What should you be looking for in the latest Bluetooth headset? We look at the Zen, a headset that hopes size doesn't matter, but will it by the time we're done with our tests?
The first thing you'll notice with the Zen is the large ear clip will draw unwarranted attention, as does the flashing single pale blue LED on the outside face of the headset. Despite these attention-seeking elements, the overall performance is good; its just it would have been nicer if the package was slightly smaller.
The body of the microphone hooks over the top of the ear, while an earpiece on an adjustable rubberized arm connects to the ear, via a clear rubber tip. The arm flips, giving the option to wear on either ear, but unless you have one big one (an ear that is), it's still hard to wear in comfort.
The tip itself is soft and friendly, and there are some replacements included, but the loose fitting ear clip does cause volume loss. Unless the tip is firmly driven into the ear, a great deal of the sound disappears into the ether and if you plan to wear this for sports, walking, or with sunglasses or spectacles, our advice would be to try before you buy.
The Zen performs far better on sound quality. The Canadian team behind Gennum's FrontWave technology have mastered the noise cancelling elements. There is little static interference to speak of, perhaps as the microphone is located behind the ear, in the main body of the device. The built in mic manages to increase the volume with very little distortion no matter what the environment.
The noise cancelling technology, what Gennum dub “Local Environment Audio Processing” (L-E-A-P), can also be use to increase direct conversation, without the phone. It filters the background noise, acting as an amplifier for local sound. A little odd perhaps, but could be handy for the hard of hearing in busy situations. Be aware that the feedback is worst when using this local microphone feature.
Battery life too is good. The lithium polymer battery gives six hours of talk time and over 50 hours of standby time. The charger plugs into a small jack on the headset, and comes with a series of adapters- handy for those on the international circuit.
The headset has simple controls-an on/off switch, call answer/mute button, and a volume control dial. There's also a button to control the level of noise reduction applied to the audio signal from the microphone. The voice dialling features on our two test phones, a Motorola V500 and a Nokia 7610, were both supported with this headset and installation was easy on both.
The Zen is well made, not overly futuristic or flashy, comes with a lightweight charger and replacement ear tips. It's far bigger than the average headset, even than those with boom microphones, but in its defence, weighs a lot less.
If you either have big ears or can master it, the controls and sound quality are up there with the best of the competition. As it's not designed for one make of phone, you should find good connectivity across the board. Unfortunately, we found the device just too big to use.