Jabra BT800 Review

Sound quality was excellent. Both inbound and outbound sound quality was better by far than using the handset.
Sound quality was excellent. Both inbound and outbound sound quality was better by far than using the handset.
Sound quality was excellent. Both inbound and outbound sound quality was better by far than using the handset.

Highs

  • Multifunction LCD; integrated hands-free features; light weight

Lows

  • Low volume; limited adjustability; confusing button functions

The Jabra BT800 is the flagship Bluetooth headset from one of the leaders in cell phone accessories.  What makes the BT800 unique is the unprecedented level of control the wearer has over information access.  An integrated LCD displays incoming caller ID information and allows for redialing directly from the headset.  The unit also sports background noise removal and vibration alerts, making it one of the most feature-packed headsets on the market.

Design and Features

Most cell phone Bluetooth headsets are almost identical.  Add a boom here, twist a plastic edge there, and voila–a new product!  What separates the Jabra BT800 from the competition is the huge list of features not found in any other headset.  The BT800 integrates many hands-free features found in car units into a lightweight headset.

The package contains the headset, case, reset/pairing stick, and charging cord.  Instead of an AC cord, Jabra opted to use a micro USB cord.  We would have liked to see an optional USB-to-AC or -DC power cord included as well.  The reset/pairing stick is the size of a paper clip and fits into a recessed hole on the edge of the unit.

From the outside, the BT800 looks unremarkable.  The body is slightly wider than the average headset, with the only attention-getting feature being the glowing blue activity/mute button.  On the surface and facing the wearer’s cheek is a small, two-line LCD.  The ear wraparound piece that secures the unit rotates and twists in almost every direction, which would sound like a flexible and comfortable headset.  Unfortunately, Jabra left out one important adjustment parameter:  It’s impossible to explain in words, but suffice it to say, there is a dimension of adjustability that isn’t accounted for.  The lack of this one dimension of movement makes the BT800 impossible to fit properly for average ears without extensive fiddling.  The addition of a ¼” telescoping piece would have alleviated this problem.

Button placement and usage is confusing and poorly thought out.  The interface designers were obviously trying to consolidate a large number of functions into as few buttons as possible, but in doing so created a steep learning curve for a device that should be very simple to operate.  There are a total of three buttons to access ten functions, as well as an up/down/scroll toggle.  Two buttons are set along the bottom edge of the unit, with the directional toggle surrounding the blue, illuminated mute button.  The two bottom surface buttons have three modes:  tap, press, and hold.  The mode is determined by the length of the press.  Tap = an instant, press = 1 second, and hold = 5 seconds.  To make matters worse, feedback beeps are delayed by close to a second.  To add to the confusion, the user must pair the device with the paper clip hole button, rather than a menu option.

Jabra BT800
Image Courtesy of Jabra

Testing and Use

Once you get past the interface snafus, the feature set is amazing for a headset.  The LCD shows inbound caller ID and menu options.  Basic navigation of the menu is easy, since there are only two options:  call list and settings.  Inbound calls are stored for quick retrieval.  The BT800 can be set to use one of five ringtones, to pass through your current ringtone, and to use vibration alert.  The caller’s name will also appear on the BT800 if there is a contact record for them on the phone.  Pairing, while awkward, was flawless with our SonyEricsson P910a.  We found most functions to operate as advertised, except one:  pressing the answer button should allow the wearer to use voice commands.  As many times as we tried, and for any length of press, we were never able to get this function to work.  This is unfortunate because it means the hands-free abilities are a mute point, since the phone still has to be used directly.  In other words, users can’t rely on the BT800 to replace all interaction with their phone.  If this functioned as intended, it would mean that owners could stow their phone in a backpack or purse and not worry about using it on the road.

Sound quality was excellent.  Both inbound and outbound sound quality was better by far than using the handset.  The noise cancellation technology eliminated nearly all background noise, but also eliminated some noise on the incoming end.  White noise and background music was almost imperceptible on the receiver’s end.  Wind noise could not be heard, but resulted in frequent elimination of all sound, both incoming and outgoing.  Instead of annoying static sounds of a wind gust, the headset goes silent.  Volume levels could be better on the earpiece.  Since we had a hard time fitting the BT800 correctly, the speaker was always a little far from our ears, making sounds softer.  Microphone volume was excellent, and he had no complaints from people on the other end of a call.

There is no ability to update the headset’s firmware or ROM, which means that these shortcomings are likely to exist until units ship with these bugs worked out.

Conclusion

The Jabra BT800 could have been the uber headset to which all others would bow, but the implementation is marred by a steep learning curve and missing functionality.  However, taking the time to learn the interface is rewarded with a depth of functionality not yet paralleled by anything on the market today.  Sound quality is very good, but could use a volume boost, and the flexibility of the fitting system lacks every dimension.  From the outside, the BT800 looks like a killer piece of gear.  But buyer beware:  not all is as it appears in the Kingdom of Jabra.

Pros:

  • Multifunction LCD 
  • Integrated hands-free features
  • Light weight

Cons:

  • Low volume
  • Limited adjustability
  • Confusing button functions
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