Tag Archives: Bluetooth

One Month with The Killer Phone – iPhone 3GS review

Last week, I was one of the lucky individuals who got their iPhone 3GS at launch day. My initial plan was to get the 16GB but I opted for the 32GB. I for one am glad I made the better choice… For the most part, I had slight difficulty with AT&T slightly messing up my activation. That is mostly AT&T’s issue… So no fault on Apple’s part on that.

I will say that 1 week with the iPhone has been a unique experience… I know for the last 2 years, I was one of those on the harsh camp of iPhone “haters” because Apple didn’t quite fix security issues that most smart phones had resolved. At the time of the iPhone’s inception, it was a mediocre phone, a widescreen iPod, and small duty internet tablet. However… When you have problems with things like SSL encryption, Safari being crippled… It makes for a very unsafe smartphone from being an effective Fort Knox of information.

Then there was the iPhone 3G that came out last year… It was mainly a few fun toys like actually bolting a GPS chipset into the phone and some bigger storage options. The bigger issue was that the iPhone’s pricing was significantly reduced… Mainly because AT&T and Apple forged an alliance for reduced prices: The 8GB model of the iPhone 3G was to be priced at $199.99 and the 16GB $299.99. Of course, this would cause an influx of users to jumping to AT&T. Of course, with more users means more in the pool to experience problems… And boy did they problems hit hard…

When it rains… boy does it pour… Users started venting frustration… especially one odd group that Apple had been gunning to sway over: business enterprise users. If there was one thing they couldn’t live with out…. it was Microsoft Exchange server connectivity. Slowly Apple began to add supports for various online mail servers like G-Mail, Yahoo!, Hotmail, Exchange… Calendar support expanded to support CalDAV. Eventually things that your “common place” users wanted finally saw support with the iPhone… Yet security issues still remained.

I will say that I was still enough to sway me against the 3G… Even more so when things like the A2DP/AVRCP bluetooth profile, Nike+iPod compatibility, lack of encrypted SSL e-mail transactions, and a few other things just didn’t seem like a huge overall big deal… I could see how it was a big deal for first generation iPhone users.

Even still, I decided to wait…. Even on the envy of friends of getting brand new iPhones for Christmas… My gut feeling said Apple had a trick ace up their sleeve. A few blogs speculated that Apple was coming out with a brand new model iPhone… Some said it was a “nano” version to make it cheaper for the masses. That was all floating in the blogosphere until late May… Apple broke news saying something close to “The 3G will be reduced in price… AT&T is to sell remaining units at promotional pricing!” That was the big cue to look for a new iPhone on the horizon… Soon after Apple made the big press release, the iPhone 3GS was coming. Features being a slightly better battery, a faster processor, more RAM, a warmer toned LED screen, a oil resistant coating on the face of the iPhone, a compass chipset with the GPS, a brand new graphic chipset… To sweeten up the deal, they even decided to add a new 3.0 software update for both the iPhone 3G and GS models. This would be the crux of things as a slew of security issues were fixed and more functionality was added. I had been meaning to convert to AT&T for the sake of school… and this was my cue.

For background purposes… I was the “hardcore” business user. I used many of the “smartphone grade” operating systems: Palm OS Garnet, Symbian UIQ, Symbian S60, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry OS… I understood the high learning curves from these devices, but on getting my iPhone 3GS… I ran into a unique experience…

A bare and minimalistic information pamphlet basically labeling out how to use the gestures and essentially throwing the user into the water. It was something else compared to the 50-60 page manuals I was used to with all the other phones. To be honest, I was skeptical.I had thought to myself… “Can it really be THAT easy?!” I jumped in and got to check it out…

Apple really refined everything… They didn’t use super high end parts or anything wild… I dare say, the pooled a group of users from 18 – 35 and said “What makes you fear a smart phone? What would you, the consumer, want in a fun phone?” The phrase “fire and forget” basically sums up how easy it is to use.

