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BlueAnt Z9i Bluetooth Headset

Tue Aug 19, 2008 - 9:28 AM EDT - By Jay Gross

Overview

The Z9i is the “sequel” to the impressive Z9 Bluetooth headset from BlueAnt. It’s impressive. Somehow, the company found a way to add more features to an already feature-rich headset. Big deal. Who needs multitudinous features?

Somehow, they also found a way to improve upon the Z9’s already outstanding sound quality, and that applies to both incoming and outgoing, as well as the headset’s usefulness in noisy, even extremely noisy environments.

Did I mention that I love the new sequel? I do indeed.

I liked the original Z9, reporting in my revieww that it “pretty much sets a new standard for noise reduction.” Quoting myself:

I actually find it hard to believe my left ear, or rather, what’s flowing into it from the nearly weightless headset.

To my delight and amazement, the new Z9i is even better, and for only a few extra bucks. Before we talk about anything else, let me describe my testing area. Noisy! A window air conditioner groans a few feet from my desk. Three computers purr away. One of them has two internal fans and a harddisk drive whose bearings are on their last legs – translate: groaning loudly. And the outside traffic keeps its presence known, just so we high-rise dwellers don’t forget.

I found the Z9i joyfully easy to pair to my (red!) Palm Centro, as well as to my Treo 700p and my Treo 680. Although the headset supports pairing with up to five devices, I only tried three. Frankly, I think that’s a gracious plenty.

I did all the testing in my office and outside in the downtown traffic, both quite noisy. I didn’t bother testing it in a quiet space, because for one thing, I don’t have a space that I’d be willing to call “quiet.”

The Z9i perches on your ear like its elder sibling, the Z9, which is still available. The adjustable ear hook mechanism makes it easy to find a comfortable arrangement so it doesn’t wobble around too much or fall off too easily. At 0.35 ounces, a mere 10 grams, it’s beautifully light in weight.

Even so, its battery packs in the power. The Z9i is good for 5.5 hours of talk time. The company claims 200 hours standby. I tried to check that, but the phone kept ringing, and it was just too tempting to use the headset. After seven days, even with some use during that time, it still has power, so I don’t doubt the standby rating one bit.

The Z9i’s noise cancellation is electronic, and BlueAnt claims patents on all of it, plus trademarks on the words that describe it. I won’t bother you with the verbiage. It doesn’t matter. This time, the hype is backed up with performance. I like that.


Usability

As with the Z9, which yours truly reviewed for TreoCentral last September, I have some gripes with the user interface. You still have to observe and interpret blink-encoded messages from the headset that let you know what’s going on. Now, I know it’s a small device with limited space for buttons. I know people get all upset about lots of buttons – other people besides me, that is. I’d rather have a dedicated button or three than have the user manual tattooed onto my forearm in order to operate a simple headset. Well, not so simple, really.

Here’s only some of the feature list, impressive, to be sure:

  • Switch between Standard and Max voice isolation during a call
  • Automatic connection and reconnection with notification
  • Different ringtones for known and unknown contacts
  • Pair with up to five Bluetooth devices – the Z9 handled only three
  • Connect with two phones at one time (that’s useful to somebody?)

Well, I’ll just stop there. My point is that all these features necessitate some way of invoking or adjusting them, and that means more blinking, more multiple-button pushing, and encoded times for holding down controls to make different things happen. To me, the most important feature for any headset is sound quality, both incoming and outgoing, and the Z9i has that figured out. Pore through the nicely done manual and figure out what you really need; memorize those controls, and let it go at that.


Sound quality

I’ve already raved about the BlueAnt sound quality, both for the Z9 and the Z9i. Nuff said about it, except to reiterate: it’s nothing shy of amazing.

The headset comes in an attractive, though tricky-to-open plastic “box” of sorts, and includes – hidden in the base compartment – a USB charging cable, an AC charger, rubberized and clear plastic ear hooks, small and large ear buds, User Manual and Quick Start Guide.


Conclusion

If you want features, here they are aplenty. Pack the user manual or at least the convenient Quick Start Guide and enjoy yourself. For sound quality, both incoming and outgoing, and especially if you deal with noisy environments, the Z9i is not just excellent, but amazingly so. You can get a Z9i here for $74.95. That’s a deal, actually, since the manufacturer’s “list” is $124.95, and for what it does, this product should easily go for the higher price.





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Criteria 

Rating

Design 5
Usability 4
Sound Quality 5
Cost/Benefit 5
Overall
(not an average)
Pros
  • Good looking
  • Extra light weight
  • Superb sound quality, both incoming and outgoing
  • Excellent noise cancellation with high and low settings
  • Comes in black or red
  • Good talk and standby times
  • USB-updatable firmware
  • Cons
  • Morse-code user interface to access some features
  • Some unnecessary blinking
  • Oh how I wish there were a stereo version


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