Bluetooth Headset and Car Kit Reviews
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Last summer BlueAnt, an Australian company, introduced the BlueAnt Z9 Bluetooth headset which was a small headset that had good voice quality with some, but not all popular phones we tested. This year, the company has followed up with their BlueAnt Z9i Bluetooth headset that adds new features without changing the small form factor. The BlueAnt Z9i sports a new chrome-tipped ear hook in addition to the translucent ear hook, a multipoint connection feature that allows the headset to work with 2 phones at the same time, and added “soft touch red” to the collection’s color palette. The BlueAnt Z9i lists for $99.95 and comes with a 2-year warranty.
The BlueAnt Z9i is clearly built upon the BlueAnt Z9 and looks very similar. While the BlueAnt Z9 came with only translucent ear hooks, the BlueAnt Z9i comes with both a translucent ear hook and a black rubber hook with chromed tips on each end. We prefer the ear hook with chrome because it adds just enough weight to help the headset stay on more securely. The ear hook is very soft and comfortable to wear. Just as with the BlueAnt Z9, you can switch the ear hook to fit either ear and the ear hook mount is also a lapel clip. The BlueAnt Z9i comes with 2 different size ear buds and when you use the right size, the headset stays in your ear comfortably and securely.
The BlueAnt Z9i has three control buttons: a multifunction button, a volume up and a volume down button. The Bluetooth headset also has two mics and comes in glossy black and soft touch red.
The new BlueAnt Z9i can pair with more devices than the BlueAnt Z9: 5 vs. 3. While the BlueAnt Z9 offered on the fly switching between devices, the BlueAnt Z9i has something even cooler: it can work with two devices at the same time. So if you have a work phone and a weekend phone you can use one Bluetooth headset for both. The BlueAnt Z9i will pick up a call from your last paired phone with one button press; and when the second phone rings, press the volume up button for 3 seconds to put the first call on hold and receive the second call. Our tests showed this worked like a charm. But the pairing software needs some work: in our tests the pairing wasn’t consistent. Sometimes it wouldn’t go into pairing mode after it had paired with 2 devices or 3 devices (the headset is supposed to pair with 5 devices before refusing to go into pairing mode). A reset fixed this, but this happened a few times in our tests. Thank goodness the headset’s firmware is upgradeable; we hope that this bug is fixed.
Other than the new pairing features, the BlueAnt Z9i has similar DSP technologies to the BlueAnt Z9 but the software has been updated. The BlueAnt Z9i has two voice isolation modes and you can switch between standard and max voice isolation modes on the fly. Just like the BlueAnt Z9, the BlueAnt Z9i supports many call management features including rejecting calls, voice dialing, call waiting, conference call and mute. You can also update the firmware using the included USB cable and reset the headset by pressing all controls buttons (MFB and both volume buttons). Voice dialing worked with all the phones we tested this feature on.
The original BlueAnt Z9 worked great with some phones but not others. Sony Ericsson, Nokia and HTC phones got very good results but some other phones didn’t. The BlueAnt Z9i seems to behave in a similar fashion: it worked well with those brands of phones but the performance ranged from very good to just OK when we tested it with other brands of phones. Here are more details:
When working with the iPhone 2G (Bluetooth v2.0):
The BlueAnt Z9i had very good incoming and outgoing voice quality with the iPhone. Audio was clear and had good volume but it wasn’t super loud. The DSP worked well with Max voice isolation turned on and off. Road noise was audible but didn’t interfere with outgoing voice, i.e. call recipients could tell what the noise was (like a water fountain running or car passing by) in the background, but the noise didn’t intrude on our conversations. The range was not good between the iPhone and the BlueAnt Z9i, reaching 5-7 feet before audio started crackling and breaking up.
When working with the LG Vu (Bluetooth v2.0):
The LG Vu had very good and loud voice on both incoming and outgoing ends when on 3G through the BlueAnt Z9i. When the phone dropped 3G down to EDGE, voice quality degraded as well. For optimal performance from the BlueAnt Z9i, you need 3G coverage. The DSP worked about the same as on the iPhone, maybe slightly better. We could still hear background noise but again it wasn’t intrusive (even wind noise was acceptable). Range was again the sore point, reaching about 7-10 feet before digital distortion and crackling started to kick in.
When working with the LG Dare (Bluetooth v2.1):
Like the Vu, The LG Dare sounded very good with the Z9i. Incoming and outgoing audio were loud and clear. The DSP worked well to bring noise down to a manageable level though as with the other phones we tested, our call recipient could hear noise at unobtrustive levels. Range was again the sore point, reaching about 10 feet.
When working with the Motorola Q9c (Bluetooth v2.0):
The voice quality through the Moto Q9c wasn’t as good as on the GSM phones we tested. Incoming voice was better than the outgoing voice, which had some white noise and our caller’s voice wasn’t very clear. We could hold a conversation but had a few “repeat what you just said” requests. The DSP was less effective with wind noise, but worked fine with other noises. The range was better with the Moto Q9c than other phones in our tests, reaching at least 20 feet.
When working with the BlackBerry Curve 8330 (Bluetooth v2.0):
The BlueAnt Z9i’s performance with the BlackBerry Curve 8330 was the least impressive. Both incoming and outgoing voice sounded muffled like talking through a thin sock. We could hold a conversation, but not clearly. Volume wasn’t very high either even with everything turned to max. The range was about 10 feet.
The BlueAnt Z9i has a built-in rechargeable Lithium Polymer battery and you can charge it with the included AC world charger. The claimed talk time is 5.5 hours which seemed on target in our tests and the claimed standby is over 8 days and our tests showed it was pretty accurate.
BlueAnt didn’t change the BlueAnt Z9 industrial design in their newest Bluetooth headset, and that’s just fine with us. The BlueAnt Z9i has a clean design and is easy to wear. The included ear hooks and ear buds offer a decent number of choices for styles and comfort. The headset has good voice quality with most phones and battery life is decent. If you are using one of the phones that the BlueAnt Z9i works well with (Nokia, HTC, iPhone and Sony Ericsson) and are seeking a small-sized Bluetooth headset, this should be on your shortlist.
Pro: Small and light, easy and comfy to wear. Good looking. Has an impressive number of technologies packed into a small body. The multipoint connection is a bonus for those who use two mobile phones. Good DSP.
Con: Voice quality isn’t stellar on some phones. We’d like to see a firmware update to fix the pairing glitch that requires a headset reset.
Package contains: the Z9i Bluetooth headset, AC wall charger, USB cable, 2 ear buds, 2 ear hooks and printed manual, quick start guide and warranty card.
-Audio: 3GPP with DSP
-Claimed talk time: Up to 5.5 hours
-Claimed standby time: Up to 200 hours
-Headset size: 1.61 x 0.68 x 0.44 inches
-Headset weight: 0.38 oz.
-Battery: 3.7V Lithium Polymer
-AC adapter: 100-240V