BlueAnt Z9i Dual Mic Bluetooth Headset

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Product: BlueAnt Z9i Dual Mic Bluetooth Headset
Provided by: BlueAnt
Price:


Introduction:

There are hundreds, if not thousands of different Bluetooth headsets on the market today.  A simple search over at eBay yields well over 9,000 results.  Out of these 9000+, there are many duplicate models but there are lots of different units from companies I've never Z9i Package heard of.  This market is very crowded and for a company to come up with something different is pretty challenging.  Back in February 2008 we looked at the BlueAnt Z9 headset and were quite impressed - today we have the follow-up Z9i from BlueAnt and will find out if this model actually adds new features and maintains the quality of the Z9.

 The list of features on this headset is pretty impressive.  It has active noise isolation technology, dual mics and great talk and standby time.  What even makes this more impressive is that it can pair with up to five devices.  Many expensive headsets from the competition only connect with a couple of devices, and the Z9i takes this a step further for a budget price.  In can only connect with two phones, but that should be enough for most people.  It still leaves three other devices such as a PDA, Laptop and a Bluetooth enabled media player.  All of the specs and features are useless if it doesn't work as advertised however. We paired this unit up with our laptop, a couple of phones and PDA and have given it a workout over the past few weeks, but before we get into the testing, let's find out a little more about BlueAnt.

 

About BlueAnt:


 

A market leader in the Australian Bluetooth industry, BlueAnt Wireless provides the ultimate in Bluetooth communication and audio streaming solutions.

Our success to date has been rapid yet our approach is simple: to deliver a customer centric solution through the creation of close relationships with all of our partners – from our distributors to our dealers, through to the people buying our products.

We only offer services that we can deliver. We only launch products that we can support.

BlueAnt is the Bluetooth brand which an increasing number of dealers are adding to their range. We recognize that we need to be different. We recognize that we need to be more than just another Bluetooth brand.

All brands speak of quality but do other brands support all of their products with a 2 year full replacement hardware warranty?
BlueAnt does.

Who offers a 72 hour turnaround on any query or warranty concern?
We do.

You want quality third party independent reviews on our product range?
We’ve got them.

We want to talk to consumers. It removes the pressure from our partners and allows them to focus on what they do best. It allows us to answer queries on our products first hand. That’s why we operate a comprehensive customer service and support program.

The integrity of our relationships and supply becomes obvious from the moment that you begin working with us – you are the important factor in the BlueAnt equation. You represent the frontline to our market after all.

 


In The Bundle:

The BlueAnt Z9i is their latest current offering in the Bluetooth headset arena, and while they have a lot of other units available and one unit coming out in the near future that will change the future of Bluetooth devices – the Z9i is a product that will appeal to many users.  It is small, compact and very fashionable - at least as fashionable as headsets go.

 Z9i Extra Goodies
Z9i Extra Goodies
Z9i Documentation
Z9i Documentation

 

The original Z9 came with a total of three ear hooks, but the Z9i has dropped this number down to only two.  There is a single translucent ear hook as well as a metal and rubber hook that comes attached to the Z9i.  I found the rubber ear hook to be very comfortable.  Also included in the bundle is a USB cable for charging and updating firmware as well as a standard wall charger and an extra, smaller ear piece.   While many other headsets claim the firmware can be updated, you’d be hard pressed to find a firmware available for a Bluetooth headset.  BlueAnt has a proven track record with their other products and I'm sure we'll see firmware updates available for the Z9i as improvements in software are made.

 Z9i Profile
Z9i Profile
Z9i Bottom
Z9i Bottom

 

The Z9i is incredibly small - the same size as the Z9 and actually sits a little narrower than the highly acclaimed Jabra JX10 headset.  We’ll compare performance later on, but I thought I’d make a mention of the small size.

 Z9i Top View
Z9i Top View
 Z9i Earpiece
Z9i Earpiece


A few things worth pointing out with the Z9i are there are only three buttons on this headset - Volume Up, Volume Down and the Multi-Function Button (MFB).  It can be worn either on the left or right ear and the ear hook can be swapped by simply sliding it out of the grip in which it sits.  If you have smaller ears, BlueAnt has thought of you.  The earpiece can be changed in a matter of seconds for the smaller version included in the package.  Although not pictured, the mini USB connector is located at the back of the Z9i earpiece as pictured here on the original Z9.

