Review

Review: Aliph Jawbone ERA bluetooth headset

The Jawbone ERA is the fifth model in the highly successful line of Jawbone headsets made by Aliph, and continues to improve on the technologies developed and used in previous models. It comes in four stylish designs, of which today we have the “Silver Lining” model with us, and has several standout features that make the headset great.

The first of the features is that of the skin-contact microphone, which the line of headsets is named after, which contacts the face of the user to provide clearer audio through a special sensor. Secondly, there is the NoiseAssassin signal processing technology that attempts to cut as much background noise as possible – it’s so good that it was originally used in military environments and developed for DARPA.

Specification wise the Jawbone Era supports Bluetooth v2.1 with EDR, A2DP 1.2, a range of up to 10 metres (33 ft) and two live audio connections. It has a 10mm wideband speaker for HD audio, NoiseAssassin 3.0 technology with wind reduction, a built-it accelerometer with MotionX technology, dual micro-processors and automatic volume control. It is stated to have around 5.5 hours talk time and 10 days standby time with the built-in Li-ion battery.

We were kindly provided our Jawbone Era headset by Aliph/Jawbone Australia and have fully updated the device to get the most out of it. It retails for around US$130/£99/AU$140 at most major retailers.

Design

As we mentioned before we have been provided the Silver Lining designed Era, which is one of four designs available (the others being Midnight, Shadowbox and Smokescreen). The Silver Lining design comes with a silver-patterned front with white highlights and a black body. The overall design is quite angular, however to prevent it from cutting your face while using it the corners are rounded.

On the side that faces outwards from your face there is nothing except for the intricately designed plate. Towards the top of this plate is the single talk button on the device and below that is the microUSB port for charging and performing updates.

On the side that touches your face you have the Voice Activity Sensor, which is the rubber tip thing surrounded by activity light, on-off switch and the earpiece which can be covered with either the spout earbuds (as seen above) or round earbuds with earloop for comfort and best fit. There are also several holes around the device which we presume are microphones for noise cancelling.

The Jawbone ERA looks great, and is sized perfectly so that it’s neither cumbersome in your ear nor awkwardly hidden inside your ear. The patterned front, which is silver in our case, adds class to the design and looks fantastic without overpowering the rest of the fairly minimal design or looking ridiculous in your ear. It’s also quite light, so you won’t feel like your ear is getting torn off while wearing it.

In The Box

The Jawbone ERA’s box looks fantastic, with the device prominently displayed inside a clear plastic box. Pulling the main part of the box out you reveal the sets of earbuds (4 spout earbuds, 4 round earbuds plus one universal earloop) and the USB charging cable, which is short and quite rigid while still being slightly flexible.

Inside the main compartment you find the instruction manuals, USB car charger adapter plus the soft carrying case. The carrying case looks great in black with the simple Jawbone logo printed, and snaps open and shut easily via two metal strips located at the top of the case. It’s not a particularly big case, but fits the device well.  

The ERA’s packaging was very high-end, which it should be considering the quality of the device’s design and also the price tag.

Comfort

How comfortably the Jawbone ERA fits in your ear is obviously going to be a major point of the Bluetooth headset as it likely will be in the wearer’s ear for some time. Luckily the ERA comes with a large array of earbud options, one of which will hopefully fit your ear shape perfectly and be comfortable for you.

After testing both types of earbuds, we found the spout earbud was more secure and tight in the ear while applying a bit of pressure to the ear. This pressure, depending on the fit and shape of your ear, will eventually become uncomfortable after several hours in your ear. On the other hand the round earbud with the earloop did not place as much pressure on the ear as it doesn’t have to use the inside of the ear to hold the headset in place, however did not feel as secure and was harder to put in the ear.

Overall we preferred the spout earbud, and surprisingly the default-sized one was the perfect fit. When put in the ear correctly, which does take some getting used to putting in (the instruction book does help with this), it is very secure and even while doing ridiculous head shaking and running it didn’t seem to want to shift position. After around four hours of using the earpiece it could get a bit unformfortable in your ear, but apart from that the device fit well without discomfort.

