Review: Jawbone ICON HD + NERD Bluetooth/VOIP Headset

jawbone-icon-hd-nerd

I bought the Jawbone ICON HD + NERD mainly to use as a Skype and Google Voice headset (I haven’t had a “land line” for my law firm for probably five years). Despite the awkward name, this product is just the popular Jawbone ICON headset packaged with the NERD, a tiny Bluetooth USB dongle that makes it easy to use the Jawbone with Skype, Google Voice, and other computer-based VOIP software.

My last headset was a Logitech ClearChat wireless headset, which was great until it died less than a year after I bought it. Thinking it would be nice to have a headset I could use with my phone, as well, I snapped up the Jawbone.

Price and features

At just over $100, the Jawbone ICON HD + NERD is a pricey Bluetooth headset. If all you want is a headset to go with your smartphone, you can find a variety of well-rated options for less than $50. Of course, the Jawbone turns out to be a cut above the rest, and none of the cheap options will cooperate with Skype, Google Voice, or other VOIP software.

That’s the main reason I was drawn to this headset. If, like me, you rely on Skype or Google Voice for your phone number, you ought to have something better than your computer’s microphone and speakers for making calls. That’s where the NERD comes in. It’s a tiny Bluetooth dongle that, when plugged in, keeps your headset connected to your VOIP software—that’s the idea, anyway.

The Jawbone headset itself can be worn with an over-the-ear hook, or you can go without and use the included earpieces to wedge it in your ear. Which will work for you largely depends on the shape of your ears. I like the ear hook thingy for extra security.

There is a Jawbone utility available for your computer as well as an app for your smartphone. Both allow you to get extra functionality out of your headset. I particularly like the ability to change the robot voice from the default. (I went with the spy girl.) You can add other Jawbone apps to your headset, as well, for things like voice dialing and changing default behaviors. Basically, you can customize your device a bit, which is a nice touch.

Form, fit, and finish

There is a reason Jawbone Bluetooth headsets cost a bit more. The ICON HD is extremely well-designed, well-made, and beautifully packaged. It also feels surprisingly solid despite its tiny size and feather weight.

There are just two buttons on it: a switch on the underside to turn it on and off, and a button on the back for adjusting the volume, answering calls, and various other functions, depending on where and how many times you press it. If that sounds like it might get confusing, it mostly doesn’t. I don’t have any trouble using the controls correctly, and I appreciate that there aren’t a bunch of buttons to fumble around with.

My only problem is that I just can’t seem to find a combination of earpiece and ear loop that will keep the headset firmly connected to my head. I’m probably just shaped funny, but I’m guessing others will share this difficulty. I’m not sure whether the blame lies with Jawbone’s design, or if it’s just really hard to get a lightweight headset that fits well in an infinite variety of ears. My guess is the latter, so I’m not laying the blame for this at the feet of the Jawbone’s designers.

Performance

Connected to my smartphone (an Android phone, in my case), the Jawbone ICON HD is fantastic. Sound quality is excellent, and it is easy to pick up calls from the headset instead of reaching for your phone.

Regardless what it is connected to, battery life is excellent. I seem to get about 5+ hours of talk time per charge. It doesn’t seem to lose much charge while sitting on my desk, either, so I generally charge it about once a week. Obviously, if you talk more than I do, you’ll need to charge it more frequently, but most people should be able to make it through a day on a single charge without trouble.

The disappointment for me, so far, has been the NERD. Which is too bad, because the NERD was also the whole reason I bought this headset. I have found connectivity to be spotty, at best. Sometimes I pick up a call, and the headset has apparently lost its connection to the NERD, which is plugged into a USB port less than five feet away.

In Skype calls, the headset often cuts in and out, so that the other party to the conversation is constantly asking me to repeat myself—or worse, going on as if they heard me when they didn’t. Sound quality while using the NERD is disappointing even with the connection is solid. To me, the call sounds like it is taking place in a tunnel while standing next to a noisy steam grate. It compares favorably to the first cell phone I owned over a decade ago, but that’s about it.

If you want to know how the Jawbone sounds to the person on the other end of the line, just try listening to me in this video. Horrible, in other words.

The problem isn’t with Skype, either. With my previous Logitech wireless headset, I got fantastic sound quality—better than I have ever gotten using a land line. Heck, I get great sound quality using my computer’s microphone and speakers. Just not with the NERD. It isn’t the headset, either. I get great sound quality using the Jawbone ICON HD with my smartphone. It’s just the NERD that sucks.

Summary

If you are looking for a fantastic Bluetooth headset for using with a smartphone, get the Jawbone ICON HD, but skip the NERD. It looks great, works great, and is, in short, a great Bluetooth headset.

But if you are looking for a good Skype headset, don’t get the ICON HD + NERD. Talking to clients and opposing counsel using the Jawbone NERD makes you sound like you can’t afford decent phone service, even if you are using one of the more expensive Bluetooth headsets on the market.

Legal Technology

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  • Guest

    I’m confused why you felt compelled to purchase the Jawbone given the fact you use Google Voice and an Android device.

    Why not just purchase one of the cheaper bluetooth headsets and change your Google Voice settings to forward calls to your Android smartphone?

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      I don’t like to always use my cell phone, for one thing, but I also use Skype for video and voice quite frequently. Plus, the call quality on my phone (T-Mobile) isn’t as good as Skype, so I prefer using Skype when I can. (Yes, I could use Skype on my phone, but phones aren’t well-suited to video even if I did have a phone with a front-facing camera.)

