Aliph Jawbone Icon 'The Ace' Bluetooth headset review

While Aliph was announcing its luxurious Jawbone Icon Bluetooth headsets earlier today, we've been playing with one of its six designs -- The Ace -- at our cozy London pad. Being the smallest and lightest Jawbone ever, the Icon's obviously challenging the likes of Jabra Stone with attempts to outperform in noise elimination, battery life, ergonomics and ease of operation. On paper, the Icon already wins on battery life and price, although the Stone has a charging dock good for six extra hours. What really matters, though, is the usability -- something the Stone had little of in a noisy environment. Read on to find out if Aliph has done it right.

Goodies and build quality

Let's focus on the Jawbone Icon for now. First of all, kudos to Aliph for its petite and 100%-recyclable packaging -- expect some flowers from treehuggers soon. To our further surprise the small box packed similar goodies as the Jawbone Prime: on the first layer you'll find three fits for the earbuds with that funny loop stopper (which pushes against the concha to help secure the device), and for the naysayers there's the good old earloop with four earbud fits. If none of these fit you then at least this feast would sound good on your eBay listing. Further down the box are a stash of bilingual (English and Spanish) manuals and cards that remind you not to eat the product, followed by a hard-flex USB-to-micro-USB cable and a wall adapter.

We eventually cradled the shiny earpiece out of the magical box. This model -- The Ace -- sports two chrome square humps which provide a kinetic appearance, and we approve that (although the gold-rippled The Bombshell still seduces us from afar), but as with all shiny objects there's always a catch -- fingerprints. Sure, you can hold the device by its sides, but by doing so we heard the occasional faint squeaks from our gentle squeezes. Nah, there's no reason to lose sleep over this, but we like to be picky while we bask in such luxury.

Our adventurous nature led us to 'Fit Option A -- earbud only.' OK, 'adventurous' was a lie -- we just don't like the earloop as the space is already taken up by our spectacles. Anyhow, without much effort The Ace was already fit snuggly in our right ear (and its symmetrical design means it's lefty-friendly too) -- apparently the key is to point the earpiece downwards while plugging it into the ear, and then twist up to secure. Thankfully, the Voice Activity Sensor nipple -- a crucial element of the NoiseAssassin operation -- has good contact with our skin despite the shorter body, but with such remarkable lightness sometimes we couldn't tell for sure! We've been shaking our heads and jumping around yet The Ace stayed on, but of course, a well-aimed brush by your hands may eventually knock it off, plus the summer sweat might become its biggest enemy so do keep that earloop.

Functionality and control

Aliph boldly claims that the Icon is its "most sophisticated and accessible Jawbone yet," so let's see: yep, we're already liking that on / off switch on the back, which is much less of a hassle than the traditional hold-down-for-five-seconds nonsense. Not much else can be found on the earpiece except the micro-USB port and multi-function button next to the earbud -- the latter deals with phone calls (single click to pick up or hang up calls; double click to redial), checking battery level (single click) and launching a DialApp (hold down the button; we'll cover this later). There are no volume buttons -- the cunning Jawbone Active Dynamic Range Management normalizes all caller volumes around your preferred volume, as controlled by your phone initially. In a way the Icon makes up for what it lacks, if you feel left out at all -- iPhone users are treated to an extra on-screen battery gauge icon which is a first for non-Apple Bluetooth headsets, and apparently Apple's cool with this so it should be staying around for a good while.

Pairing with our phones was no harder than before -- like the Icon's predecessor the process is still PIN-free, still remembers up to eight pairings (and when the quota's full, the least used profile is replaced by the ninth one) but now supporting two simultaneous calls instead of cutting the old one off when picking up the other (so that you can toggle between two calls, like call waiting on one line). That said, we did have the occasional hiccups while attempting to pair with a second phone, and the ultimate solution was to do the tragic hard reset.

Another highlight of the Icon is the MyTALK platform which consists of AudioApps, DialApps and the MyTALK website (currently in beta). AudioApps are essentially voice packs for the onboard announcer for battery level, caller ID and noise to keep you company, and there are currently seven personas plus three language packs -- Spanish, French and German -- to choose from. As for DialApps -- which can be triggered by holding down on the multi-function button -- there are five available for now, including voice dialing (which worked well on our iPhone), directory assistance, Jott voice-to-text (requires subscription), etc. Aliph promises more to come -- including the possibility of a few celebrity AudioApps for charity fundraising events -- and that MyTALK apps will remain free forever (except those that need an external subscription, of course). Here's a straightforward video walkthrough of the MyTALK website including preview of some AudioApps:

Audio quality

All these fancy features sound good so far, but we have yet to get to the real juice of the Jawbone Icon, so how about some sound tests? Round 1 -- Icon paired with a laptop vs. iPhone voice memo (control), both exposed to a simulated bar environment:

Seems like NoiseAssassin did the job well -- the suppressed noise was nowhere near the original volume, although from time to time our voice was slightly saturated but still retaining good clarity overall. If you recall, the Jabra Stone barely reduced the noise level under the same simulation, so we're happy with the Icon so far.

Round 2 -- phone call made on the Motorola DEXT with and without the Icon (audio captured via headphone jack of our iPhone 3GS), both under the same bar noise as before:

Although the Icon had a rough start -- probably for initial calibration -- it settled pretty quickly into a conversation-ready mode, and the dialog was more audible than the Jabra Stone's in the same test. We even prefer the outcome of the Icon to the Motorola DEXT's onboard noise elimination -- the latter's strong filter made us sound like mumbling with an open mouth, if that's possible at all. Seriously though, the Icon has impressed us in both tests.

Update: the Jawbone can now stream music and podcasts via an A2DP update from the MyTALK website.


What can we say? Aliph's hit the spot with six pretty rad designs for this one product range alone, while offering a fresh platform to customize each Icon headset and making it easier to use at the same time. More importantly, the Icon has a noise elimination trick that actually produces results, although we'd like to see that pairing bug fixed with a firmware update sometime soon. Looks like we have a winner here then! One final wish from us: how about some stereo Bluetooth headphones, Aliph?