Jawbone Era (2014) review: A new leader for discreet Bluetooth dialing

A comfy fit
I found that inserting the Era into my ear was a very straightforward procedure since the headset's ear gel can only be slipped around its earbud in one direction. And because the bottom side of the ear gel is curved (to better channel audio into your ear canal) I had no doubt the Era was positioned properly. I like how the top edge of the gel features a hook that's designed to curl around the inner fold of your earlobe as well.

Jawbone Era
The Era comes with multiple ear gels. Sarah Tew/CNET

That said, while the Era took just seconds to put on, I often felt it wasn't gripping my ear as firmly as I would have liked. By contrast, the Jabra Motion's large rubbery earpiece and earloop offers a much more secure fit. Of course, the Era comes close to the Motion in comfort and I prefer the way it sits inside my ear compared with the Plantronics Voyager Legend. In my opinion, the Legend feels more precariously strapped. Another thing to consider is that both the Motion and the Legend took longer (about 15 to 20 seconds) for me to don comfortably.

Performance
Setting up the Jawbone Era from scratch (without consulting the manual) was child's play. I simply switched the gadget on while holding down the command button for a few moments. The Era kicked into pairing mode, and I linked the headset with my Nexus 5 test phone in a flash.

Of course, using the latest Jawbone mobile app proved even simpler since the software will automatically search for any nearby Jawbone gear. The application offers a few other slick tricks up its sleeve, too. These include finding the Era if you've misplaced it, the ability to customize the command button's functions, and getting tips on how to use the product properly via FAQ and other support documents.

Jawbone Era
A closer look at the optional case. Sarah Tew/CNET

Silly but fun abilities
Another feature the app has at its disposal is to configure the Era to speak to you in a wide range of custom voices. For example, there are plenty of colorful characters to choose from, such as the gruff Mobster, the MI7-like Ace, Arcade, and the sultry Bombshell (my personal favorite), just to name a few. I know it sounds corny, but I totally dig this type of thing.

Also, an agenda keeps tabs on all your upcoming meetings. What's really whiz-bang is that the Era will provide alerts for appointments that are about to start. You can even automatically dial into conference calls, as the software smart is enough to punch in all those bridge numbers and annoying strings of dial-in codes. I have yet to experience this feature personally, however, so can't speak to how well it works. Let's just say I have my doubts.

Out in the field, I was very impressed with the Jawbone Era's performance. Indoors people I spoke with through the headset said they thought I was on a landline -- a compliment I don't usually experience. Outdoors and in the wilds of the concrete jungle that is New York City, the same individuals were amazed at the absolute absence of background din. Even though I chatted while strolling streets cluttered with rush hour traffic and jammed with taxis, buses, and heavy trucks, they heard only my voice.

That said, callers did detect a slight uptick in white noise right before I spoke. I have a feeling this is due to the fractional delay before the Voice Activity sensor woke up and the Era's noise-cancellation circuitry had a chance to engage. Additionally, when stacked up against the Plantronics Voyager Edge the Era couldn't match the headset's superior call quality and noise suppression.

Jawbone Era
The Era and its optional case cost $129.99 together. Sarah Tew/CNET

Jawbone claims that this new Era offers 10 hours of talk time when paired with its optional battery case. This longevity stat is misleading, though, since the headset alone (when fully charged) lasts for just 4 hours. Compared with competing products such as the Jabra Motion and Plantronics Voyager Legend which are both rated at 7 hours (not to mention Bluetooth headsets in general), that's very short. Also, keep in mind that the case brings the Era's $99.99 price up to $129.99.

Conclusion
As I said before, the first thing that struck me about Jawbone's new Era is how amazingly tiny it is. As someone who has for the most part moved over to stereo Bluetooth headphones, I admit I'm surprised by how tempted I am by the Era. While I appreciate the ability of a good wireless stereo headset to cocoon me in sound and shut out the outside world, they tend to make abysmal phone calls. Also, most mono Bluetooth headsets, even the most compact ones, often make their wearers look like cyborgs or call-center operators.

This is why the Era is an excellent choice for those whose primary mode of mobile communication is through their voice, who want to be ready when vital calls happen, but don't want to advertise the fact. Battery life is short, though, so if you value a workhorse of a headset with long staying power (7 hours) and fantastic audio, then the Jabra Motion is the ticket. Another option is the Plantronics Voyager Legend, which also boasts great call quality and a 7-hour run time, but with less bulk than the Motion.

What you'll pay

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    Where to Buy

    Jawbone Era (2014, Black Streak)

    Part Number: JC03-03-US
    Pricing is currently unavailable.

    Quick Specifications See All

    • Colour black streak
    • Sound Output Mode mono
    • Features Low Battery Alert
      Multipoint technology
      NoiseAssassin technology
      answer/end button
      on/off switch
      play/pause button
      voice dialing