Review: Jawbone ICON brings style and intelligence to a Bluetooth headset

I have tried a number of Bluetooth headsets over the years and my favorite that I have been using for the last couple has been the second generation Jawbone. For the last few days I have been testing the latest generation device from Aliph that was announced today, the Jawbone ICON. The Jawbone ICON takes Aliph's advanced headset technology and adds in a software platform to further their vision for a wearable computing platform. The ICON is available now for $99.99 in six different personalities and as you will read about in my review below, Aliph brings you a superior headset all the way from the packaging materials to the details on the headset. Check out my image gallery for photos of the Aliph Jawbone ICON.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

I have tried a number of Bluetooth headsets over the years and my favorite that I have been using for the last couple has been the second generation Jawbone. For the last few days I have been testing the latest generation device from Aliph that was announced today, the Jawbone ICON. The Jawbone ICON takes Aliph's advanced headset technology and adds in a software platform to further their vision for a wearable computing platform. The ICON is available now for $99.99 in six different personalities and as you will read about in my review below, Aliph brings you a superior headset all the way from the packaging materials to the details on the headset. Check out my image gallery for photos of the Aliph Jawbone ICON.

Image Gallery:Check out a product photos of the Jawbone ICON Rogue Bluetooth headset from Aliph.
Image Gallery: ICON retail packaging
Image Gallery: The ICON Rogue

Vision, research, and base design elements

I had the pleasure of spending an hour talking with Travis Bogard, Executive Director, Product Management & Strategy, about the Jawbone ICON and Aliph's vision for headsets. Aliph wants to give users the best experience possible with headsets and the ICON is a start of their next generation of wearable computing where the user is freed up to manage their life hands-free. This includes the ability to interact with their smartphone through social networks, text messages, email, and more. They want the intelligence of the headset to require just short interactions by the user while giving the user a seamless and consistent audio experience with multiple devices. We are not just talking about phones here, but all of those devices we have today with Bluetooth technology. They have four key areas they are focusing on for future devices and in the ICON you can see the first generation of these building blocks. They are:

  • Create headsets that people want to wear. Aliph conducts research to ensure ergonomics, quality, and style are addressed in their headsets.
  • Focus on connectivity. As you will read in my experience below, they want to make setup and pairing drop dead easy for the user.
  • Focus on UI experiences. They want to create a UI experience that is consistent across platforms.
  • Personalized applications for the individual. Through their new MYTALK software platform they want to take personalization to the next level.

As the tech guy in the family who gets asked a million questions about setting up Bluetooth devices, I was also pleased to hear Travis state they are building headsets for a zero frustration experience so even my mother-in-law should be able to turn on, pair, and use the ICON. Their research showed that four out of five people prefer talking on a Jawbone vs a cell phone alone. I can say after a few days of use that I too prefer the freedom and ease of using the ICON over holding the headset up to my ear.

We all know that the smartphone market is actually still in its early years with millions and millions of people out there without smartphones and Aliph's research shows that only 11% of wireless subscribers bought Bluetooth headsets in 2008 so this headset market is also one with huge potential growth. Just about every single feature phone and smart phone that I see available from wireless carriers now has Bluetooth and with the laws in many States requiring hands-free devices Bluetooth headset sales should be increasing exponentially. I think part of the reason people don't buy headsets is that they haven't tried one that gives them an easy and functional user experience.


Before moving into my experiences and usage of the ICON, let's check out the specifications below:

  • Talk Time: Up to 4.5 hours (varies by phone)
  • Standby Time: More than 10 days
  • Range: At least 33 feet (10 meters)
  • Charge: 80% charge in 35 minutes, 100% charge in less than 1 hour
  • Weight: 8 grams
  • Fit: 7 earbud sizes + 1 premium adjustable earloop
  • Accessories: AC power adaptor, micro-USB flex cable
  • Supports Multipoint: Pairs with up to 8 devices, 2 simultaneous connections
  • Supports Bluetooth: 2.1 + EDR (Enhanced Data Rate), 2.0, 1.2, 1.1
  • Packaging: 100% recyclable

As you can see above, I was pleased to see Aliph integrate the capability for 2 simultaneous connections and understand this features is more advanced than what they have had in a headset before. I know many people who carry a BlackBerry that their company provided along with a personal phone like an iPhone so with the Jawbone ICON they can now have the headset connected to both phones at the same time and when a call comes in answer with the headset like normal on one phone with the ability to quickly toggle from the headset to the other phone if a call comes in there as well. You no longer have to have multiple headset or answer one with a headset and the other through the phone.

