Review: Jawbone ICON HD + NERD Bluetooth/VOIP Headset
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.
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.
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.
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.