Katherine Boehret

Recent Columns by Walt Mossberg

Bluetooth Headsets That Up the Chic Factor

The cover of Wired magazine’s August issue showed Brad Pitt wearing a Bluetooth headset with the words, “Ditch the headset. He can barely pull it off—and you are not him.”

Fashionable or not, more people are wearing these wireless headsets for making phone calls in the car and in everyday life. This week, I reviewed two that look stylish enough that you won’t mind being seen wearing them: Plantronics Inc.’s Discovery 975 (Plantronics.com) and Aliph’s Jawbone Prime (Jawbone.com).

These Bluetooth headsets cost $130 each and use the best technology from their respective companies, including impressive-sounding features like AudioIQ 2, WindSmart, NoiseAssassin 2.0 and an Acoustic Voice Activity Detector. Each headset aims to deliver clearer incoming and outgoing sound.

After using these two headsets in an office, while walking through noisy city streets and as I drove a car with its windows open, I found that I liked the Plantronics Discovery 975 more than the Jawbone Prime. It felt more comfortable and stable in my ear, and its longer boom fit my face better than the Jawbone Prime’s stubby build. I was able to hear people more clearly while using the Plantronics (PLT) earpiece. But on the other end of the call, friends said the Jawbone Prime did a better job of muffling noise.

The Plantronics Discovery 975 also has something that the Jawbone Prime doesn’t have: a carrying case that holds the earpiece and charges it on the go. This charging case can triple the device’s talk time from five to 15 hours, and it holds its charge for a week on standby. A display on the case shows how much battery remains both in the charged case and on the earpiece itself when it’s held in the case.


Aliph’s Jawbone Prime

I liked using this case because it meant I didn’t have to think so often about charging my headset. It also gave me a place to keep the small Discovery 975 earpiece, making it harder to lose in the bottom of a purse or large work bag. Though people who don’t carry briefcases or purses wouldn’t likely use this case, it’s convenient to have the option.

None of the Jawbone models come with carrying cases, though stores like Best Buy sell some cases that will hold Jawbone headsets. In the future, Aliph says it plans to make its own cases that will hold and charge its Jawbone headsets.

Aliph’s Jawbone has always been one of the most stylish Bluetooth headsets, thanks to its compact form factor and disguised buttons. The Jawbone Prime follows suit with a design that makes it appear slightly smaller than its predecessor. It comes in seven colors, including four especially bright “EarCandy” hues: Drop Me a Lime, Lilac You Mean It, ‘Yello! and Frankly Scarlet. The Prime maintains the original Jawbone’s namesake design feature: If worn properly, it touches your face near your jawbone and removes background noise. But a new feature also uses sound to detect the speaker’s voice and eliminate extraneous noise, so the headset doesn’t always need to touch the face.

The design of the Plantronics Discovery 975 ups the company’s chic factor by replacing its former model’s triangular boom with an elegant boom made of a single thin metallic sliver. It reminded me more of jewelry than a tech gadget. Like the Jawbone models, it looks less geeky because buttons are disguised, and it doesn’t emit a blinking blue light while in use—an improvement for Plantronics. The Discovery 975 comes only in graphite, though AT&T (T) stores will carry it in silver.

I started testing the Plantronics Discovery 975 and Jawbone Prime from my quiet office, without any distracting background noise. There, the Plantronics headset sounded better than the Jawbone, making my voice sound crisper, according to the person on the other end of line; likewise, his voice sounded louder to me. He also said he couldn’t tell I was using a headset while I was on the Discovery 975, but definitely knew I was on a headset while I used the Jawbone Prime.


The Plantronics Discovery 975

Next, I walked along the streets of busy downtown Washington, D.C., chatting on each headset while standing steps away from the squeaky sound of car brakes and taxis honking. Here, the Jawbone did a better job of fading that street noise into the background, compared to the Plantronics headset.

I also took turns using the Jawbone Prime and Plantronics Discovery 975 while driving through the city with all four car windows open to test the antiwind capabilities of each. Here again, the Jawbone Prime sounded better to the person on the other end, though the Plantronics didn’t sound bad. My friend said it would have been impossible to guess where I was while making the phone call using the Jawbone Prime. But from my end of the call, I was able to hear slightly better while using the Plantronics Discover 975.

While using the Jawbone, I accidentally hung up on friends in midconversation a few different times because the place where I pressed to secure the earpiece in my ear was also the Talk button. I tried each of the Jawbone Prime’s three fit earbuds, three round earbuds and its included earloop, but none of these felt as comfortable as the Plantronics headset.

Both headsets are capable of using Multipoint technology, allowing them to connect to two Bluetooth devices at once. They’re each lightweight at .28 ounce and .35 ounce for the Plantronics and Jawbone, respectively; the Plantronics case weighs 1.27 ounces. According to each company, the Plantronics headset takes one-and-a-half hours to fully charge and lasts for five hours of talk time; the Jawbone takes 50 minutes to fully charge and lasts four and a half hours of talk time.

When both headsets were in front of me and I wanted to make a hands-free call, I reached for the Plantronics Discovery 975 because of its overall fit and feel in my ear. It stayed in place using a soft, gel insert that wasn’t uncomfortable, even after long conversations. Its sound quality was good enough for me.

Edited by Walter S. Mossberg

Write to Katherine Boehret at mossbergsolution@wsj.com

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