Hands-on: Jawbone Era review

Bluetooth headsets have been around for years, but only now in the age of multiple mics, fast charging and low power Bluetooth 4.0 are they really becoming an all day gadget.

Jawbone, one of the pioneers of Bluetooth headsets, has just released its new Era communicator that offers all day battery, a portable charging case, high quality wide band audio sound, dual mic accuracy and a minimalist design.

We've had one in our ear for quite some time now connected to our Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Has it changed the way we use our mobile?

Design

For users dreaming of augmenting themselves to look like a cyborg, without coming off like Star Trek's Borg or a Glasshole, the Jawbone Era is the way forward. Its sleek, minimal design looks attractive off the ear and is barely noticeable when worn.

A simple switch is used to turn the Era on and off, freeing up functionality options on the touch button at the back of the headset. It also means the Era shouldn't just spring to life when thrown in a bag or kept in your pocket. It's worked well for us so far.

The little nodule at the bottom of the headset is what sits on your jawbone and detects vibrations when you speak, allowing the headset to spring to life. This saves battery while idle and is where the company's name, Jawbone, came from.

Comfort

The earpiece is designed to sit snuggly while pushing gently against the ear to keep it in place. Hats off to those designers as it works a treat. Even turning our ear to the ground so the Era was dangling, and shaking our head, it stayed firmly in place.

We left the headset in all day for a few days and found that after the first 10 minutes or so it's easy to forget it's there.

Functionality

Battery life is a huge factor for many. We got a solid 4 hours on a charge with plenty of use. The case extends that for another full charge, getting the device back to full power in just 50 minutes.

One of the main uses we ended up enjoying was satnav. Plotting a route in Google Maps, then hitting navigate, had us voice guided to our driving, walking and cycling destinations without using hands or looking at a map. It also kept an ear free for listening to the road or our passenger and to take calls. Very helpful indeed.

The ability to press and hold Era's button brings up Google which allows users to vocally tell it to call someone in their phone book (once synced with Google). This will also work with Siri for iPhone users. It means searching for a conversion, say, is as easy as asking. The only problem with our experience was that the phone had to be unlocked. If you've gone to the hassle of taking it out and unlocking it you might as well just use your hands to search.

There was surprisingly no option to answer using voice, instead the headset requires a touch of the button to pick up calls. Also the accompanying app and website controls show what each button press does but won't allow users to change the functions of each button tapping combination.

There are a selection of voices and sound effects that can be downloaded and installed on the Era. We went for a robotic voice that uses gaming style sounds effects, for a bit of fun.

Call quality

For outgoing sound background noise was cancelled well, with cars taken out while walking along a pretty busy road. But our voice wasn't picked up that clearly, transmitting a distant sound as if we were far away. But in a relatively quiet area, like a car, the connection and clarity were spot on.

For incoming audio the sound was clear and loud enough to hear even in noisy central London. Can't fault it.

Wideband audio

Jawbone has pushed the Era a little further than other technologies can even support. A lot of audio compression means cutting the top and bottom end off voices to save data, but Jawbone uses wideband audio to keep quality high. Very few other services offer it. Skype and Google Hangouts use this to give that in-the-room sound.

While modern handsets like the iPhone 5S and Samsung Galaxy Note 3 support wideband audio, a lot of older handsets do not.

Multiple devices

The Jawbone Era will be available with a USB dongle, called Nerd, that allows users to connect to both their mobile and laptop using wideband audio. This means listening to music at high quality is possible via a computer. This is great for watching short clips of video while at work without plugging in headphones. It's also smart enough to jump from a computer connection to a mobile in order to answer a call seamlessly. We didn't get a sample to test this out though.

First impressions

Anyone in the market for a Bluetooth headset would be hard pressed to find something as good looking as Jawbone's Era. But the call quality could be better and button functionality would benefit from being personalised.

The battery life is impressive and with the accompanying case delivers on its all-day use promise easily.

Using the headset for listening to music is great when headphones have been left at home but it's certainly not something we could imagine replacing many people's stereo cans.

Jawbone has so much experience in headsets you know from the speed of Bluetooth connection to your phone (instant) to the feel of the robust design this device has had a lot of work - a lot of years of work - put into it. 

The Jawbone Era can be bought in black, silver, bronze and red for £109. It can also be bought without the charging case for £79.



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