Gadling Gear Review: Phiaton Noise Canceling Earbuds

I had a moment of anxiety when I boarded a recent flight from Amsterdam to Seattle. The middle cabin, where I was seated, was full of very small children. Now, before you hit send on that hate mail, let me tell you that I am always sympathetic with the yowling little ones; they’re expressing exactly how I feel when I park myself in coach for a ten hour flight. But the noise, oh, lord, the noise, does not make the flight any easier. You know this as well as I do.

When I first started testing noise canceling gear, I had hoped these miracle devices would make everything go away, that I would be in a bubble of beautiful silence, serenaded only by the voices of Ira Glass (“This American Life”) or Jad Abumrad (“RadioLab”) from podcasts I’d downloaded to while away the tedium of flight. Not so, not so. I’ve tried several different brands and configurations; they do not make the noise of the plane go away.

They do, however, make for less noise, and that’s a good thing. But headphones are bulky and take up space in your bag. Phiaton makes active noise canceling earbuds that do a good job of eliminating airplane noise – as good as the other over-the-ear headphones I’ve tested. They take up a fraction of the space; I can stuff them in my pocket and they’re feature packed.The buds have Bluetooth so you can use them while your phone is stuffed in your pocket or in your bag on the back seat in your car. Bluetooth doesn’t work when your phone is in airplane mode (that was news to me) but there’s a connector cable so you can wire the headset to your device. The controller – the earbuds are wired to this – clips on to your shirt (or whatever) so it’s easy to find and easy to use once you get the hang of it. The device charges via a mini-USB cable and the battery life is impressive; it easily lasts the life of a ten hour flight with juice to spare. They’re comfortable, too.

With regard to that noise reduction feature, the marketing language ensures, “background noise is virtually eliminated.” I’m not going to go that far. There is a significant reduction in that grinding engine noise; frequent fliers know exactly what I’m talking about. You will notice the difference; I absolutely did, but “virtually eliminated” is a bit of stretch.

Noise canceling headphones or earbuds do make a big difference in the quality of a flight experience. I pack mine whenever I fly and I am very pleased that now, they’re small enough to pack with barely a nod towards consideration of space. The Phiaton noise canceling earbuds are easily as good as my traditional, low- mid-range noise canceling headphones. That’s a terrific improvement. And anything that eases long haul travel – oh, I’m for it.

Phiaton’s earbuds are listed for $159 MSRP, shop around, though. I’ve seen them listed for $129 on the big online shopping sites.

Review: Motorola Finiti Elite Series Bluetooth headset

Motorola has a long and well respected history in Bluetooth headsets. And, if there is one thing they’ve always excelled at, it is adding innovative features to their products. They were one of the first with a folding boom mic, one of the first to add standardized MicroUSB charger ports to all their headsets, and one of the first with a rugged headset designed to work in extreme environments.

Right before the end of 2010, Motorola has released a new lineup of professional grade headsets – the Finiti and CommandOne. In this review, we’ll look at the Finiti. Like the Motorola HX1 we reviewed last year, the Finiti is designed to work in the most extreme of environments, and by using three different microphones, including one that picks up vocal vibrations, the headset is rated to work in winds up to 40MPH.

Lets start with the basics – the outside of the Finiti is downright gorgeous. Shiny chrome, a clear ear loop and a physical on/off slider switch. On the top is the MicroUSB charger port, and on the back is the earpiece is the vocal virbration sensor. On the bottom are three buttons – a call control/multi-function switch and volume controller.

In its “default” mode, the headset uses its two normal microphones to pick up your voice – one on the front, and one on the side. When you switch to “stealth mode”, it includes the vocal vibration sensor, and combines all those signals into one. The clarity of calls is absolutely amazing. When I reviewed the HX1, I crowned it “the best headset I have ever used” – and one year later, that crown can now be passed on to the Finiti.

Wind is not a problem for this headset – and that isn’t just the marketing on the box. Despite freezing temperatures, I opened the window of my car and made a phone call – the person on the other end of the call could hear the wind with the stealth mode turned off, but as soon as I turned it on, the call quality returned back to normal. Stealth mode also blocks other kinds of noise from the background – including music and loud people.

