The Best New Bluetooth Headsets

If you make more than the most casual use of a mobile phone—a smartphone in particular—try using a headset. It's the most comfortable way to go, and may be safer when you are driving. You don't need me to explain the virtues of going hands-free if you've ever had to dig for data on your computer while holding a BlackBerry to your ear.

Basic wireless Blue�tooth headsets are available for as little as $20, but this is one area where it doesn't pay to economize. Spending more buys style, better battery life, and, most important, some fancy electronics that can really improve the performance of the headset, especially in noisy conditions.

A Solid Trio

I gave three new top-of-the-line headsets a try: the Aliph Jawbone Prime ($130 list, although discounts are likely with all of these), the BlueAnt Q1 ($130), and the Plantronics Voyager PRO ($100). All offer superior voice quality and a feature called multipoint pairing. This lets you switch the headset easily among multiple devices, such as a phone, a laptop with a computer-telephony program, such as Skype (EBAY), and a hands-free kit for your car.

Aliph's original wireless Jawbone, introduced three years ago, brought something new to the world of Blue�tooth: advanced audio technology known as digital signal processing. Aliph's technique of using two microphones—one to pick up your voice and the other to detect ambient noise so it can be electronically eliminated—has been widely adopted by competitors. But the Jawbone technology, called NoiseAssassin, remains the gold standard for enabling your voice to be heard clearly even amid a din.

The new version of Jawbone is, like the Q1, a slender design that can be worn without an optional earloop if the rubber earbud sits securely enough in your ear, which it didn't for me. Its two multifunction buttons are invisible but easier to detect by feel than on the earlier model. And you have a choice of four vibrant "ear candy" colors in addition to sober black, brown, and silver.

The BlueAnt Q1's big distinction is that it responds to speech. When you first turn it on, a series of spoken prompts leads you through the process of pairing it with your phone. Once set up, you can handle most basic commands, from answering a call to checking the battery status, just by speaking. This, of course, is a bit of a gimmick, but I found it useful. Especially on small headsets, such as the Jawbone and the Q1, it's difficult to remember which button does what, and it's embarrassing to hang up a call when you just wanted to lower the volume. One thing I disliked about both headsets, however, is that they use nonstandard USB cables for charging.

No one will confuse the Plantronics Voyager PRO with a fashion accessory. In fact, the best thing you can say is that it's not as ugly as its predecessor. The design, which resembles the headsets Plantronics (PLT) sells for desktop phones, is over-the-ear, which gives it room for a huge battery that seems to go forever without recharging. The use of a mike boom that runs down your cheek—geeky as it is—leads to both excellent voice quality and a minimum of wind noise. This is definitely the leading choice if you often use your phone outdoors.

Phone Pairing Made Easier

Bluetooth headsets in general have improved tremendously in the past couple of years. All of the better ones will get you through at least a couple of days of use, or many days of standby, without recharging. And pairing the headset with a phone—once something of a black art—has become simpler than you'd expect. There are lots of excellent products out there, and the Prime, the Q1, and the Voyager PRO are three of the best.

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