If you need to make a call, tap the “Phone” app icon and you get your standard phone options of the keypad, recent/missed calls, phonebook, favorite contacts, and the visual voicemail. Want to listen to music? Tap the iPod icon and you have categories of music… Want a more visual approach to your music? Turn your phone sideways and you get album covers of your music almost like a remix of an old jukebox. As a friend put it best… “It’s stupidly simple and Apple hit the mark for a mass market.”

The response of the phone with the new hardware is impressive… There’s almost no lag when in side-by-side comparison to an iPhone 3G. As many blogs such as Gizmodo iPhone 3GS review matrix show, the consensus is that the [S] does equate to speed or “snappiness”. I can definitely see how this will affect future games and applications slated to hit the iTunes App Store. So far most games are generally suited for the iPhone 3G and have minimal issues with the faster chips for the 3GS, but give it time and some developers may make games to utilize the faster chips.

As a media player, it works well… I will gripe and say the stock headphones blow. They work ok if there’s a necessity… I will say if you want to go wireless… The Motorola S305’s (MRSP $50) work rather nice example for a Bluetooth stereo option. There’s also the wired options like V-Moda or Shure but be prepared to pay a premium for their options ($80+). I do wish that movies could be displayed via the “Cover Flow” style that the music gets… I think it’d be cool to have that option and have the DVD/Theatrical poster be laid out for you rather than the bland list option. The Bluetooth profiles are still under work and Apple realizes they need to get into the game quickly. The A2DP (Advance Audio Distribution Profile) works alright as far as streaming 2-channel stereo music to Bluetooth headphones or car stereo systems, however the AVRCP (Audio-Video Remote Control Protocol) abilities of play/pause and volume+/- work but not the track skip commands. The rumor is the “hot fix” 3.1 update should resolve this, but I will report when the 3.1 public release comes out.

As a phone… I have come to love the simplicity. Making calls is idiot proof, I have yet to test it with my family borrowing my phone… but if I do, expect an update, as they are as tech fearing as most people are. The Visual Voicemail is absolutely charming as I have always hated voicemail messages where the person is trying to leave a message as quick as possible and I can’t catch the details… With normal voicemail, I’d have to wait for the end and press the replay command to listen again. Now with Visual Voicemail, I can just drag the slider back and catch the part I need with little to any fuss.

Texting and e-mail are much more refined now as landscape keyboards have been added to the 3.0 release. The e-mail encryption issue has been fixed properly and they do support SSL encryption to boot. All in all, I will say that the IM style for the text conversations is nice. Setting up your own e-mail however is a little tricky if you are not using a MobileMe, Microsoft Exchange, G-Mail, Yahoo Mail, or AOL Mail account… I found that out when I was trying to get my mailbox set-up but once I found the tips from the DreamHost Wiki, the rest was easy.

As a mobile internet tablet… I find it to be sufficient at the task. The only thing that Apple needs to get with the times is Flash support, but at this moment… They are basically trying to force content providers to push content to the phone for things like embedded video and a few sites support this. More and more mainstream sites however are relying on Flash to deliver site content and add the fact that the Android platform is pushing Flash when the next and final build of Android is due to be released… Apple will be the ones lagging in this vector. About 2 years ago, they claimed they couldn’t support Adobe’s endeavor because Adobe’s code probed too far into the internals of the iPhone, but that leaves many wondering “How much longer, Apple?” The irony to this is a Google/HTC phone is coming to AT&T around August depending on how AT&T will be tolerant of the Android open principles. I would dare to call that an assault on “home” territory and would hope that this spurs some competition with Apple to cooperate with Adobe.

I will say that the apps really do make the phone plenty useful and fun. Things like WordPress, Pandora, LastFM, Facebook, Amazon, AT&T myWireless, Google Apps are great! I can agree with many of the bloggers out there that the apps really make the iPhone quite a treat. As far as load speed, the new 3GS hardware has barely any latency with application loading which is great as I have “gotten used” to slow loading apps on my previous phones.

I will say probably my big compliment to the iPhone 3GS is it is one phone I have not had to reboot like clockwork. This was a problem on my Windows Mobile phones, Sony Ericsson P990i, Nokia smartphones, and even my Blackberry as the RAM/pagefile just gets blocked up in garbage which lags the phones out to a snails pace. I haven’t turned my phone off since I got it back on June 19th and it runs just as snappy as it was then.

