Review: BlueAnt Z9i Bluetooth Headset

Bluetooth headsets are plentiful and relatively cheap these days. BlueAnt's $99.99 Z9i, while relatively pricey, has features and performance that make it a well above average Bluetooth headset rather than a good or simply decent one.

Available in either glossy black or soft-touch red (ours was the former), the Z9i is truly small and light. At an inch-and-a-half in length and .35 ounces, it can be easy to forget you're wearing the Z9i. Controls on the Z9i consist of a large multi-function button with integrated LED and a pair of smallish volume buttons.

An unobtrusive black rubber earhook keeps the Z9i firmly in place, and you can choose from large or small earbuds that are easily interchangeable (a translucent plastic earhook is also included). Another nice touch is an integrated clip so you can affix it clothing while not in use, as is the fact that the Z9i can pair with up to 5 devices and be connected to two of them simultaneously.

We tested the Z9i with a T-Mobile Dash, and call quality was quite good. We heard our callers loud and clear, though on a couple of occasions the audio had a distinct "hollow" sound to it, especially when the volume was on the high side. Those we called using the Z9i almost unanimously remarked on how good the audio quality was from their perspective.

The Z9i uses two microphones and a DSP to isolate voice by attempting to suppress extraneous noise, and it has two voice isolation modes. One is the default Standard mode, and the other, a Max mode for use in especially noisy environments.

You can switch the Z9i between modes while in a call, and in most (though not all) cases when we switched to Max mode, our callers reported being better able to hear us over the din of things like a TV, traffic, and a running sink.

Our main complaint is that it can be easy to hang up by mistake if your finger slips (the glossy surface facilitates this) when switching into Max mode. Switching modes requires a one-second click on the MFB, but anything quicker ends the call.

Another relatively minor gripe is that it can be hard to know what mode you're in, because although a voice prompt announces the new mode each time you switch, it's hard to distinguish if a callers speaking at the same time.

On phones that support it, a quick press of the MFB will allow you to initiate voice dialing from the Z9i. This didn't work on the Dash, but it did on a Blackberry Curve 8330 we tried.

The Z91's battery is rated for up to 5.5 hours of yapping and up to 200 hours on standby, and it comes with both an AC adapter and a special USB cable so you can juice up the headset from a PC. BlueAnt says that cable can also be used to update the Z9i's firmware via a computer, but since there were no updates yet available at review time we weren't able to test this feature.

If you're looking for a Bluetooth headset that's a step up from the run-of-the-mill variety, the BlueAnt Z9i should be on your shopping list.


peripherals, headset