Hands On: Jabra Halo stereo Bluetooth headset

It folds! It sports dual microphones! It even works with non-Bluetooth devices! But this sleek, stylish headset is hobbled a bit by Apple's wonky Bluetooth support. Bummer!

The comfy, folding Jabra Halo headset isn't 100 percent compatible with the iPhone, but it's still a worthwhile investment. Jabra

Cords suck. That's why people who switch to Bluetooth headsets have a hard time going back to the wired kind. And once you've tried a stereo headset, well, you're spoiled for life.

Consider me spoiled. The new Jabra Halo headset cuts the cord in style, giving music and movie fans a terrific wireless listening experience while allowing chatterboxes to keep conversing.

Alas, it's not quite perfect, owing to one design flaw and one technical glitch that's actually Apple's fault.

Smart features are everywhere. For starters, the Halo has no on/off button. Rather, these folding, over-the-ear headphones turn on when unfolded and off again when you fold them. Love that!

LEDs embedded in the headband show power, pairing, and battery status. I had an easy time pairing the Halo with an iPhone 3G and a second-gen iPod Touch.

In fact, I was able to keep both paired thanks to the headset's MultiUse technology, which supports connections to two Bluetooth devices. (A more real-world application would be pairing to your iPhone and your laptop.) Very handy.

The Halo has just two physical controls. The first is a slightly indented button in the outer face of the right earpiece; it's used to play/pause music and answer/end phone calls.

The second is a disastrously bad touch slider for controlling volume and skipping tracks (the latter done by double-tapping the top or bottom of the controller--a nearly impossible task given that you can't see where you're tapping). It's my one and only complaint with the Halo; a simple rocker control would have been vastly superior.

I have a second complaint, but it's with Apple's implementation of Bluetooth. Because there's no support (yet) for Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP), the Halo's controls are rendered partially inoperative. You can raise and lower volume, but I couldn't get play/pause or track skip to work.

These aren't deal-breakers (as noted above, these controls suck anyway), but they're definitely annoyances. For what it's worth, everything worked fine with my AVRCP-rocking Palm Pre.

On the unequivocal plus side, music sounds terrific, at least to my ears, and callers reported that I sounded just as swell. That surprised me given the Halo's lack of a visible microphone, but the headset actually has two of them--one of which cancels background noise.

Other perks include a patch cord for using the Halo with non-Bluetooth MP3 players; AC and USB charging cables (the Halo relies on a microUSB connector); and a Neoprene carrying case.

All this can be yours for $129.99, which is a pretty steep price for a headset. Shopping around, I managed to find it for $99, but even that's not an impulse-buy price.

On the other hand, if you routinely use your iPhone on a treadmill, at the gym, or even while lounging around the house, a headset like this is a very worthwhile luxury. We just need Apple to roll out some much-needed Bluetooth updates (add printer support while you're at it!) and the Jabra Halo will rank among the top products in its class (for iPhone users, that is).

 

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