As far as my final consensus goes for the phone… I will highlight the big points to consider before you sign with the Death Star or sign for an early upgrade should you be on the fence with getting an iPhone.

  • Have you been considering an all-in-one solution and have a dying previous generation iPod? – Yes
  • Fan of a minimalistic design? – Yes
  • Are you a contact synergy fanatic that wants rapid access to your phone book but don’t mind some work? – Yes
  • Are you upgrading from an iPhone 2G? – Yes
  • Do you want more software freedom and open source? – No, consider an Android phone like that HTC Lancaster coming soon to AT&T and the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G due August 3rd.
  • Do you want expandable and hot-swappable memory cards? – No, consider other smartphones that give this privilege.
  • Do you want a high end camera on your phone? – No, Consider the Samsung Memoir or Sony Ericcson CS905 or Xperia X1 for 8.1 megapixel camera phones
  • Do you want an easier way to combine all of your contacts from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc with little to any work? – No, consider a Palm Pre.
  • Does your work require that your phone must play nice on their VPN? – No, go with what is best for your company’s requirements.
  • Are you upgrading early because you bought your iPhone last year or in the last few months? – No, unless you’re foolish enough to pay the ridiculous upgrade $499 (16GB)/$599 (32GB) price.

In closing, the experience for a brand new user is pretty good and probably much easier . A 3G user not due to upgrade would be an idiot just to upgrade for a few perks. For any iPhone fanatic, I would advise sticking to the 2 year revision cycle. By the second year of ownership, the “newer” model will have huge upgrades for you. For a business class user, the iPhone 3GS is tricky and you’d have to check with your IT department if they can provide secure VPN support for you so “caveat emptor” is my warning to you. Overall my opinion is rather good for AT&T’s killer phone, but I will say I await what the Google Android team has to offer when they hit nearly every provider in America with Android phones. My reason is I love seeing competition and I want to see how Apple responds to what will soon be coming to Android.

Fashion Headset Shoot-Out! Aliph Jawbone vs. BlueAnt Z9

Let’s reflect on this… Bluetooth headsets have come a LONG way from their origins. I remember the days when Motorola was king in this sector because they helped a big part in the Bluetooth consortium with research and development. Their early headsets were also big and bulky and expensive to boot. When the standard was in it’s early days, it was a bit of a pain on the respect of distance as going just a wee bit too far could disconnect your calls. When the standard got better, so did the devices… But this also opened up the playing field to manufacturers who wanted a piece of the land for Bluetooth accessories.

Nowadays, you have many manufacturers like Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, LG, et al who make headsets as well as phones for direct compatibility with their devices. However, you have your “generic” manufacturers such as Jabra, Plantronics, and a few others who make your general consumer models and then barely stepping into the high end of the spectrum. Lastly, you have the big contenders on the “high end”: Callpod Dragon, Aliph Jawbone, and BlueAnt Z9. The Callpod Dragon just doesn’t look fashionable, so it is omitted for this review… However, the other two are quite possibly the more “chic” in the high end.

Click the images to expand them!

In this corner…

The Aliph Jawbone is a rather “futuristic” looking headset. It has a wicked sick looking mesh grating design with a rather simple red or white LED flash from the status bar. The design is from Yves Behar who has a large vested interest in the headset. It’s rather large but the design is functional to the means of the headset’s calculation of vocal activity. To secure it to your ear, you do have a few ear loops and “gel” inserts to change the headset to accommodate your ear size and shape of your ear canal. The Jawbone keeps function simple with just 2 buttons, one on the mesh and the other on the “Jawbone” embellishment close to the charger port.

Aliph Jawbone MSRP: $120 (from the official site)

The challenger…

The Australian company BlueAnt has been a minor player with budget models and other unique niche headsets (like their motorcycle helmet communicator system). The BlueAnt Z9 comes as a contender to the Jawbone in the vectors of style and size. This headset isn’t designed with a legendary designer, but it certainly looks quite sleek or even covert. The mounting system is a fixed rubber ear cushion and an adjustable plastic ear hook that can rotate and fit to the ear. There is also a clip on the headset for times that you may not feel the need to wear it constantly, definitely a nice touch!

