Editors' note, 4:14 p.m. PT Wednesday: Jawbone issued a free software update for the Jambox on August 24 enabling a sound-enhancement feature called LiveAudio. The new feature is a worthwhile addition and addresses some of our earlier concerns about the speaker's sonic limitations.
One of the most overlooked features in any laptop, iPad, smartphone, or iPod Touch is Bluetooth music streaming. Sure, everybody loves the idea of music without wires, but in reality stereo headsets are often awkward, and Bluetooth speakers typically sound wimpy.
Enter the Jawbone Jambox--a rechargeable speaker that breaks our preconceptions of what Bluetooth can do (and how good it can look doing it). Priced on the high end at $199, this little speaker bar uses two 1.25-inch drivers on the front and a passive radiator woofer on the back to deliver surprisingly balanced sound for its size. Just as importantly, the Jambox includes an integrated microphone, capitalizing on Aliph's expertise in wireless voice communication.
The Jambox comes in four colors, black, red, blue, and gray. The top and bottom have a nonslip rubber coating, and the middle is covered with a wraparound metal grille embossed with a geometric pattern. On the whole, it is a seriously solid design, with a reassuring 12-ounce heft. Total dimensions are 2.25 inches high, 6 inches wide, and 1.5 inches deep. Even after knowing this, you're still likely to be shocked by how small the Jambox is when you glimpse it in the wild.
At the very top you have three oversize buttons--two for volume control, and a multipurpose button that gives the battery status, answers and ends calls, engages voice dial (when available), and can be programmed as an autodial button when paired with your phone. On the side, there's a three-position power button that triggers the pairing mode when you hold it up. Beneath that you have a minijack aux input for use with non-Bluetooth audio devices, and a Micro-USB port for recharging the speaker or connecting to a computer.
You'll have a difficult time finding a portable Bluetooth speaker with more features than the Jambox. All of the proprietary software features included with Aliph's Jawbone Icon Bluetooth headset are available on the Jambox, as well. For example, the system voice (used to announce caller ID, battery levels, pairing mode, voice dialing, and so on) can be changed to one of six languages (Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Spanish, French, and German) as well as customized between male and female voices.
By connecting the Jambox to your Mac or PC using the included USB cable and launching the Jawbone MyTalk Web site, you can customize the speaker's buttons to activate noise cancellation (dubbed "Noise Assassin") and configure Dial Apps, such as Voice-to-SMS, Voice Dial, and a preferred autodial number. This same USB connectivity allows you to update the Jambox firmware to help maintain compatibility as new Bluetooth features and devices become available.