Pairing Aliph’s Jawbone Icon via Bluetooth goes as simply as you could hope. Just slide the toggle switch on the side of the headset to the on position, wait until the LED ring flashes white, then connect from your cell phone’s Bluetooth menu. Done. On iPhones, a Jawbone-shaped power meter will appear in the top-right corner, indicating how much juice the headset has left.
Besides the power switch, the only other button on the Icon is a broad multifunction affair at the rear that serves to place and answer and end calls.
“Twist to fit” means just that: drop the headset into your outer ear, facing down, then twist it a few degrees forward until it points toward your mouth. With getting all anatomical, this causes an extra rubber loop on the earbud to slide behind one of the folds in your outer ear, effectively locking it into place. The important part: it works exceptionally well. In all our testing, we never had the Jawbone accidentally drop from our ear, and the light grip keeps it from feeling painful or irritating with extended use. Because it doesn’t actually seal into your ear the same way good earbuds do, the Jawbone won’t block out exterior noise, either, which is actually a benefit if you intend to wear it even when you’re not taking calls.
Whether you notice or not, that forward motion also puts a tiny rubber nub on the Icon in contact with your cheek. This aforementioned “voice activity sensor” serves as the crux of Aliph’s noise cancellation technology by using the vibration of your jaw to help determine what’s voice and what’s noise.
In quiet environments, the Icon’s inbound and outbound voice quality both performed exceptionally well. Callers reported hearing us loud and clear, and we never had to push volume anywhere near maximum to hear them on our end. Holding a conversation on the Icon feels effortless, which is exactly the type of experience you hope for from this type of device.
Impressed with the Icon under optimal conditions, we took the Jawbone down to the street for a bit of a torture test. On a busy bridge with diesel busses and cars whooshing by, callers amazingly reported barely being able to hear the traffic, despite the fact that we practically had to yell to hear ourselves over them. This seemed to hold as the pattern no matter what we subjected it to, until we put it to the ultimate test: riding a bicycle around town with it on. Although the Icon battled valiantly against obnoxious wind noise, callers reported a sound like the warble of a sheet metal up to about 10 miles per hour, at which point it became impossible hear us. That’s still pretty impressive performance, and we have to admit that bicycle conversations at high speed are an impractical and dangerous affair to begin with.
The Jawbone Icon is rated for 4.5 hours of talk time and 10 days of standby time – one more day than the previous Prime. Although we weren’t able to scientifically test these claims by yammering on for hours with stopwatch in hand, the measured battery drain within our use seems to confirm these claims.
One of the Jawbone Icon’s most intriguing and innovative features comes in the form of MyTalk apps: mini programs that you can add to the headset from a slick Web client. Aliph has broken the apps into Audio apps, which let you change the voices for your headset’s audio prompts (“You have five minutes of talk time remaining”), and Dial apps, which serve as shortcuts to useful numbers.
Currently, Aliph offers three different languages as Audio apps, plus the default English one, and six voices that correspond to the “personalities” of its headset names. For instance, the Hero sounds like Joe from Family Guy, the Thinker sounds like a slightly lispy permutation of Frasier, and the Bombshell makes it sound like you might have accidentally dialed a 1-900 number. Goofy as they are, everyone at the office got a laugh out of them, and we have to concede they add some novelty to the Icon.
Dial apps primarily tie into outside services like 411, or online services like Jott. We tried the Dial2Do app, which ties into the service of the same name. On its own, Dial2Do allows you to dial a number and perform tasks like sending e-mails, text messages and even Twitter messages with voice alone. Adding the app basically turns the Icon’s single multifunction button into a speed dial for this service after holding it down for three seconds. We signed up on a lark and were able to hear Gmail messages read aloud, record amazingly well-transcribed reminder messages, and even check the Portland weather with a single voice command. Of course, for that we give props to Dial2Do, but making a service like this easily accessible through an “app” adds exponentially to the appeal. We can see using it now to record a quick voice memo on the way home behind the wheel, where before it would have been too much of a hassle (and a danger) to fumble through the phone and dial it.
What’s not to like about Jawbone’s finest Bluetooth? Although it costs a bit more than the cheapies you can pick up at the local big box store, we’re confident you get more in sound quality, ease of use and yes, style, to justify it. MyTalk apps, while no technical marvel, are an industry first, and illustrate how much thought Aliph has put into refining the user experience on this next generation Bluetooth headset. Considering the previous Jawbone Prime still sells for $130, the $100 tag on the Icon looks like a downright bargain for a device of this far up the quality charts.
- Superb inbound and outbound sound quality
- Class-leading noise cancellation
- Attractive and truly varied designs
- Comfortable, easy-to-wear fit
- MyTalk Apps are novel and potentially useful
- Voice cancellation still not 100 percent flawless