Does any gadget category get as much hate as Bluetooth headsets?
Sure, Google Glass is getting plenty of public ire now, but Bluetooth headsets have been around for much longer. If anything, the quick dismissal of hardcore Bluetooth users was a sign of things to come for wearable technology. The “Bluedouche” was the original “Glasshole.”
And yet Jawbone, which earned its reputation as a gadget maker with its first line of Bluetooth headsets, isn’t giving up on the sector. With its latest entry, the $130 Era, Jawbone is preparing itself for a potential wireless headset renaissance.
Smartphone users don’t just need a way to talk hands-free on the phone — they want more accurate ways to send voice commands to their devices and get information without looking down at a screen.
The Jawbone Era aims to be the Bluetooth headset for people who hate Bluetooth headsets. It’s tiny, sounds great, and ultimately proves Bluetooth headsets aren’t dead yet.
The good: The most seamless Bluetooth headset yet
Though it’s significantly smaller than its 2-year-old predecessor, the Era isn’t quite as tiny as the ubiquitous earpieces from the Spike Jonze film Her (which, surprisingly, contains some fascinating user interface concepts), but it’s almost as convenient.
It took me a few tries to position the Era correctly in my ear, but once I got a good fit, it was easy to forget I was wearing an earpiece. A single button on the Era’s rear lets you answer calls, pause music, and skip tracks.
For calls, the Era sounds crisp and clear in both directions. I never had any complaints about voice quality from people I was chatting with, and calls sounded slightly clearer compared to using my iPhone’s earpiece. I also noticed a few instances where Jawbone’s noise-filtering technology perked up to enhance my voice and block out external noise (a big help on noisy New York City streets).
But I ended up using the Era more for commanding my smartphone than taking calls. It’s much easier to reach up, tap a button, and ask Siri for help than it is to pull out my phone — especially during frigid winter weather. When I asked Siri for directions, I was able to get to my destination simply by following the instructions piped into my ear by the Era. (Of course, you can do this with any pair of earphones with a built-in microphone; the Era just makes it that much easier and more elegant.)
The Era was also surprisingly useful for listening to light background music and podcasts. Sound quality was decent, though it wasn’t as loud as I would have liked. It was more comfortable than the wired headphones I usually wear while wandering around the city, especially since I didn’t have to worry about any cords. I still noticed the occasional look of disgust from other subway riders, though — yes, the poor Bluetooth headset still can’t get any love today, even though, ironically enough, many people are sporting earbuds or giant headphones of their own.
I’ve used several Bluetooth headsets over the years, and while I’ve liked plenty of these, I’ve yet to fall in love with any of them. Once the initial honeymoon period wears off, they typically end up gathering dust on my desk. The Era isn’t quite the Bluetooth headset of my dreams, but it comes the closest.
The bad: No battery life improvements; it still looks like a Bluetooth headset
On the one hand, we should praise Jawbone for keeping the same four-to-five-hour battery life as the previous, larger Era headset. On the other, it really stinks having to charge it in the middle of the day.
Jawbone, at least, recognizes that sort of battery life doesn’t cut it these days — so while it couldn’t pack in more juice, it’s offering the next best thing with the Era: a tiny portable charging case. It’s no different from any other USB battery pack you can get on Amazon. It stores enough juice to fully recharge the Era, and it includes a USB output to simplify the charging process.
While convenient, Jawbone is also cheating a bit by including the battery pack. It allows the company to claim that you can get around 10 hours of battery life with the Era, even when the device itself only reaches half that. Jawbone isn’t lying, but the slight confusion around the Era’s total battery life when using the battery pack has tripped up many journalists. And if that’s the case, I’m sure most consumers won’t realize the Era doesn’t get 10 hours of battery life on its own.
Additionally, while the Era is one of the smallest headsets I’ve used, it still looks distinctly like a Bluetooth headset. So unfortunately for Jawbone, it likely won’t win over people who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a headset. (But really, we won’t see something like that until there’s a major breakthrough in battery technology.)
The verdict: A Bluetooth headset for a new era
Unless you have serious moral and aesthetic reservations against Bluetooth headsets, the Era is worth a look. It does a great job with calls, and it’s convenient for speaking voice commands to your phone.
Now more than ever, consumers seem ready to accept Bluetooth headsets. Just look around at all the headphones the next time you’re out in public — we’ve trained ourselves to be connected to our devices physically.
Now, we just need to get used to doing so wirelessly.