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Three Cool Bluetooth Headsets

More often than not, you're probably making your cell phone calls from an environment that's less than ideal, noise-wise. After a week of trying out three new noise-canceling or reducing and admittedly cool-looking Bluetooth headsets -- the Aliph Jawbone, Gennum nX6000, and Plantronics Discovery 655 -- I'm convinced that using any of these beats the heck out of trying to keep up a conversation holding my cell phone up to my ear.

These devices aren't inexpensive by any reckoning: All three are in the $120 to $150 range. If you're trying to save money, you can get a name-brand Bluetooth headset for a lot less -- for example, currently has nine in the sub-$25 range, including a Jabra and Plantronics, and 46 in the $25 to $50 range. But for the extra money, you get better Digital Signal Processing to filter out noise and improve the call's sound, less weight, and a smaller size. In addition, all three of the reviewed devices work with other Bluetooth-enabled devices such as PDAs and smartphones. (The Jawbone, according to Aliph, can even work as a mono headset for a Bluetooth-enabled MP3 player.)

To test how well they worked in noisy environments, I tried the three headsets on the sidewalks of medium-busy streets, in a wooded area with crunchy snow underfoot, in a couple of stores, in the car (as a passenger), in my home office, and in between the stacks of a library. I also made a few calls to my answering machine, to hear how much extraneous noise did -- or didn't -- come through.

All three connected to my cell phone quickly and easily. All can be used comfortably with either the left or right ears. The button controls are simple and intuitive, which is important, since you're reaching up to your ear, no peeking. And all three let you turn noise-reduction off for times when you want ambient noise to be picked up, or if you want to prolong the battery charge. (Bluetooth also causes your phone battery to drain a lot faster, even if you're not talking, so if you plan to use it consistently, consider getting a pocket recharger.)

I was blown away by how quietly I could talk and still be heard in a subconversational mutter or even just a whisper. On the other hand, not all my callers were as happy -- they reported that my voice was clipped, or didn't sound as good as through the cell phone proper.

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