pre-installed on the headset sitting on a clear plastic pedestal at the top to of the box), four round earbuds, one plastic ear hook, the requisite instructional and safety pamphlets in English and Spanish, a compact but not-that-small AC-to-USB power adapter, and a 2.5-inch-long micro USB power cable. Yes, the Jawbone Icon has switched to a standard micro USB port (though awkwardly angled) in place of the nifty-if-proprietary magnetic charging port from the Jawbone 2 and Prime.
The Jawbone Icon easily comes out of the box with best-in-class noise cancellation, styling, and comfort. Considering that the class is the highest tier of Bluetooth headsets, that speaks very strongly of the headset’s shear quality. When you mix in a price of below $100, the value case becomes clear: bang for your buck you can’t go wrong with the Jawbone Icon.
The Jawbone Icon Bluetooth headset is available from the PreCentral Store for $96.95, it was provided for review by the PreCentral Store