Blueant is following up on their award winning Bluetooth headset, the Z9, with an updated version the Z9i. The BlueAnt Z9i Bluetooth Headset ($89.95) builds upon the success of the original (read our review here) in hopes of leading the pack in call quality and noise reduction.
To see how well the Z9i has improved, read on!
Just out of the box, the Z9i doesn’t look much different than its predecessor. It’s a mini-headset measuring only 1.6 inches long, .68 inches wide and weighing only .35 ounces. It has a slick finish with an illuminated main button at the rear of the headset and two volume keys to the top.
The Z9i is packaged with two ear hooks (translucent and black), an assorted size of ear buds, USB cable, charger and owner’s manual. The ear hook design took me by surprise in that it extends a good bit from the bottom of the headset. I was concerned that this would cause the headset to be uncomfortable to wear. While it takes a little to get used to, the ear hook design is comfortable and holds the Z9i in place really well.
Along with improved noise cancellation software, improved PC upgradeability, and being packaged with more accessories, additional differences between the Z9i and the original Z9 include:
- Pairing with multiple devices: Z9 paired with one device while the Z9i pairs with five. - Connection Method: The Z9 used an on-the fly method while the Z9i uses a multi-point method - Number of phones connected to: The Z9 can only connect to one device at a time and the Z9i can connect to two devices at a time.
The headset has the basic features including voice dialing (device dependant), last number redial, call ignore, call mute, and call transfer. It also includes multiple ring tones to distinguish known from unknown callers, two levels of noise reduction and conference calling (device dependant). A series of tones and lights from the main button are present to alert or confirm users of a function.
Battery life is reported to be approximately 5.5 hours of talk time with up to 200 hours of Standby time. Based on the time I reviewed the Z9i, the reported battery life is well reported if not a little conservative. The Z9i is upgradeable from your PC by way of the included USB cable to help keep pace with any software developments.
One note about charging is that the charging port is on the stem to the speaker. At a glance, you’ll miss it. After fully charging the Z9i, when you power it up for the first time it goes into pairing mode. It took no time to pair the Z9i with my Samsung BlackJack II.
Blueant incorporates a voice isolation technology to suppress background noises, echos, and wind noise. The headset has two levels of noise reduction that can be set by the user, Standard and Max. The headset has two microphones to help maintain a clear speech volume. In using the Z9i, calls came in clear with no interference detected and the microphone picked up my voice clearly when using a normal tone and volume.
Background noise was filtered out really well. Wind, traffic and car radio noise was filtered out to where it could be heard in the background but did not interfere with the conversation. As far as audio performance goes, the Z9i is amongst the best of the headsets I have reviewed.
Where the Z9i gets tricky is the amount of features the headset has compared to the number of controls the headset has. It’s almost too much given the limited number of controls the Z9i is designed with. The original Z9 was also a feature rich device only hindered by the lack of controls. The main button controls the majority of the features (nine of them) and the volume keys control the rest (eight features). The combination and series of presses, click, and holds can be confusing. I would have liked to have seen Blueant incorporate a dedicated power switch to lighten the load of the main button.
One nice feature of the headset’s design is that the connection for the ear hook doubles as a tie clip that allows you to clip the Z9i to your tie, shirt or cuff. The clips tension is a little weak but the concept offers an innovative carry alternative for the headset when your ear needs a break. If you have a lanyard for work identification, the headset also clips to the lanyard as well.
It is hard to beat the audio quality of the BlueAnt Z9i Bluetooth Headset ($89.95). It ranks high on the list of the mini-headsets that I’ve tested. The headset is comfortable, though the longer ear hook does take some getting used to. The unit’s software/firmware is upgradeable so the Z9i can grow with its software.
The Achilles’ heel of the Z9i is the complex navigation through the feature set. This is likely an issue that falls under the “use it long enough and you’ll get used to it” category but I think BlueAnt could have made the Z9i easier to use with the addition of an extra button (e.g. dedicated power button maybe?) to lighten the load of the main button.
As is, I wouldn’t necessarily let the navigation issue rule out the Z9i from your short list but it’s something to give careful consideration to. It’s really not an issue unless you use these higher end features and even then with repetitive use, you’ll get use to things. For me, audio quality and Bluetooth connection are more important issues. Here the Z9i excels and for that alone it should make everyone’s short list.