BlueAnt Z9 MSRP: $90 – $100

Acknowledgment and “Props”
In this review, I have a guest reviewer as well to give the female side of her input on the comfort of the headsets as well as her thoughts. Stephanie’s input will be included for posterity of the review. This will help females consider which may be best in terms of their comfort. Also, please give a hand to Stephanie for taking the images of me “modeling” the headsets. I would also like to thank my cousin Sol for being my test caller and allowing me the privilege to subject him to calls and use his feedback for call quality. Also, I’d like to thank Yamcha of Wolf’s Hurricane for his insight on my contest that will be posted online after this post!

Bluetooth is becoming more popular now with how some countries and even some states in America are cracking down on irresponsible drivers who choose to pinch a phone to their head while not putting full attention to the road. In the UK, if you kill someone in an accident and you were on your mobile phone… The justice system over there can impose severe penalties for such an infraction. At the same time, no one wants to look unfashionable for having a headset almost looking like some “ugly” device growing off the side of our ear or looking like a “bluetool” (vernacular). I would like to begin with the Jawbone first, but let’s go over the logistics of the things I used for the review.

Tools of the Review
Mazda MX-5 Miata, closed and open soft-top modes
Various locales of Dallas with plenty of ambient noise
The offices of ZeroXR 13mg
HTC Kaiser Windows Mobile Pocket PC phone

Round 1: The Aliph Jawbone
The Jawbone has won many awards for being both fashionable and revolutionary from a technological standpoint. In Dallas, I have seen many people adorn their ears with the Jawbone so after seeing the rave reviews, I picked one up just to give it a test drive and play with it. The Jawbone’s sizing solution is kind of unique. Aliph gives you 4 ear loops in 2 sizes and for the left and right ears. You get a pair “regular” size and a pair “large” size ear loops. In addition, There are 4 contour ear bud gels that are included in the package to go with the shape of your ear canal. two of them are a variation of a “teardrop” shape and curve right to the ear canal, while the other two are large and small versions of a circular ear bud gel. I personally have small ears so I honestly had trouble with both the “regular” and “large” ear loops and the ear gels of all types didn’t help the unit stick to my ear. However, when the unit is not moving from my ear, it fits rather nicely and comfortably. I will comment that the build quality is EXCELLENT!

The principle behind the Jawbone is a rather simple one. The device has a rubber nub that detects movement from your jaw (hence the name) and translates that as actual activity. This lets the headset know you are actively conversing. On top of that, the headset also has active noise canceling to assist with making clear communications. The unit has two buttons as aforementioned earlier on the embossing of the word “Jawbone” and another on the mesh part of the headset. The “Jawbone” button functions as the “pairing mode” button and during calls it acts as a “volume” button of sorts. The primary button on the mesh is your main power/call answer/end call/etc button. There’s also a very subtle LED on the unit that blinks white when the unit is in use (rather than the typical blue), red when the unit is low on power, solid red on charging, and solid white on a full charge. The tactile feedback from the unit is pretty good but it does take a little effort.

On bonding with the unit, it would bind to my HTC Kaiser rather quickly. I would do some random test calls with the Jawbone just to see how well the noise cancel and fit would work with me. I took my MX-5 for a drive with the top up and tried to use Voice Command to ask it to dial out and then proceed with a phone call. On idle, the headset could properly connect and accept my commands properly. The call quality was pretty good with minimal interference. Throwing town the top however would change the dynamics of the test… Voice Command had serious trouble reading my speech as the headset had some issues trying to determine whether I was talking or not with the the rubber nub breaking contact from my jaw line every other second from the aerodynamic forces of wind. That was the big issue that makes the device fit for people with small ears like me… The headset almost fell off my ear a few times during this test. I would be running speeds of 40 – 70mph in my car with the top down to be fair. Most of the past week has been windy, so I also tried to see if gusty 10 – 15 mph winds were also a problem with walking around Dallas… and sadly, the headset also had a bit of a problem reading my speech due to the headset not fitting flush to my face.

