BlueAnt’s Z9 Gets Feature Upgrade

BlueAnt Z9i

Late last year, we evaluated the BlueAnt’s Z9 Bluetooth headset that turned out to be a very solid performer.  The noise cancellation and voice enhancement was extremely good and on par with headsets that cost much more.  BlueAnt has released the Z9i, an upgraded version of the Z9 that is supposed to improve the overall quality of their original headset with better noise cancellation and voice isolation.   Our biggest issue with the original version was with the fit and comfort level.  Let’s see if BlueAnt has improved on.

The MSRP of BlueAnt’s Z9i is $99.95 which places the headset in the same class as the Jawbone 2 or Plantronics Discovery 925.  While you can get all these headsets for around $80, they all feature active noise cancellation with voice enhancement in a very small package.

BlueAnt Z9i Box

The form factor between the older Z9 and the new Z9i are almost identical.  The only real difference in how it looks is the slightly different ear hook and color of the Ant on the headset. Both headsets have two microphones to improve voice quality and similar voice isolation technology to maximize noise and echo suppression.  Both headsets will pair with multiple devices and are firmware upgradeable via its PC USB cable.

How will the newer, cheaper, Z9i stack up against the original Z9 or our Editor’s Choice Award winner Jawbone 2?  Read on to find out. 

Let's take a quick look at the key features of the BlueAnt Z9i.

Key Features:

 

BlueAnt Z9i Out of the Box

BlueAnt Z9i Box Contents

The BlueAnt Z9i comes out of the box with what is now becoming standard for Bluetooth headsets – especially those that at this price point – with a AC and USB chargers, large and small interchangeable ear gels, two sizes of ear hooks, User Manual, and Quick Start Guide. It would have been nice to include some form of charging case like the Plantronics Discovery 925 or even a non charging case like the Motorola H680.

The connector to charge the Z9i is not a standard USB-mini plug, so make sure you don’t lose the charging cables that BlueAnt included.  Unlike the original Z9, BlueAnt included two ear loops that are exactly the same size but made of slightly different material.  One is a translucent ear hook that is identical to the original BlueAnt Z9, the other is a rubberized metal hook that is supposed to be the “upgrade” to the original.

BlueAnt Z9i

Let’s quickly go over the differences between the new Z9i and the older Z9 headset.  The Z9i is able to pair up and remember 5 mobile devices compared to the older Z9’s 3 devices.  You can actually connect 2 mobile phones at a time with the Z9i as well.  The Z9i now comes with two different sizes of ear buds and two types of ear hooks that can be interchanged to make a more custom fit than that of the older Z9. The old Z9 came in only one Black while the Z9i comes in the traditional Gloss Black, but “Soft Touch Red” as well.

BlueAnt says the biggest difference is in their software.  When we first tested the Z9, we found that it had great noise cancellation and we could actually hear our parties conversations in a loud environment.  The voice isolation Digital Signal Processor (DSP) was more than adequate to handle almost every noisy situation we through at it. 

The Z9i improves on BlueAnt’s Voice isolation Technology software to improve noise suppression, echo cancellation and wind noise reduction capabilities. Like the Z9, users can choose between dual Voice Isolation modes: “Standard” for use in normal environments that removes mild background noise, and “Max,” which provides the highest voice clarity for use in extremely noisy environments.  BlueAnt also retained the ability of users to upgrade the headsets firmware with a download system to ensure that customers get the latest software refinements. 

BlueAnt Z9i Performance

Cruising with BlueAnt's Z9i

After fully charging the BlueAnt Z9i, we immediately paired it with our normal test mobile devices – the Treo 750, Apple’s iPhone, Motorola’s RAZR V3, and T-Mobile’s MDA Vario, and LG Envy. All paired quickly and easily. 

We were hoping that BlueAnt would have improved the headset’s comfort level in their next generation.  Unfortunately, the Z9i’s fit was almost identical to the Z9.  Our major complaint with the Z9 in the past had been with the comfort level of the headset over long periods of wear.  The ear bud seemed to irritate the ear after a few hours of wear. 

Apple iPhone with BlueAnt's Z9i

As we have detailed in previous reviews, California, Washington, and other states have passed laws requiring drivers to have hands-free devices if they want to use their mobile devices.  In the past week or so, there has been a huge run on drivers looking for headsets to use while in the car.  Typically, I’m on the road for at least 2 hours a day going to and from work.  When I get to work, I usually leave a headset on so my headset usage during the day is pretty high. 

At around 10 grams (.35 ounces), the headset is very light and when you first put it on your ear, it feels pretty good.  When you leave it in your ear for more than 30 minutes or so, the comfort level seems to go down and the 10 grams seems like 100g.  It reminded me exactly of what I felt about the original Z9.  I was really hoping that BlueAnt would improve this aspect of their headset, but unfortunately, the design is pretty much consistent.  You will not end up tossing it from your ear, but the BlueAnt’s Z9i (like its older brother the Z9) is very hard to keep in your ear after more than a couple of hours of use.

BlueAnt Z9i

To be fair, I tried both sizes of earbuds and was able to come to a fairly happy medium with the smaller sized bud.  I hung out at the beach over the weekend all day and was able to keep the Z9i in my ear.  I must admit that I really didn’t notice too much discomfort.  Our complaints about the comfort of the headset are not a deal-breaker, but certainly need to be taken into consideration before you purchase the BlueAnt set.

Conclusion & Wrap-Up

Looking Good with the BlueAnt Z9i

Overall, the BlueAnt Z9i is a very good headset.  We found the noise cancellation to just slightly better than its older sibling the Z9.  In a crowded and noisy room, the Z9i will definitely perform better than that of a normal everyday headset.  The dual microphones that BlueAnt equipped it with will isolate your voice and suppress background noise.  The Jawbone and Plantronics headsets will perform this function much better, but with a much higher list price.  When it comes to noise cancellation we have found that you certainly get what you pay for.

BlueAnt makes this headset future proof by allowing the user to upgrade the Z9i’s firmware via the net and a USB cable.  We are finding more and more manufacturers doing this and we think it makes good sense.  Compatibility with mobile devices was a non-issue as the Z9i synced flawlessly to each of our test devices.  The Multipoint Technology which allows a user to connect simultaneously to two devices even worked when we paired it to Sony’s Playstation 3.  While chatting online with friends, my mobile rang and I was able to answer the call with the headset!  Very nice.

Our only hesitation really when it comes to this headset is the lack of comfort while wearing it.  Even though we were able to get through days wearing it, I wouldn’t place the Z9i on the top of my list of easiest to wear.  I definitely had to take breaks while wearing this headset.  If you are considering this Bluetooth headset, make sure you try it on so that you are comfortable with the fit.  I think the designers and engineers did a good job making the Z9i more versatile when it comes to custom fitting, but there is still some work to be done.

BlueAnt Z9i in Red

Legit Bottom Line:

With a street price of around $70, the BlueAnt Z9i is a very good headset for those that need active noise cancellation and voice enhancement for use in noisy conditions.  Unfortunately, even with its small packaging and sleek styling, the upgraded Z9i has a fit that is prone to ear fatigue for power users.