In addition to phone calls, the Finiti also supports streaming music, but you’ll need to settle for mono of course.

One of the coolest tricks offered by the Finiti is not even part of the headset itself – the Motorola MotoSpeak application runs on Android (and soon on Blackberry) devices. With MotoSpeak, your phone reads incoming text messages, and even lets you respond to text messages using your voice. In addition to these voice commands, the headset also supports some built in commands that let you answer and hang up on calls.

Now, all this Bluetooth goodness does not come cheap – and at $129.99, the Motorola Finiti is one of the most expensive headsets on the market. But – if you order from Motorola, and apply coupon code TXTSMART, you’ll knock 25% off the price! This coupon code also applies to the other Motorola products compatible with MotoSpeak; the CommandOne, the Roadster and the H17txt.


Review: Jawbone ICON Earwear Collection Bluetooth headset

Ah, the Bluetooth headset – the kind of gadget you either love or hate. If you love them, you’ll probably have one stuck to your head 24/7. The Jawbone series of headsets from Aliph have long been considered the best of the best in Bluetooth – and rightfully so. Even in its first version back in 2006, Jawbone headsets used technology not found on any other headset.

Since then, Jawbone headsets have come a long way – and the newest generation not only improves on the sound quality, but also reduces the size of the headset. In this review, we’ll take a look at the new Jawbone ICON Suede.

Right away, the ICON headset grabs your attention – it is small, and the outer silver plastic shell is wavy. On the back of the headset is the signature bone conducting sensor, earpiece and a physical on/off switch. On the top are several microphones, and a multi-function button is on top, just above a MicroUSB charge/connection port.

Comfort is high on my list of expectations from any Bluetooth headset, and the ICON really does deliver. Inside its box is a variety of earpieces and an earloop. With these, you can fit the headset using a silicone earbud or an earbud with hook. The earbuds all come in several sizes.

Charging the headset is simple – an AC charger is included, along with a neat rigid/flexible MicroUSB cable. This allows you to charge the ICON using wall power, or your computer.

The USB cable also lets you connect the headset to your PC to use with the MyTALK suite of applications. More on that in a moment.

Sound quality is obviously just as important as comfort – and once again, the Jawbone Icon does not disappoint. Even in the nosiest environment, callers on the other end of the line commented how clear I sounded. At one point I was driving with my car window open, and the wind barely made an impact on the call quality. Of course, the more unwanted noise the headset has to cancel, the more muffled the call may become – but it beats the alternative.

The Jawbone MyTALK feature is quite brilliant. This web based application suite lets you configure settings on your headset, load new text to speech voices, and even load new Dial Apps. These apps provide instant access to frequently dialed numbers, voice dialing, 411 services and even online notation services. Blackberry users can add a battery meter. Take things even further by adding instant access to music stations like AOL Radio and you’ll extend your headset way beyond what most other brands offer.

Other features inside the headset include support for A2DP streaming music and spoken instructions – yes – the headset will read caller ID and its battery level to you. Of course, it also supports multi-point connections, allowing you to connect to more than one device at the same time.

If new features are released, the MyTALK site can even take care of firmware updates for your headset, making it futureproof.

Of course, all these neat features come at a price – the Jawbone ICON retails for $99. However, with excellent sound quality, good looks and a variety of apps and other updateable features, this may very well be the last headset you ever need.

The new Jawbone ICON Earwear collection is available in four styles. To learn more about the Jawbone headsets, to compare models, or to place an order, head on over to

Review: Callpod Onyx and Vetro Bluetooth headsets

The world of Bluetooth headsets is relatively boring – the vast majority of headsets look dull and offer only mediocre functionality. Because of this, I’ll usually skip the chance to review most of them – and only focus on headsets with something not found elsewhere. This explains why this review will take a closer look at the Callpod Onyx and Vetro Bluetooth headsets.

Inside these headsets are several features that make them stand out in the busy headset market, along with a couple of features that can really benefit travelers.