Some of the test calls with my cousin Sol and he would report that there were some sound issues with noise when I had the Jawbone during my wind tests. However, during my tests in the office of ZeroXR 13mg there were some troubles from the noise cancel due to the fit of the headset. That leads us to the only gripe I have with the headset… The fit is not friendly to those with small ears… I tried to contact Aliph about this, but so far they have not responded to me. Though some folks on line have reported that buying some Jabra branded ear gels help, but that’s a bit of a shame that Aliph has forgotten the fact that a generic fit solution does end up “discriminating” a part of a demographic.

I did ask for Stephanie’s opinion on the Jawbone and she had no problem with the headset’s fit. She had commented it was really comfortable for her. Though she did make a comment she like big devices as it give her a tactile feel that is a little more reassuring. She was wearing the standard ear bud gel with a regular sized ear loop. She’s fortunate that it fit perfectly for her.

I will comment that the headset is really comfortable that you almost forget that you’re wearing it. Sadly for owning small ears, the fit isn’t perfect for such a wonderful headset. Due to that, the noise detecting rubber nub on the headset couldn’t accurately read my vocal speech. The volume is also semi-dependent on the background noise.

Round 2: BlueAnt Z9
The BlueAnt Z9 is a small name headset that has been making some circles as a rather great alternative for those who do want an alternative because the Jawbone was simply not their cup of tea. The Z9 is a tiny piece of hardware equipped with a proprietary port that’s used for charging the unit and also upgrading the firmware. (I’ll talk about the upgrading part later) The design is tiny with a few “bling” spots of chrome on the device for style accents. The device is equipped with 2 microphones to analyze sound waves and process vocal data and noise data to effectively neutralize noise and improve the call quality. The Z9 has 3 buttons, the MFB (multi-function button) and a volume + and – button. If you want to go “stealth” and not have the bluetooth blink, you can hold the volume + and – buttons for 3 seconds when the headset is idle to turn the blink off. Something nice to not draw attention to yourself in dark places. They all have a great tactile click when you press them. BlueAnt does give you a tiny business card sized reference sheet for you to get oriented, so it’s rather nice if you need a pocket reference.

Unlike the Jawbone, the BlueAnt Z9 takes a different approach to fitting to the user. The headset has a plastic ear loop that looks like a plastic scythe mounted to a rubber rotating nub. The plastic hook does have some resistance to the plastic nub, so you can adjust the fit of the headset by moving the hook higher or lower from the nub to make the headset fit more snug. This combined with the rubbery ear cushion, the BlueAnt Z9 feels like it’s securely locked to your ear. While this gives the BlueAnt Z9 a definite plus for people with small ears, the fact that it is not made of a flexible yet sturdy plastic is also somewhat of a concern. It is great that BlueAnt included 2 more ear hooks, but I’d rather they were made of a more sturdy material like the metal with rubber padding like the Jawbone.

Pairing and linking the BlueAnt Z9 was rather painless and quick. The best part was that you’re not subjected to a long and annoying beep while the headset pairs up. Just a quick beep that tells you “I’m bonded!” The manual mentions that the Z9 can bond to 3 devices, sadly, I couldn’t test that so I cannot offer any insight there. The multi-function button (MFB for short) serves many of the primary uses of the headset from powering it on to essential functions like changing the noise cancellation modes. However… it makes ending calls a bit awkward. Most headsets answer and end calls with one click… The BlueAnt Z9 picks up calls with a click, however when you’re on the call and click on the MFB… You hear an auditory voice saying “Voice Isolation MAX” or “Voice Isolation Standard” indicating the level of voice isolation. To end a call, you have to hold the MFB for 3 seconds and you then hear a beep indicating the call has been severed. For many Bluetooth veteran users, it sort-of causes a mix up. It does take some getting used to, but it does make you wonder why the voice isolation was not remapped in another way.

Testing the headset was quite possibly the best part… I called Sol up this past Friday night with my headset and had the top up while going down noisy city streets with the windows down and he had said I came in quite clearly and he was rather impressed. Now, voice command still had some trouble at speed and minor problems on idle… so both headsets are stalemated there. The ultimate test would be to take the headset with me on city streets… But I realized that the headset may not be pushing at full potential! “Why?” The BlueAnt I bought had firmware 3.0 and the official BlueAnt Z9 site had a banner on top saying “New Firmware v3.4 out! Click here to upgrade!”

