Look, we can hate on Bluetooth headsets all we want, but the fact is, they're both practical and popular among a certain set—and Aliph's new Jawbone Icon is a solid choice, though barely changed from previous versions.
There are no major audio enhancements here; the company's made tweaks to its NoiseAssassin noise canceling tech, but I compared it to the last new Jawbone product, the Jawbone Prime, and neither I nor the person I called could hear a difference between the two. That means it sounds fine, not noticeably worse than normal phone use, although I did notice that the volume was a little bit low, even at its highest settings. But even standing on a busy street, calls were pretty clear on both ends. One really nice addition is volume equalizing—if you're in a conference call with a loud talker and a soft talker, it'll even them both out to a comfortable level. Basically, it sounds fine, which is about all you can ask for from a Bluetooth headset—but I would definitely have liked to see some kind of major improvement to warrant a whole new product.
Physically, it's shorter and more squat than the Prime, as well as lighter (though it's not like the Prime was weighing down your ear). It also comes in six different colors and patterns, each of which is named after a broad stereotype (The Hero, The Bombshell, The Rogue). Each caricature has its own appropriate voice actor to read notifications (the Bombshell sounds like Jenna Jameson, the Rogue sounds like Batman; all are hilarious, possibly unintentionally), though you can choose which one you want in the MyTalk app store (more on that later).
You'll be hearing those voices a lot, since they've replaced the previous Jawbone's bleeps and bloops with vocal notifications ("Incoming call," "You have four hours of talk time remaining," things like that). It's not a bad system, but most of the voices are so laughably cheesy that it can be more distracting than a simple "beep boop." Also, while it does read caller IDs, it only reads the number, not the name—pretty much useless, since who memorizes phone numbers anymore?
There are some minor design changes as well; the Icon charges by standard microUSB instead of a proprietary jack, it has an actual on/off slider (instead of a hidden button), the position of the LED is moved to be less ostentatious, that kind of thing—all of those changes are welcome. Oh, and a bonus for iPhone users (and only iPhone users): The Icon's battery life gets its own little icon, right next to the iPhone's, which is convenient.
In terms of comfort, I actually found it less comfortable than the Prime—the Icon is so short that it doesn't get up much leverage to press against your jaw, making it feel less sturdy. It's not, though; a vigorous and childish head-shaking proved that it stays in your ear just fine. That could just be personal taste, of course, but the Prime just feels more solid to wear.
The Unnecessary App Store
Aliph also created what's essentially an app store for the Icon, called MyTalk. Why? Fuck if I know. They've only got a couple language packs and some simple stuff like one-touch Free411 calling in there at launch, because a Bluetooth headset does not deserve an app store. I pressed Aliph for some details on where they thought MyTalk might be headed, and they didn't share any ideas beyond the omnipresent Twitter. They may not actually know what to do with it—they seemed unwilling to commit to anything complicated or cool like, say, a Google Maps app.
For now, it works mostly like a firmware update (which makes sense, because firmware updates are a major part of MyTalk right now). You plug in your Jawbone, log into the website, and choose which app you want. Then another program, the Jawbone Updater, loads the apps onto the headset. The apps themselves are triggered with a long press on the Icon's only button, which brings up the most salient point about why a Bluetooth headset doesn't need an app store: It doesn't really do that much. It only has one button, it has no interface to speak of, no screen, and connects only via Bluetooth. So I'm not really sure how they plan to flesh out the store—they mentioned Twitter, but it's unclear exactly how that would work.
As it stands: This is a bridge too far, you guys. What's good for the goose (the goose being smartphones, obviously) is not good for the goddamn Bluetooth headset. Kill it, Aliph. Update firmware some other way.
It's probably the best Bluetooth headset on the market—it does the job, it's cheaper and smaller than its predecessor (the Prime was $130), and sound quality is still tops in the category. Of course, it's also gotten oddly silly since the last generation; the designs are pretty tacky (they may look cool in photos, but they're very plasticky in person), the new voices are a big old pot of savory fondue, and the app store is ill-conceived but easily ignored. All that considered, if you're looking for a Bluetooth headset, I don't have any hesitation about recommending the Icon—just don't expect any huge changes.
Very good sound quality
Smaller size, but feels less secure
Cheeseball voice actors replace bleeps and bloops
Doesn't read caller ID names
App store is a ridiculous idea