Sure, you can pay $50 or less for a no-frills Bluetooth headset, but if you're likely to talk in noisy environments, budget models aren't going to cut it. For power users, BlueAnt's Z9i headset offers noise-canceling technology and a classic design for $99.95 (though we've found it for as low as $66.99 through various online retailers). Although we like that it can pair with multiple devices, its sound quality isn't as clear as other noise-canceling headsets we've tested.
Like theBlueAnt V1, which has an identical shape and button layout, the Z9i has a much simpler design than some of its comparably priced competitors, including the blingtasticMotorola Motopure H12and the sleekAliph Jawbone. At 1.6 x 0.7 x 0.4 inches, the Z9i is short and stout. It has a silver pair button with a holographic ant on it, but otherwise, the smooth, glossy black gives it an unassuming look. (Style mavens can also get it in Soft Touch Red.) On the side, you'll find two volume controls with raised plus and minus signs.
The Z9i comes with two long, rotating earhooks: one made of translucent plastic, and one with a metal tip but coated mostly in rubber. It also comes with two earpieces. We switched to the smaller one, and the resulting fit felt comfortable and sturdy.
We had no problem pairing the Z9i with our Samsung phone. The Z9i's pairing light glows solid blue when turned on, solid red when it's about to turn off, and flashes when it's in pairing mode.
BlueAnt's noise-cancellation technology works by using two microphones to identify human voices and enhancing and isolating them from ambient noises. That's slightly different from Aliph, the reigning Editors' Choice in noise cancellation, which uses jaw vibrations to identify speech, and then subtracts other sounds.
Whether we made calls indoors or out, we were unimpressed with the Z9i's noise-canceling performance. Sure, our callers could hear everything we said, but they told us that the background noise, which included people speaking and the rumble of passing traffic, was still distracting. In contrast, when we left voicemails using the Jawbone, we could hear less background noise.
Range and Battery Life
The Z9i has a range of 33 feet. We could still hear our caller at that distance, and could even hear as far away as 50 feet. The headset also has multipoint technology, allowing it to pair with up to five devices at once, including two phones. This is a feature the Jawbone lacks. As for battery life, the Z9i is rated for 5.5 hours of talk time, which is on a par with the Motopure H12 and longer than the Jawbone's rated life of 4 hours.
BlueAnt Z9i Verdict
There's no doubt that the BlueAnt Z9i delivers clearer sound in noisy environments than a run-of-the-mill headset. But compared with premium noise-canceling headsets, including the Aliph Jawbone (street-priced at about $100), its voice quality and design don't measure up. The BlueAnt V1 stood up much better against the Jawbone on our tests.
On the other hand, the Z9i offers multipoint technology and a sturdy fit, and with a street price of about $70, it's a pretty good deal. Bottom line: For the best noise cancellation technology, don't go with the Z9i. But for decent noise cancellation at an affordable price, it's worth checking out.