The Jawbone Era

That guy. You know who he is. Talking to himself on the elevator, at the grocery store and in the car. You have no clue whether he’s talking to you or someone else. In addition to the gold chain around his neck and the cell phone holster on his belt you’ll eventually notice the thing hanging out of his ear and then it makes sense.

Recently I became the owner of a new Jawbone Era headset and therefore something new to feel self conscious about. I never considered using a Bluetooth headset because the utility didn’t outweigh the costs. Calls sounded bad on the receiving end, weren’t loud enough on the callers end and you looked like a total chump. Fortunately (or unfortunately) this headset works well enough in a number of situations where it’s just too darn handy not to have around. You’ll probably still look like a real dweeb.

When a Headset Makes Sense

I wanted to get the headset primarily for use at my office. Last year we were all issued some fancy new Cisco phones that would work with a Bluetooth headset. I’ve been using a wired headset for a long time and really find it to be useful, especially on extended calls.

The fact that the iPhone has more advanced voice control features is also a plus and keeping both hands on the wheel has got to be safer than the alternative.

How it Actually Works Out

The Jawbone has pleasantly surprised me so far. It is loud, makes clear phone calls and brings the ability to listen to podcasts through a wireless earpiece. Siri performance is pretty spotty and battery life is far shorter than advertised but overall it’s a net win.

Style

It’s impossible to not look like a dork when wearing a Bluetooth headset so you should only use it in situations where it’s clearly acceptable or you really don’t care. In your office and on the phone is fine. In the hallway isn’t. If you’ve changed clothes to prepare to go somewhere, you should leave it in the car when you get there. This headset in particular is small and doesn’t have any blinking lights to eat power and further draw attention to your sartorial ineptitude.

Setup

The Era comes with a number of earbuds in differing sizes. It’s really tough to swap these out, which is a very good thing. My Bose earbuds have a similar molded silicone earbud which has a real problem with falling off while they’re in a bag. There’s nothing worse than loosing one at the beginning of your trip at the airport.

The packaging says that it includes a USB cable and an AC adapter. Unfortunately the AC adapter still needs the USB cable to connect the headset directly to power. A charge time of about an hour through USB makes this kind of useless.

The Jawbone software can be downloaded off their website. This is exactly the kind of thing that ought to be distributed through the Mac App Store, especially since this annoying software which will probably only be used once or twice tries to become a startup item and stakes a claim in the OS X menu bar.

Oddly enough, management of software happens through the browser and only uses the desktop software to push updates. This is bizarre and lazy, but the site worked just fine in my Flash-free installation of Safari.

After running the software update I added the software which enables access to Siri and looked through the voice options. Each of the voice options is exactly the type which you’d expect to appear in the heads of the typical Bluetooth wearing jerk. I settled on the least terrible, loaded it up and moved along.

iPhone Use

From what people tell me, the audio quality is every bit as good as mashing the iPhone against my face. The voice that announces caller names pulls from an internal set of names and number that I haven’t’ set up. If it could read the name that comes up on the phone it would be better.

Streaming audio ends up being a pretty solid feature. It’s terrible for listening to music but great for listening to podcasts. Mids and highs are clear and loud enough to hear. It’s really nice to work around the house while using this for podcasts since there’s no cord to snag.

Siri

The interaction between the Era and Siri is a bit of a mixed bag. Even with the right software installed it seems like too much is going on at once. When you push the button on the headset, it beeps then makes some kind of a warbling sound. Don’t be fooled…it’s not time to start talking yet. Eventually (nearly 4 and a half seconds later) you do hear the familiar Siri chime but probably after you’ve already issued half of a command. Sometimes you won’t even hear that. Worse than this is that Siri seems to have a hard time understanding what’s coming through the Era. This whole aspect of the experience is pretty disappointing.

The Office Phone

The Era can pair with multiple devices at once, which it does pretty well. Getting a full day’s use out of the Era without plugging it in is pretty tough. Charging doesn’t take long though, so if it’s plugged in during a meeting then it will be fully charged upon return.

I really like having some music going while I work, but phone calls seem to keep that to a minimum. The Era’s noise cancellation feature works wonders in this regard. Music playing from an iPod dock at a reasonable level can’t be heard by the person on the other end of the phone.

Overall Impressions

I’m still using the Jawbone era even though the novelty has faded. It’s nicer to use than a wired headset at work and does an acceptable job making phone calls with the iPhone. Hopefully some software update will come along and make Siri more usable but even as it is right now it’s a pretty solid product.