By Harry McCracken | Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 5:00 am
Almost exactly one year after releasing the stylish Jawbone Icon, Bluetooth headset maker Aliph is back with the Jawbone Era, a new $129 model that’s meant as a higher-end complement to the $99 Icon, which remains on the market. It continues to address my own long-standing gripe about all headsets–I can never remember how to use the darn things–by being the first model I’ve seen that you can operate without using any buttons other than the on/off switch.
Aliph VP Travis Bogard provided me with an Era for review and told me that the headset was also designed for an, um, era in which relatively few people choose to use a Bluetooth headset to make traditional calls, but more and more folks are doing more and more audio-related things with their smartphones–from using Skype to listening to Pandora and podcasts.
The Era is longer and skinnier than the Icon–it looks a bit like a cross between that model and the earlier Prime. Aliph says that it’s fit a 25 percent larger wideband speaker into the earpiece, permitting higher-quality audio for both calls and apps such as music players that can stream audio using A2DP; it’s also upgraded its NoiseAssassin noise-reduction technology to version 3.0, with new features such as automatic volume adjustments that optimize settings for your particular surroundings. The headset does indeed sound good–even for music, which is monophonic but otherwise surprisingly pleasing. (Bogard told me that some Jawbone users prefer to listen to music in only one ear–it leaves the other one free to hear whatever’s going on around them.)
As with the Icon, you can answer a call by pressing a button–but you can also just tap the Era twice without bothering to find the button with your fingertip. If the headset isn’t already in your ear, you can pick it up, shake it twice to answer, then put it on to take the call. And when you pair it with your phone or laptop, you can shake it four times to enter pairing mode. All of this is made possible by a built-in accelerometer and MotionX motion-detection technology from Fullpower, a company cofounded by industry legend Philippe Kahn. It’s both practical and fun.
(Headsets that interact with the world around them in new ways seems to be a trend: Plantronics’ upcoming Voyager Pro UC uses a sensor to tell whether you’re wearing it or not, so it can take calls if it’s in your ear and route them to your phone handset if it isn’t.)
The Era includes a new version of Aliph’s MyTalk service, which lets you download applets onto the headset. I wasn’t able to try this out, but it includes a Caller ID feature that can read names from your address book rather than merely speaking the phone number.
Aliph says that the Era gets up to 5.5 hours on a charge (up from 4.5 with the Icon) and ten hours of standby. It comes with the best headset accouterments I’ve seen: eight different earbuds, an optional loop, a carrying case, a neat stubby MicroUSB cable, and a wall charger. And it’s available in four attractive models, all of which are on the subdued side compared to the ten (!) colorful options currently available for the Icon. (The Era choices are known as Shadowbox, Smokescreen, Midnight, and Silver Lining, and they’re still pretty stylish by headphone standards.)
I persist in thinking that wired headsets remain a perfectly legitimate alternative to wireless ones. (I like Nox’s Scout, a set of sound-isolating earbuds with a microphone and a tangle-proof flat cable.) But the Jawbone Era is a meaningful upgrade over the company’s earlier models–one that Bluetooth fans should like a lot, and which even we skeptics may find tempting.