Out of the box experiences

As I stated earlier, Aliph focused on making everything better with the ICON, even the box. As you can see in my image gallery photos, the packaging is minimized to just what is needed to pack in all the contents, while being able to highlight the headset for the buyer. The plastic upper portion is 100% recyclable material and unlike recyclable plastics you may have seen before it is clear and very sturdy so it also appeals to retailers wanting to keep products safe from theft. You can simply pop off the plastic upper portion and throw it in your recycle bin with other plastic bottles and there is a small flyer showing this in the package.

The lower portion is 100% recyclable paper material and can also be thrown into your recycle bin if you decide not to keep it. I like how you can take off the plastic to portion and recycle it while keep the bottom portion to hold the different earpieces. The ICON comes with seven earbud sizes and one ear loop. Three earbuds are designed for Option A: earbud only wear and four others are designed for Option B: earbud and earloop wear. You can actually throw on the earloop with and earbud only piece as well if you wish.

Opening up the front of the lower portion where the earbud options are mounted in fit openings you will find a small gray A/C adapter with USB port and a short USB cable for charging and connectivity to your computer. The USB cable is only about 2 inches long and is made so you can angle it up when plugged into your computer and keep it off the table. I also found the cable handy for in the car where you can have the headset pointed up and away from the DC port. There is no car adapter in the packaging, but I found the USB cable works with several USB car adapters I already have.

Meet the ICON

The Jawbone ICON comes in six different personalities and I have photos of each in my image gallery. You will find the HERO, ROGUE, THINKER, ACE, BOMBSHELL, and CATCH. Each has the same technology, controls, and software platform capabilities with the personalities focused on the visual style design elements. I was sent the ROGUE to try out and like the ACE you will find the color is on the back panel while the top is a clear shield so that as you angle the device in the light you will see the red highlights show through. All of the personalities have two square panels on the oustside face, except for the BOMBSHELL that is a bit more like jewelry than a headset with a rippled blonde face.

One of the first things I noticed on the ICON was the physical on/off switch. With the number of headsets I have used it was nice to see a physical button present instead of having to remember what area or button to press and hold and for how long to turn the headset on and off. The switch is very small and located on the inside so it is not noticeable and does not take away from the style and design of the headset. The switch and talk button made pairing extremely easy by just pressing and holding the talk button while flipping the switch to on. Most phones I have paired automatically, but if your phone does prompt for a code it is simply 0000.

The LED has also been moved to the inside around the Voice Activity Sensor that rests against your face (for best performance) and after pairing the LED goes off so it won't blink and distract you or others. The LED does turn on when you plug in the headset to give you a visual interaction of the charging status (red if charging and white when fully charged).

Speaking of charging, the ICON uses a standard microUSB port for connection to your PC/Mac and for charging so you won't have to remember to pack along a special charging adapter when you travel to keep your ICON charged up.

There is also one single Talk button on the back side of the ICON so there is no confusion with multiple buttons. I also have found other headsets with buttons on the outside leading the headset to fall out or shift as I pressed the button to activate the headset. With the easy to feel button on the back I simply put my thumb on the front while pressing with a finger on the back button and the headset doesn't move or cause any pain going into my ear. The button is pressed once to take a call and pressed again to hang up. You can also dial as you normally would on your phone, listen and talk with your headset and then press the Talk button to hang up.

If you press the Talk button once while not on a call you will hear a voice (see below for how MYTALK lets you customize this) state the remaining charge on the headset and this is one feature I particularly find attractive on the ICON. Charging status is one area of headsets that has bugged me and actually kept me from using them more because when I went to use them the headset seemed to always be dead. In the past you never knew how much charge was left and if you didn't keep mental note you may never have known and instead wasted time charging or forgot to charge. Now, a simple button press and you know the estimated charge remaining! By the way, it takes 40 minutes to get your headset 80% charged when empty and 90 minutes for a full charge. If you have an iPhone then you will get an even better charging status experience because after you pair with the iPhone you will see a headset battery meter in the upper right status bar. Aliph found that this battery meter changed the behavior of users so they would charge their headset at night with their iPhone and get much more use out of the headset.

If you press and hold on the Talk button (and you have a compatible device) you will be able to voice dial with the ICON. I was able to use this on my iPhone 3GS and Nokia N97 mini, but the N900 and Google Nexus One do not support voice dialing.

The headset will also talk to you and let you know when it is ready to connect, give you the status of Noise Assassin, and speak the number that is calling you. I found the caller ID function to be pretty slick and while it doesn't speak the caller name it does give you the number and if you are like many of us we generally take calls from the same 5 to 10 people so you will quickly recognize their number if you don't know it already.

Speaking of the Noise Assassin technology, version 2.5 in the ICON is intelligent and has a set it and forget it feature where you set the headset volume on your phone and the ICON will remember it and automatically adjust the headset to that volume even if one caller screams on the phone while another whispers. This is very slick and results in no need for a volume button or controls on the headset.

