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A couple of months ago, I bought a new Bluetooth headset as my last one went missing. These have always been fairly important but utilitarian objects to me. I’ve had a number of good ones, everything from the Plantronics Voyager (which could be used with my office and mobile phone), to Motorola H12, back to Plantronics Discovery 925 and finally the Jawbone Icon HD (Thinker).

Jawbone Icon HD Nerd on Wood

The raison d’être for picking the Icon HD was its ability to use A2DP and, hence, pick up all sounds off of the phone; in particular, I can listen to my books on Audible (as well as ones from the Library on Overdrive). It can also pick up music and video sound, but I’ll use my Shure SE215‘s on the road or, at home, my Grado SR 80 ’s for that purpose.  Don’t get me wrong, the Jawbone is fabulous for calls. Listening to calls is crystal clear (most headsets do this), they can hear me well (much rarer), battery lasts a long time, its Noise Assassin wipes out background noise and it fits well in my ear. I could go on, however, the differentiating driving force is the ability to listen to audio books.

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Wow, how cool it is to be wireless and free, listening to my audio books wherever I want and whenever I want. Cleaning up & John Scalzi’s Redshirts, doing dishes & Michael Underwood’s Geekomancy or ironing and Erin Mortgenstern’s The Night Circus lead to much happier chores. In a more reflective mode, I may listen to a passage from Crossway’s ESV Bible Windows Phone app. Most of my listening time does happen during driving and I have an old school car that doesn’t integrate with my smartphone, a Nokia Lumia 920. While the Lumia has a pretty loud speaker for a phone, listening to books over the headset rocks. Also, if a text comes in, it reads it to me and I can respond to text through voice; convenient and safe. If a call comes in, I simply take it and then start again where I left off. Nice.

So, the whole gamut of listening experience is available. Now, most wireless headsets that can play music are stereo for obvious reasons. For equally obvious reasons, I won’t drive with a set of cans on my ears. Listening through one ear allows me to keep current on my books safely. Truth be told, prior to the Jawbone, I would pop my headset off the second I was out of the car, unless on a call, because even a geek like me doesn’t want to be wearing a Bluetooth headset as a fashion accessory. However, I pushed aside what little fashion sense I may have had with the Jawbone; shopping in Target while listening to a book is fabulous. It only gets embarrassing as I laugh out loud or otherwise visibly respond to what’s happening in the book; on a good note, it clears the aisles for me as I walk through.

So, if you love audio books and don’t have a Bluetooth device that can play them, I highly recommend the Jawbone Icon HD. I’ve been able to listen to many more books than I would without it. If, like me, you need to slow down from time to time and really digest the passage, this can be accomplished through bringing up the Kindle edition of the book and pick up at the same spot for denser reading. This is particularly easy with Whispersync for Voice (about which more here) which allows you to pick up where you left off between Audible and Kindle editions.  (To the Audible development team – thank you for updating the Audible Windows Phone app to finally enable this.)

If you have a tablet, laptop or other device that’s Bluetooth enabled and has a USB port, you can use The Nerd, a USB audio adapter, to connect your Icon HD headset to it. You can listen to books, use it for Skype or whatever else without having to pair it with that particular tablet or laptop. Once I paired my headset with The Nerd, I can put it in any machine, PC or Mac, and I’m ready to listen through my headset. Whether the machine has native Bluetooth support or not, you can use the Nerd without pairing with each device. So, if my battery is getting low on my phone or my son is playing a game on it, I just power up my Windows Surface tablet and, bada-bing, I’m off listening again.

OK, now it’s time for true confessions of serious nerdiness: one of the cool things Jawbone allows you to do is customize the “operators” voice on the Icon, the one which tells how much talk time you have or that it’s ready for use. I use “Be Foxy” which sounds like a female British spy; it’s a bit like having Naomie Harris’s Eve Moneypenny whispering in your ear. Nice. You can change default behaviors and there are other cool apps for the headset, but I’ll try to restrain my geeking out about them all. Suffice it to say, Jawbone does an outstanding job supporting their headset and surrounding it with all sorts of options.

Finally, I can listen to voice directions from Nokia’s Drive app; the rest of the car doesn’t have to listen to “Now turn right” and I can hear it easily over car conversations. By the way, just to continue the theme, I downloaded the British female voice for Drive.

I can never see myself going back to just a regular headset. In fact, I was willing to fork over money for a new one after just a couple of months when my headset went through the wash. I highly recommend that you don’t try to replicate this experience, but after I allowed it to dry out for a couple of days, it worked great. Now that’s a solid headset.

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