We do have to praise Jawbone for giving us such a large range of fit options, which is especially great if you often find yourself needing to change away from the default option or not finding a comfortable earbud. This effectively eliminates the need to shop for an extra set of earbuds because Jawbone have included most options with the package.

Call Quality

There are two sections to the call quality testing we did. First was how clear and defined did calls sound through the Jawbone and secondly how clear and defined did the calls sound to the person on the other end of the phone.

Thanks to whatever sound processor the Jawbone ERA is using, calls generally sound very clear, crisp and easy to understand through the speaker that is included with the device. We tested using a variety of phones and conditions and usually the fault of not being able to hear was left with the caller and not the receiver. Even in moderately loud conditions the calls were still audible, and the Jawbone automatically adjusted the volume up for us. Only under ridiculously loud background noise did we finally stop being able to hear the other person’s voice.

On the other end of the phone the caller said that the voice sound through the Jawbone was slightly muffled and worse in terms of quality compared to from our actual mobile phone’s speaker. However, the Jawbone ERA did do its job with NoiseAssassin 3.0 and cut a lot more background noise, to the point where when we had to shout to hear ourselves the caller could hear us perfectly with little background noise. So while the Jawbone may be worse for general call quality you can certainly be heard better when you are at a very loud venue or there is generally a lot of background noise.

The Jawbone does feature several cool features when answering calls, such as double tapping the outside of the headset’s body while in your ear will automatically answer the call using the inbuilt accelerometer. Double tap (or TapTap) again and you will end the call. The Jawbone also reads out the phone number of the incoming caller, and through their online services you can add numbers that the ERA will recognize and read out names instead. It would have been nice for this feature to be automatic and simply use the phone’s database but it apparently can’t do that.

Music/A2DP Quality

Obviously using the Jawbone ERA for music and other media is not going to be the prime purpose for the Bluetooth headset, but it is still important to take a look at how well the Jawbone does at delivering so-called “HD audio” through the single speaker. We tested playback of music on both our Samsung Galaxy S and HTC Sensation, both of which are A2DP compliant, and our results were fairly mediocre.

For a Bluetooth headset the quality of the music it was pumping out was quite good, however compared to an actual set of wired headphones it was pretty poor. The mid-range tones (that of a human voice) were quite good, but all other tones were lacklustre, especially bass which was pretty much non-existent. The quality naturally got worse as the volume increased, and despite being able to go quite loud there was notable distortion at full volume.

The call quality through the ERA was great, however simply put the media playback is not. You could listen to music through the device but we certainly wouldn’t recommend it if you have a set of headphones lying around. Admittedly the ERA’s music playback quality is better than that of the inbuilt speaker on our devices however it is no replacement for a good set of wired headphones.

Battery Life & Conclusion

The battery life of the Jawbone is rated at being 5.5 hours for call time and 10 days for standby, and when testing call time we got 5 hours 12 minutes out of a full charge so the Jawbone estimates are quite accurate. The charge time is also quite quick, at around 30 mins for an 80% charge and 60 mins for a full charge, and the ERA can read out the battery level if you press the talk button once.

While we were surprised that the Jawbone ERA only had passable call quality on the other person’s end, the NoiseAssassin technology used certainly works very well, and on our end the callers were clear and audible. Music was not as great as call quality, but we doubt you’d be using the ERA for music, and the battery life is pretty good for such a small device.

But the killer feature of the ERA is the design, which is comfortable in the ear, great to look at and it’s in no way cumbersome. Jawbone were nice enough to include not only a carry pouch, but also a varied selection of earbuds which helps fill out the fairly steep asking price. Would we recommend the Jawbone ERA? We would, not as a music player or a particularly great quality audio communicator, but as a noise silencer – because apart from the design, it’s what the ERA succeeds at.

Aliph Jawbone ERA

Neowin Verdict: 8.0/10 (Great)

The Pros The Cons

++ NoiseAssassin is brilliant at background noise reduction
+ Great, industrial design with lightweight body
+ Fairly comfortable in the ear with the right earbud
+ Lots in the box

- Microphone quality could be better
- Not for listening to music with

 

Report a problem with article
Previous Story

Plants vs Zombies now available for Windows Phone

Next Story

The development of the online game store

6 Comments - Add comment