I've made several comparisons to the original Z9 headset from BlueAnt so before we get into the specs of the Z9i, it is appropriate that we show the differences between these two.

Feature List
Feature Comparison


BlueAnt Z9i Specifications & Features:

I’ve talked about this unit being full featured and having good battery life.  The image below has been pulled from the BlueAnt site to show you the more technical details of the Z9i.

Specifications

More Features:

  • Winner of CES 2007 Innovations Design & Engineering Award
  • Two microphones for pure speech
  • Revolutionary Voice Isolation Technology™ produces noise suppression, echo cancellation and wind noise reduction
  • Separates the desired voice signal from background noise enabling crystal clear communication in the noisiest of environments
  • During a call, users can switch between two Voice Isolation modes - Standard and Max
  • Multipoint
  • Automatic connection and reconnection with notification
  • Different ringtones for known and unknown contacts
  • Innovative tie clip for attaching to shirt or cuff, when not in use
  • Stylish, translucent ear hook and rubberized metal ear hook
  • Firmware upgrade via USB on your PC
  • Small & lightweight
  • Up to 5.5 hrs talk-time or 200 hrs standby
  • Bluetooth v2.0

 

The range on this unit is stated to be a pretty standard 10m and we will be testing this out more in the future.  The BlueAnt logo on the headset itself blinks either blue or red indicating status as noted above.  To keep the weight of this unit at a mere 10grams, BlueAnt uses a 3.7v Lithium Polymer battery to provide up to 200hrs of standby time and as much as 5.5 hours of talk time.  Also notice the small size of the unit – 41mm long and 11.2mm thick (counting the earpiece).


Earlier I mentioned that this headset has a ton of features and you may be wondering how all of this is possible with simple volume up, volume down and power buttons.  Below is a chart showing all of the functions of these buttons and how to use them to make this unit do more than other much more expensive headsets on the market.

 Button Functions

The answer to the multitude of functionality is found in how the buttons are pressed, held, clicked and used in combination of each other.  While you may not be able to remember all of these functions, BlueAnt has already assumed as much and included a mini cheat-sheet for you to keep in your wallet or briefcase.  Many of the functions are the same as the original Z9, but the multi-point ability of the Z9i adds more button functions to the mix.

 

Pairing - Installation:

Installation of the BlueAnt Z9i Dual Mic Noise Isolation Bluetooth Headset is really very simple.  In order to put the unit into pairing mode, you simply hold the MFB (Multi-Function Button) for six seconds when the unit is off.  This will turn the indicator LED solid blue to let you know it is ready to be paired with.  Once this is done, you can search for the device with your favorite Bluetooth enabled phone, PDA, media player or laptop.  You will then be prompted for a passkey which is 0000 by default.  This process should take no more than minute to complete.

On the last page we'll find out how it all shakes down and if the quality and performance of the Z9i is worth the price tag.


Testing the Z9i:

So we see that the Z9 has a ton of features and lots of functions and capability according to the "Button Function Matrix".  The real question still remains as to it's performance and quality.  Keep on reading as we dive into testing.

Function, Features & Comfort:

As we mentioned earlier this device is long on features and functions.  The headset will allow you to answer/end a call as well as reject callers if you're busy.  It will also allow you to redial the last number transfer calls from the headset directly to your mobile device and activate voice dial features if available.  This headset also supports call waiting and conference calling as well as the obvious volume controls.  You can even turn off the blinking LED.  Lastly, by holding the MFB while you're in a call, you can change the Noise Isolation Technology mode from standard to maximum settings.

As far as comfort goes, the BlueAnt Z9i is one of the most comfortable headsets I've used - and I've tried out a bunch.  I've used the Plantronics Voyager 510 and Explorer 320 as well as the Jabra JX10, BT620s and BT325s as well as the IOGear GBE201W7 and a couple of Logitech headsets.  I'm a headset junkie and I guess admitting it is the first step.  The only headset that I've found as comfortable as the Z9i is the Z9 or maybe the Plantronics Voyager 510 - and the larger size of the Plantronics headset may make it less appealing than the BlueAnt Z9i.

Z9i LED
Z9i LED

Sound Quality:

Regardless of the functionality or the comfort of a headset, all would be totally lost if it didn't sound good.  While I don't expect this to be hi-fi by any means, the voice quality should be clear without undue hissing or popping.  I'm pleased to say that the BlueAnt Z9i has very good sound quality.  I could hear voices clearly and distinctly and the volume range is excellent.  It can be turned up to an uncomfortably loud level for use in noisy environments and turned down whisper quiet for use in more peaceful surroundings.