  • http://leiflaw.net/ Dan

    Does it do A2DP music playback?

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      I don’t know. What is A2DP?

      • http://leiflaw.net/ Dan

        It lets you broadcast music in stereo from your phone to your bluetooth headset. Well, as stereo as you can get with the thing being in one ear, of course. I don’t know too much about it, but if I’m going to be using a headset for any length of time, I’d like to not have to switch out to my wired headphones any time I want to listen to some tunes.

        • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

          Huh. I know I can listen to music from my phone or computer using this headset, but I don’t know whether it is coming from a stereo output or not.

  • http://www.PAinjurycase.com Dave S.

    I wonder how many of you out there are not using a landline?
    It seems hard to break away from the idea that you need one – we have 4 lawyers and a total of 6 people in the office.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      It’s pretty easy to go without. You could switch to a “regular” VOIP solution without even noticing, but Skype is a great option, too. It even has a business control panel so you can keep control of your numbers and users.

      Google Voice has similar control for Apps account users, although I still find Skype a bit more flexible.

  • http://www.comnetpros.com Mark Entezari

    Wonderful review in its entirety. It difinately helped to decide puchase the Icon HD without the Nerd.

    Thank you

  • ian

    Great review. Please could you clarify one thing for me?
    Does this Jawbone work with the Skype Application on your Android Device?
    My problem has been trying to find a Bluetooth solution that doesn’t just pair with my phone, but also works with the Skype App. This function is not as easy as I thought it would be!

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      I don’t use Skype on my phone, but any Bluetooth headset that pairs with your phone ought to work with Skype. However, if you’ve tried this, and it hasn’t worked for you, it’s possible that either Skype or your phone has a glitch.

  • http://www.leahsc.com Grace

    Sam, Thanks for the great review! I run a virtual business as a legal organization that supports home educators in SC and am constantly on the phone at my desk, in the car, or at coffee shops in meetings counseling these parents. I need a device that could handle that much mobility. Obviously, the more seamlessly, the better. :-)

    For the past 8 years I’ve owned Motorola, Jabra, and Plantronics bluetooth headsets. I started out with Motorola headset with my first Motorola cell phone, but learned they were only so-so in audio quality thus making them unreliable. As I moved to HTC smartphones, the Motorla deteriorated in sound quality and wouldn’t pair with the second HTC phone, the Droid. The first Jabra was good, but was stolen…I guess it was too good for that time.

    When I started my business I never did use a landline. Instead, it was all cellular and virtual using the Plantronics 510 and a dongle for my desktop, a gift from my son to my husband (who hates gadgets and still uses a clamshell phone). The audio quality was superior, though I wasn’t as successful with voice commands. However, I was able to use Skype on the 510 and I was hooked (pun intended). I used it till it died about two years later.

    As bluetooth headset technology progressed, I was trying to stay informed about the features. When I purchased the HTC Droid, however, I quickly learned it was not able to support the Plantronics 510 nor did it originally have A2DP. I was able to download a patch but didn’t have a bluetooth headset to match it. So I purchased a Plantronics Pro and limped along without a dongle for my laptop. The audio quality and connectivity were so great that I didn’t lose calls due to the headset, but rather through the phone’s weak signal from the cells towers. Then I got a Nuvi GPS and learned that I couldn’t stream music or that my Garmin couldn’t be heard via the 510 or the Droid. Suddenly, I was really missing out.

    So I purchased a Plantronics Pro UC 250M which comes with a dongle and worked great with my desktop, laptop, Android cell phone, Droid tablet, Nuvi GPS and later iPhone. I purchased the Pro UC as it is advertised to support softphone technology via Microsoft. The Plantronics devices have Sensor technology which allows them to sense when they are being set down and will immediately reconnect to the phones and GPS when picked up. And the battery life was outstanding. I could pair with the iPhone, the Nuvi GPS and make hands free calls, as well as listen to navigation via my headset and stream Pandora into my headset. Also, when in proximity (up to 30 feet) to the phone, laptop, and tablet and closer to the Nuvi, they would connect automatically, with the same crystal clarity I had come to appreciate. I was in Nirvana!

    Unfortunately, my Nirvana only lasted a year. :-( The battery was rated to last up to 6 hours talk time and it did, but I probably should have let it die more frequently between recharges. Plantronics techs tell me that they are only good for about 200 cycles of recharging and that’s it.

    So why don’t I just buy another Plantronics Pro UC? Frankly, the Plantronics headset just isn’t visually appealing for out-of-the office use. The boom is way too conspicuous hence the search for a better looking replacement. I was hoping that the Jabra Extreme 2 would be sufficient and more visually appealing. However, I have paired it with my iPhone and that’s it. I can’t pair it with my desktop or laptop because it doesn’t come with a dongle. My Nuvi isn’t able to detect the device either, though I can connect the iPhone with the Nuvi and stream music from my car stereo aux into the Jabra with Pandora. So, I’m back to shopping.

    Though the Jawbone Icon + Nerd has been out for awhile now, I appreciate your review. I know now that I won’t be satisfied with the Jawbone Nerd. *Sigh* The price for a new Plantronics Pro UC is about the same as the Jawbone Icon + NERD. That leaves me with having to accept that I won’t improve my appearance after all and go back to Plantronics!