MyTALK software platform

The MyTALK service is currently in private beta and since I am in this beta I took a couple of screenshots to show you what is there in my image gallery. The MyTALK system works through your browser and a small Jawbone Updater utility is required to be installed on your PC or Mac when you first connect. I used the ICON on my MacBook Pro and found that an menu item was added to the top of my screen for easy connection to the MyTALK service.

After successfully connecting to your ICON you will find that you can manage your ICON headset through USB. Configuration settings you can manage include toggle on or off the voice and caller ID functionality. You can also edit your connections and see how many of the 8 available headsets you are connected with on the ICON. You can even rename your ICON to add a bit of personalization to it when you connect to your phones.

The MyTALK software platform is divided into AudioApps and DialApps. AudioApps are the six voices associated with each personality. You can install and use any of the personalities, even if you bought a different personality so you can have a style of headset you want with a voice you want. There are Spanish, French, and German voices if you want these on your headset too. The default can also be reloaded if you like.

DialApps are services that let you customize the Talk button on your ICON. By default, pressing and holding on the Talk button launches the Voice Dial application already loaded by default on the headset (your phone must support voice dialing). Other available DialApps include 411 directory assistance, Jott Assistant, 1-800-FREE411, and Dial2Do HandsFree Assistant. Selecting one of these and then installing it on your ICON changes the number that is dialed with a press and hold while the default Voice Dial application is an actual application. As you can see the 411 app is one that will result in your carrier charging you for services rendered while the 1-800-FREE411 will result in using just your voice plan minutes with no service charges. Jott Assistant lets you perform a large number of tasks via voice and is a service you have to setup and pay for prior to using on your ICON. I thought about trying Jott Assistant, but it is a bit costly for my tastes and I couldn't find any support for Evernote.

I signed up for and am trying out the Dial2Do service because it lets me quickly create notes in Evernote, send messages to Twitter, send text messages, listen to current news, create a WordPress blog post and much more. You can get a free Dial2Do account that gives you reminders and a 30-day trial of the Pro services ($39.99 per year) so I am trying out the advanced features to see how useful they are in my life. If I find it to be a valuable service then I will add the phone number to the MyFaves account on T-Mobile and get free access to my subscription service. Otherwise, each call uses up plan minutes and I do not have an unlimited voice plan.

  • Here is what my test note to Evernote resulted in: "This is a test note to evernote sent from the icon (?) headset to my Nokia N97 mini. Pick up buttermilk, carrots and apples at the store. I sent this email using my voice. Listen to it here: http://dial2do.com/1ydoxshr"
  • And here is what my test note to Twitter via Dial2Go resulted in: "Posting a message via the icon headset and Nokia N97 mini as a test post. http://dial2do.com/1y9vmb9r"

As you can see the service did a good job of translating my text to speech and still gave the option to listen to the original recorded message.

I tried out the standard Voice Dial app with the iPhone 3GS and it will let you use the Voice Control application on the iPhone. This is good for dialing, but if you select music I experienced the music playing through the speaker and not through the ICON headset like I hoped. When I connected to the Nokia N97 mini I was able to listen to music, text messages, and use the integrated voice dialing application on the N97 mini. You will find that all audio plays on the ICON from most Nokia devices. Your experiences will vary with the ICON depending on the Bluetooth support provided on the phone you are using.

The application support is interesting and I wonder if we will see other apps added for things like controlling the text input fields on the Google Nexus One and other advanced applications as phones evolve. It seems that the platform is flexible in providing this and I look forward to seeing it develop.

Closing thoughts and experiences

I used the Jawbone ICON the last three days and found it to be extremely comfortable when in my ear for hours at a time. I actually tried wearing it throughout the day even when I was walking around the house to see how comfortable it was too. I used the earbud only option 90% of the time and found it to hold in my ear very well with no sensation of falling out at all. Callers said I sounded very good and on my end all callers sounded fantastic.

When I had the ICON ROGUE fully charged the voice told me there was about 4 hours left. It seemed to be fairly accurate as I tested the headset over the last few days, but it does seem a bit shorter than some other headsets I have tried. Thanks to the battery status (voice and visual) it should still be more useful as I have a better understanding of when to charge up the headset.

As I stated above everyone of the personalities has a default voice loaded on it, but when you get access to MyTALK (public beta will launch after further testing) then you can change the voice loaded on your ICON. I put the one that matched the headset design, ROGUE, on mine at first to hear a kind of 007 spy personality for caller ID and power status, but plan to change it to other personalities and try them all out over time.

The $99.99 MSRP is $30 less than all the previous Jawbone headsets and IMHO it is worth the price for a stylish, comfortable, and good performing headset. You will find all six personalities available online with Verizon Wireless stores stocking THE ROGUE at launch. Other channels (Apple, AT&T, Best Buy Mobile, etc.) will soon have more ICON models in stock too.

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