How to Choose a Bluetooth Headset

Last Updated Oct 18, 2007 10:04 AM EDT

A cell phone without a Bluetooth headset is like peanut butter without jelly. Headsets are indispensable gear for the modern businessperson, allowing hands-free conversations (which keep you much safer while driving) and the freedom to keep your phone away from your head (where it may be hazardous to your health -- the jury's still out on that).

Of course, headsets come in all shapes and sizes, with all kinds of different features and price tags. Here's what to look for while shopping for your next Borg implant -- er, Bluetooth headset:

  • Bluetooth 2.0 or better Bluetooth technology has improved quite a bit over the years. Before you jump at that $29 close-out headset, make sure it supports Bluetooth 2.0 or 2.1. You'll get vastly improved range, battery life, and security. Find out more in CNET's guide to Bluetooth features.
  • Sizing accessories A headset is worthless if it gets uncomfortable after 20 minutes. Look for a model that includes multiple earbuds and ear loops so you can tailor a comfortable fit.
  • Noise canceling technology Most headsets fit pretty snugly next to or inside your ear, blocking out at least some ambient noise. But what about the noise picked up by the microphone and transmitted to the caller? That's a problem, especially with those really tiny headsets: Their microphones have to be extra sensitive because they're so far from your mouth. That's one reason to look for a headset with built-in noise-canceling technology. The top-rated choice (according to CNET): the Aliph Jawbone.
  • Stereo earbuds If your phone doubles as a music player and supports A2DP (meaning it can transmit stereo audio), you might want to consider a two-piece headset. The Jabra BT8010 and Plantronics Voyager 855, for example, each come with a second, wired earbud (which can be unplugged and stowed when not in use). If a call comes in while you're listening to music, the push of a button is all it takes to pause playback and take the call. I've tried both these headsets; they're fantastic.
  • Extras A docking cradle can come in handy: Just drop the headset into it when you get back to the office and it'll always be charged. A travel charger is another nice perk. If you spend a good deal of time in the office, consider a headset that comes with a desktop hub, like the Jabra JX10. It lets you use the same headset with your cell phone and desk phone.
What Bluetooth features do you consider essential? Have you found the perfect headset? Click the Comments link at the top of this post and tell other Business Hack readers what you think!
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    Rick Broida, a technology writer for more than 20 years, is the author of more than a dozen books. In addition to writing CNET's The Cheapskate blog, he contributes to CNET's iPhone Atlas.