The most important feature is the extended range – 50 meters / 164ft. With this extended range, you’ll be able to leave your phone in your bag, and not have to worry about crackling phone calls or dropping the connection with your phone.

The second smart feature is the ability to operate as a walkie-talkie between two Callpod headsets. Of course, real life usage for this is rather limited, but with the extended range, you could walk through a mall, and stay in touch with someone else, without having to make an expensive phone call.

Both headsets offer the same feature package, the differences are mostly cosmetic. The Onyx headset features a metal finish and comes with an AC charger, USB charger cord, Chargepod MicroUSB plug and a replacement earbud and earhook.

The Vetro features a slick clear cover and comes with an AC charger, car charger, USB charger cord, Chargepod MicroUSB plug and a replacement gummy earbug and earhook.

Call quality on the headsets was above average – mostly thanks to the louder than normal volume and dual-microphones. The promise of extended range was not broken – in my tests, the headsets did indeed reach much further than any of the other headsets I tested to compare. The 50 meter rating is clearly only in open spaces with no obstructions, because as soon as walls get in the way, range decreases quickly.

My only complaint is in the controls – most functions are performed with a rocker switch on the back, along with a second button on the top. This second button is rather hard to push. And unlike some other brands, there is no physical on/off switch on either of these headsets.

The Callpod Onyx retails for $69.99, and the Vetro for $99.99, and at these prices you are suddenly in the realm of headsets like the Plantronics Voyager Pro and the Motorola HX1 – both outstanding performers. Bottom line is that while the Onyx and Vetro perform very well, most of the purchase decision will be based on design and taste. The inclusion of additional accessories with the Onyx and Vetro does add quite a bit of value.

Jabra CRUISER Bluetooth hands-free speakerphone reviewed

Depending on where you live, the law may prohibit using your mobile phone without a headset or speakerphone. And even if the law is on your side, driving around while trying to juggle your phone is just not a good idea. So, to keep you and everyone else on the road a bit safer, we’ve taken the Jabra CRUISER car speakerphone for a ride.

The CRUISER is a very compact device, on the top are a couple of buttons, on the side is a charger port and power switch, and on the back is a flexible metal clip for attaching the speakerphone to your visor.

Using the CRUISER is simple – you turn it on, and pair your mobile phone. This pairing process is a one-time thing, and is made easy thanks to clear voice prompts from the unit. The power switch is a “real” switch, and you can leave it on as much as you want, because it turns off if your phone is out of range for more than ten minutes. A quick tap of the call button turns it on again.

Where the CRUISER excels is in call quality and features. Lets face it – you’ll never get amazing call quality out of something this small, but it does come damn close. The CRUISER features dual microphones and a variety of noise canceling technologies, so even if you are making a call while driving 65 down the interstate, it’ll sound pretty good for both sides of the call.

Audio can be sent to the internal speaker or to your car stereo using the built in FM transmitter. And to be honest, this FM transmitter is one of the best I’ve ever come across. The unit first scans the FM ether, then tells you what to tune your radio to. Best of all, it supports RDS, so when you have it tuned on a car stereo with RDS, you’ll see the incoming phone number on the display of you car stereo..

To top it all off, the CRUISER also supports Bluetooth stereo music streaming, either to the built in speaker, or over FM. This means you can listen to the music on your mobile (smart)phone and beam it to your radio. If you are on the road, you can bring the CRUISER to your hotel room and use it as a conference speakerphone or music speaker.

The CRUISER charges using microUSB, and a long car charger cord is included. Best of all, even though its MSRP is $99.99, you’ll find it online for well under $50, at places like

I’ve covered over 2000 miles with the Jabra CRUISER, and am highly impressed with how reliable it has been. It never drops calls or fails to connect, and the music streaming feature is absolutely perfect for rental cars where you usually don’t get an iPod or line-in jack. The low price just makes it even better.

Unless you already have a Bluetooth headset or built-in Bluetooth system, the investment in the Jabra should be easy to justify, and your fellow drivers will be grateful. To find retailers, or to learn more about this product, head on over to the Jabra CRUISER mini site.