I naturally downloaded the firmware update and proceeded to follow the simple steps to get the drivers installed for the headset and then the update was just a simple drop and go process. After the update, I was really anxious to see if the improved voice isolation algorithms would enhance things even more… as the firmware notes from v3.0 to v3.4 were rather significant.

That would lead to Saturday and walking around town while trying to find the ideal noisy environment to make my test call to Sol… and I found the best moment. I was down in West End walking around down… a Hummer limo with a bunch of boys in white t-shirts saw some ghetto girls and told the driver to pump up the tunes while they would pop their heads out to give a shout to the girls. I happened to place a call to Sol at that moment… and the call was remarkably clear! The headset also adjusted the volume automatically adjusted to the environment helping clarity by a good degree. I had the voice isolation on the MAX setting and it really made things great! The volume buttons do actually work on top of the volume adjustment from the dual microphones automatically working, just in case if that’s not enough to break through the noise. I was simply impressed that I didn’t have to mess around with the headsets fit just to make sure that my speech was coming in clearly from motion detection. The headset’s tight fit and dual microphones helped make that “extreme” test call work just perfectly!

On asking Stephanie’s opinion of the fit of the BlueAnt Z9, she said it was a rather tight and rigid fit. Her opinion was based on the hard plastic ear hook and the difficult system on adjusting the size without breaking the delicate ear hook. She did comment that the tiny size was interesting, however not her forte.

The comfort of the headset does take some experimenting to get good with, but once you get it perfect… the headset is almost weightless! It’s not as “perfect” like the Jawbone, but at least it sticks to my head… I will remind readers I do have small ears, be warned.

From this… I think I have my winner.

Final Verdict
From the whole experience with needing a headset that wasn’t about to fall off my ear from a short sprint… Also the need for vocal recognition that does not rely on fit had a huge impact, ’cause what good is a headset if it doesn’t properly fit? The style elements are important, as size does matter. Let me be clear that the race was very close…

The Winner: BlueAnt Z9

The BlueAnt Z9 does win from a good snug fit, great noise isolation, and most of all it has a small foot print. The headset is almost weightless and provides great and clear calls! It is stylish, but however from using a rigid plastic ear hook… it is a minor sacrifice in comfort¬† to have the headset be planted on your head. If the Jawbone had a small ear loop that provided a proper fit for the small folks, it would have been even harder to choose a winner. The ability to upgrade the BlueAnt Z9 gives it more points as the headset still has chances to become better rather than a “Version 2” to hit retail and you to be stuck with an obsolete headset. For people who have small ears, but want a headset that looks great and performs beautifully… I highly recommend the BlueAnt Z9.

Idea: Bluetooth Headset Shoot-Out AND A Contest!

So I am debating on shooting out 2 of the most popular noise canceling headsets on the market that are aimed at fashion and function aficionados. I have one headset, I just need to pick up the other. For this review, I do need someone who’s willing to volunteer some time to take images of the headset and it being worn. Optionally, a “model” for the headset would be best as I don’t think it’d be attractive to be taking snaps of me. If you would like to volunteer your efforts, let me know, I will compensate you for your time, be you a photographer or a “model”.

If you’re in the Dallas, Texas area and do not mind volunteering your efforts for possibly food and drink for either being a model or a photographer for my review… Drop me a line here at info@zeroxr.com and let me know!

There’s more to this all though…

I will keep one of the headsets from the shoot-out and as for the other one… I will be GIVING IT AWAY! Yes, that’s right..! I will be giving one of these high end Bluetooth headsets after the review. The offer is for both people local to Dallas and outside of Dallas. However if you are not local to Dallas, we’ll have to talk about shipping arrangements. I have not decided what the contest will be about, but I will work on drafting up the details tonight and hopefully have it posted up by the time the review goes live. If you’d like to help me with rules and errata, drop me a line on my messengers, IRC, or at my info@zeroxr.com mailbox.