On the mic side of things, it is a similar story.  The mic seems to work well and pick up voices nicely.  The Dual Mic technology is a key component of the Voice Isolation Technology and we'll take a clip from the BlueAnt page to explain this better.

BlueAnt Voice Isolation Technology™
The Z9 uses revolutionary proprietary DSP software known as the BlueAnt Voice Isolation Technology™ which uses sophisticated techniques to separate the voice signal from the noise using the dual microphone array of the Z9.  As a result, this technology is effective against all noise sources whether they are stationary, impulsive or even the sound of other voices.

Background Noise Elimination with Zero Voice Distortion
The BlueAnt Z9 separates the desired voice signal from all of the background noise including wind noise, resulting in crystal clear conversations in the noisiest environments.

Echo Cancellation
In addition to background noise elimination, the Z9 technology provides truly revolutionary echo cancellation performance. Treating acoustic echo as another background noise source. The Z9 eliminates this echo, allowing for true full-duplex operation. Effective at eliminating the acoustically coupled signal that can cause annoying echo in Bluetooth headsets operated at high volume.

Wind Noise Reduction
As the Z9 treats all sounds as distinct separate signals, wind noise is thus defined as a separate signal from the users voice and is reduced or eliminated.

Improved Automatic Speech Recognition
Automatic speech recognition performance is dramatically improved by the clear voice, free from background noise. This allows the user to have a greater percentage success rate in using voice commands with cell phones. 


You don't have to take our word for it though; you can download a recording of the mic in use when connected by Bluetooth to my Thinkpad T61 Laptop.  Get the MP3 file here.  Overall, I was very pleased with sound quality of both the mic and the ear piece on this headset.  I was using this headset while driving on the highway with the windows down and the caller on the other end could still hear me okay - not perfect as the Voice Isolation was at max and working very hard, but the conversation was still possible and this is an extreme situation.

 

Range & Battery Life:

BlueAnt claims the Bluetooth v2.0 standard will provide range of up to 10m (30ft.).  This seems to be pretty standard and the Z9i lived up to those claims.  At 25 feet there would be some static if a wall was between the phone and the connected Z9i.  The range of this headset is nothing spectacular, but it does reach 30' in unobstructed conditions.  The headset with the best range that I've ever used is the Logitech Mobile Freedom, but that headset is very bulky.

BlueAnt claims that the Z9i will last around 5.5 hours of talk time and 200 hours in standby.  From my experience, this is very close as the headset batteries outlast my phone by about 3 to 1.  I've used this headset for many Skype calls and it's always connected to by phone and I've only charged it twice in the weeks that I've used it.  Charging the headset may take up to 4 hours, but in my experience it only takes 2 - 3 hours when charged with either the USB cable or the standard wall charger.

 

Conclusion:

This is our second BlueAnt Wireless product that we've looked at now and I'm as impressed with this one as I was with the original Z9.  The Z9i brings some additional functionality through mulit-point phone connections and certainly more connectivity.  The Z9i can connect to two phones at the same time and switch between active calls on each phone.  In addition to the two phones, the Z9i can also connect to three other devices making it a "one headset for all your needs" kind of device.  Although it's very small, the dual microphones provide very good voice quality and noise cancellation in loud environments.  With features like this and a price tag that is much less than many other headsets with half the features, the BlueAnt Z9i is great value.

Pros:

  • Very comfortable
  • Good Noise Isolation DSP
  • Excellent battery life
  • Good range
  • Pairs with three devices
  • Attractive price
  • Includes "cheat sheet" to help remember all the functions/button presses


Cons:

  • Too many functions to remember

 

 BCCRating

 

The BlueAnt Z9i is a great headset and has added more features and connectivity to the original Z9 headset.  The Voice Isolation Technology works well and provides good voice quality even in very noisy environments.  While many people certainly don't need a device that can pair with 5 devices, this is a handy feature if you've got a smart phone, laptop, PDA, standard Bluetooth phone and still need an extra connection.  The Z9i comes highly recommended and is certainly a "Top Pick"!

Top Pick

I'd like to thank BlueAnt Wireless for sending us the Z9i to review.  It has been a great experience and is nice to see this company one-up themselves.  If you have any comments or questions regarding this review of the Z9i, please head on over and post them in the forum at the "Comments" link below.