Review posted Feb. 2006 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
Gennum is a relatively fresh name in the Bluetooth headset market, though they have been making Bluetooth modules and designing Bluetooth products for quite a few years. The nXZEN Bluetooth headset is the second generation of Bluetooth headsets in Gennum’s consumer product line and it comes in two models, the nXZEN and the nXZEN PLUS. These two models differ only in two respects: the color of the faceplate and the Plus model has a stereo headset kit. Otherwise both models come in at the same size and weigh, and they both have the same DSP technology and battery implementations. We used the nXZEN Plus (model 5500) for this review.
The nXZEN Plus Bluetooth headset stands out with its powerful DSP (Digital Signal Processor), an in-ear comfortable to wear design and its creative way of adding stereo to a mobile wireless headset. Please note that the nXZEN (model 5000) doesn’t include the stereo headset feature.
The Gennum is a smaller headset in the mid-size pack of Bluetooth headsets. At 2.35 x 1.12 inches, the nXZEN is a bit shorter than the Cardo scala-500 and the Palm Treo Bluetooth headsets. It has a brushed silver color plastic cover (the model 5000 has a shinny black cover), a large round call answer/end button (also powers on/off the headset) with a LED ring surrounding it. The volume up and down buttons flank the rounded top edge under a rubber cap that makes it easy to push these buttons. Unlike many Bluetooth headsets currently on the market, the nXZEN Plus has a separate pairing button on the right side near the tip of the headset, called the “pinch” button. It also functions as the voice dialing, redial, mute/unmute and swap between calls button. While it is convenient to operate functions such as power on/off, call features and pairing on separate buttons, it will also take you some time to remember which buttons perform which functions on the nXZEN. You will find two microphone holes on the front of the headset near the tip and a battery charging port on top of the Gennum.
On the back of the headset, you will find an ear tip that can extend into your ear tunnel. Fans of the Jabra FreeSpeak BT250 design but wish to have the headset sit in front of the ear, as opposed to behind the ear, should know that the nXZEN provides both. The nXZEN comes with 3 ear tip covers that are in different sizes. So make sure that you try them all to find the best fit for your ear. The covers are made of soft plastic as opposed to the gel covers that Jabra uses. They are quite comfy while sitting in your ear and don’t block the ambient noises as much as the Jabra ear gels. Below the ear tip, you will find the ear hook that’s comfortable to wear yet secures the headset to your ear (no flapping even with sudden head turns.) The ear hook can fit for either the left or the right ear and the package comes with two ear hooks in different sizes as well. The nXZEN is light enough for you to wear throughout a day and the in-ear design gives the incoming calls a leg up in sound volume and clarity.
The Gennum nXZEN wireless headset has a Bluetooth v1.2 radio and supports both Headset and Hands-free profiles on mobile phones. We tested the headset with the Cingular 8125, Treo 650, the E-TEN M600, the Nextel i870 and the Nokia 3650. The nXZEN Plus headset pairs with all devices with ease. To pair the headset, hold the Pinch button until the LED flashes 4 times or you hear 4 beeps, release the Pinch button, the LED should stay in solid blue. Use your mobile phone to discover the headset and pair with it using the default code “0000”. Once the headset is paired with your device, push the Pinch button once more until you hear one beep to connect the two and start making phone calls via the headset. The Gennum headset can be paired up with 3 devices and you can swap between phones using the Pinch button.
The voice quality on the Gennum nXZEN varies depending on the mobile phones you are using. Incoming voice was excellent on all the devices we tested it with except Nextel’s Motorola i870 which had such trouble getting the incoming voice through the headset that it was unusable for this phone. The Gennum uses very powerful DSP technology, and it reduces background noise in manifold when making calls in a hugely noisy environment such as active construction sites, steel factories and more. It also has two microphones, one for your voice and another for ambient noise which it picks up then noise cancels to improve outgoing audio. The normal office, home and even in-vehicle environment produced almost no noise on the outgoing voice via the headset in our tests. The incoming volume is loud (except on the Nextel i870) on all devices in the test and the outgoing volume is equally loud especially on the Nextel i870 but the Treo 650 sounded a bit low. The only time you will hear crackling and breaking up is when the headset is going out of range of the phone.
There is a unique feature on the nXZEN PLUS model (5500 model) and that is the stereo headset feature. The package includes an additional wired earbud going to one ear and an audio plug that plugs into your nXZEN headset. You might look a bit strange with an earbud in one ear and a Bluetooth headset in the other, but this setup gives you stereo capabilities for MP3 and movie play on your phone and PDA. The nXZEN Plus headset comes in a default phone mode which lacks the base and other necessary features that stereo headsets have, but Gennum provides PC software called Graphic Equalizer that can change your headset from phone mode to Hi-Fi music mode which adds the bass and much richer sound output. To utilize the Graphical Equalizer however, you will need a Bluetooth enabled Windows PC on which to install the software, then you can set the EQ on your headset via Bluetooth.
The Gennum supports quite a few phone features including voice dialing, last number redial, call waiting and mute/unmute during a call. Voice dialing worked well on the phones that support this feature. One great feature on the nXZEN is that it can be paired with multiple devices at the same time. You can swap between them by pushing the Pinch button until it beeps and connects to the current device. The headset handles these connections smoothly and has no trouble remembering its previously paired partners.
The Gennum nXZEN Bluetooth headset has middle of the road range. The fartherest between the phone and the headset we were able to go was 25 feet (through walls) before we started hearing static, crackling and break up (the Cingular 8125 won the long range test and the Treo 650 had the shortest range). Even though Bluetooth v1.2 is supposed to improve interference rejection, it certainly hasn’t improved range performance on this Bluetooth headset that dramatically. Granted, we are located in a Bluetooth, WiFi and all other radio wave polluted Silicon Valley which is one of the tougher environments for radio interference rejection tests. If you are in a less radio wave polluted area, you should get better range than we did in our area.
The nXZEN Bluetooth headset has a built-in Lithium Polymer battery and can be charged via the AC adapter or the USB charging cable, both included in the package. The talk time and standby time both are good enough for most of the users who don’t talk a few hours a day on the cell phone. We got over 6 hours of talk time and 3-4 days of standby on a charge.
Pro: The headset is very comfortable to wear. The powerful DSP makes this headset a must-have if you make calls often in a very noisy environment. Good incoming voice quality and volume (except on the Treo 650 and the Nextel i870) and great outgoing voice quality on all phones in our test. The headset can work with multiple Bluetooth devices. Stereo function is a plus for those who listen to MP3 on their phones and PDAs. Good battery life.
Con: Bluetooth range was very good with some handsets and mediocre with others. The stereo function is a nice touch, but you have to use a Bluetooth enabled PC to tinker with the equalizer.
Package contains the nXZEN Plus headset, 2 ear hooks and 3 ear tip covers in different sizes, AC wall charger, USB charging cable, stereo audio cable, Graphical Equalizer installation CD, User’s Manual and Quick Reference Card.
Technical Specs: -Bluetooth v1.2.
-Profiles supported: Hands-free and Headset profiles.
-Claimed talk time: Up to 7 hours on a charge.
-Claimed standby time: Up to 100 hours.
-Range: 33 feet.
-Headset size: 2.35 inches long and 1.12 inches wide.
-Headset weight: 0.54 oz. (17 grams).
-Battery: Lithium Polymer.
-AC adapter: 100-240v.