Travel Tech 101



March 1, 2007 -- Two new Bluetooth cell phone headsets claim big improvements in making it easier to conduct clear conversations. But neither product is perfect and you'll need to make a decision about your priorities when choosing a headset for your mobile phone.

The Jawbone and the Discovery 665 from Plantronics take different approaches to reduce background noise. The Jawbone detects when your jaw is moving and, thus, when you're speaking, to help distinguish your voice from background noise. The Discovery 665 uses electronic circuitry to figure out the difference between your voice and background noise and then adjusts the volume so that your voice comes through.

I tested both headsets by pairing them with a Samsung Blackjack phone from Cingular and making a series of calls to an associate. I used both headsets under a number of conditions that a business traveler would encounter: conversing with no background noise; conversing in a car with the radio playing in the background; then in a car with the radio playing and air conditioner fan running at high speed; and, lastly, conversing outside in a mild breeze. In each case, the quality and intelligibility of the voice was rated at each end of the phone line.

Both units worked equally well when there was no background noise. Both headsets were effective at reducing the background radio noise of people talking, but neither eliminated it entirely. With the Jawbone, my speech could be discerned at the other end of the call with the radio playing at the same level as I was speaking even though I could hardly hear myself talk. The Discovery 665 was usable only up to a volume that was about two-thirds of the Jawbone's level.

With the car's air-conditioner fan running on high, the Jawbone eliminated the noise entirely for the listener. The Discovery 665 reduced it, but did not totally eliminate it. To carry on a conversation with the Discovery 665, and be clearly heard, I needed to reduce the fan speed to low.

Outdoors, the Discovery 665 did a much better job at stifling mild wind noise caused by a modest breeze. In fact, the Jawbone was essentially unusable when there was any wind. (The Plantronics also produced a helpful side-tone--that's your own voice coming back to your ear--which is done on conventional home phones and gives you feedback as to how you sound to the listener.)

As for voice quality, the Jawbone seemed a little richer compared to the Discovery 665, but clarity was good with both.

Of course, there's more to headsets than just noise reduction. The Plantronics is less than half the size and weight of the Jawbone, making it much more comfortable to wear over long periods of time. The Discovery 665 was easier to slip on and off my ear and it held securely using one of the three silicone ear tips provided. An optional ear hook also worked well.

The larger Jawbone has a striking, if not discreet, design. It's one of the largest and most visible Bluetooth headsets I've tested and its added weight and ear-hook design made it less comfortable than the Discovery 665. The hook, which holds the Jawbone in place, has built-in rubber bands that are designed to keep the Jawbone firmly against your face. That made the Jawbone more difficult to put on and take off. And the hook's thin stem eventually broke while I was carrying the unit in my pocket. The Jawbone doesn't come with a case, which might have been helpful in guarding against breakage.

Another crucial factor when choosing a Bluetooth headset is battery life. The Jawbone's battery life was excellent, lasting for almost two days of frequent use without recharging. The Discovery 665 only made it through one day, which consisted of about three hours of talk time.

The Jawbone recharges itself using a proprietary AC charger; the cable can also be used with a USB port. The Plantronics offers an AC charger plus two accessories that make up for its shorter battery life. A docking sleeve with shirt clip holds the Discovery 665 and snaps onto the included cigarette lighter adapter for car charging. A cable is also provided to charge from any USB port. An optional charger is also available that recharges the Discovery 665 from a disposable AAA battery.

Price is also a factor. The Jawbone costs $120 from Cingular or from Jawbone's Web site. The Discovery 665 lists for $149, but it can be found on the Web for about $90.

So which headset is better? That depends on your priorities. The Jawbone is the better at noise reduction, but it sacrifices size and all-day comfort. Plantronics' Discovery 655 is more discreet, extremely comfortable and offers noise reduction that works in most normal situations.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright 2007 by San Diego Transcript. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.