When the Aliph Jawbone first came along in 2007, we praised the Bluetooth headset for its unique design and impressive audio quality. Little did we know then that the company would continue to innovate, improving upon its product year after year. There was the Jawbone 2 in 2008, the Jawbone Prime in 2009, and the Jawbone Icon in 2010. In 2011, Aliph once again surpasses its previous products with the Jawbone Era, its most advanced headset yet.
Not only does the Jawbone Era maintain the same goodies as the Icon--the visual battery meter on the iPhone, the customizability with MyTalk apps, and more--it is also the first Bluetooth headset to have a built-in accelerometer. This along with motion-sensing software enables it to perform certain actions, triggered simply by shaking or tapping the headset. Aside from the accelerometer, the headset packs in components like serial flash, dual processors, and a dynamic wide-band speaker that result in advanced features like HD quality audio, better noise reduction, and caller ID by name. While it still suffers from a few design issues, we definitely think the Aliph Jawbone Era is well worth its $129.99 retail price tag.
Aliph is known for its fashionable Bluetooth headsets, and the Era is no exception. It comes in four different designs at launch: Shadowbox, Smokescreen, Midnight, and Silver Lining. All of them feature a layered surface approach, with one tone underneath and a metallic grid overlay on top. We're partial to the more jewel-like designs of the Icon, but the Era's architectural look is appealing, too.
The Era has almost the same measurements as the Icon. Measuring around 1.77 inches long by 0.95 inch wide by 0.72 inch thick, the Jawbone Era appears rectangular from the front, but is actually slightly curved to better fit to the side of the face. On the top of the headset is a horizontal bar that functions as the multifunction Talk button. It's raised above the surface of the headset and is marked with tiny striped grooves so you can't miss it. Right above that is the Micro-USB charging jack.
The back of the headset is identical to that of the Icon. The earpiece is perched on top, with the power slider switch and Voice Activity sensor nub underneath. As with the other Jawbone headsets, it's best to wear the headset so the Voice Activity sensor touches your cheek to ensure the best voice quality for your callers. Jawbone has improved its headsets so the audio quality doesn't diminish if the sensor isn't touching your cheek, but it's just better if you have the headset fitted correctly. Surrounding the sensor is an LED indicator that flashes white or red, depending on the headset's status.
As for the aforementioned earpiece, the Era comes with eight different fit options. Four of them have loops so you can wear the headset without a hook, while four others are basic earbud covers that do require a hook for a stable fit. We recommend trying all the options for the right fit for you; we ended up with the default looped earbud as our preferred style. However, it does take a bit of fiddling for it to fit right--you have to place it in your ear pointing down and then twist it upward so that the end points toward the mouth. This was rather awkward, and while we thought the fit was all right, we thought it could be a touch more comfortable.
If you're wondering where the volume rocker is, the Jawbone Era doesn't have one. To adjust the volume, you'll either have to rely on your phone's own rocker or press and hold the talk button when it's in use, and the volume level will cycle up and down. We wished there was a manual rocker option, but as the Era has automatic volume adjustment, we didn't think it was entirely necessary.
As we mentioned earlier, the Jawbone Era is the first Bluetooth headset to have an accelerometer along with a motion technology called MotionX. As an alternative to using the talk button, you can shake or tap the headset to perform a variety of tasks. For example, you can double-tap the outer surface of the headset to answer, end, or switch calls. You can also shake the headset twice to answer calls when the headset is not in the ear. Aliph calls these actions "TapTap" and "ShakeShake" respectively. You can even do a "Double ShakeShake"--shaking the headset four times--to activate pairing mode. If you're concerned about accidentally performing these actions while the headset is jostling around in your pocket, don't worry--the Era's software is smart enough to differentiate purposeful and accidental movement.
While the accelerometer is currently restricted to these functions, Aliph says it hopes to introduce even more functionality--like the ability to sense if the headset is on or off your ear--via future software updates.
In addition to the basic ability to answer, reject, and end calls, the Jawbone Era also has last-number redial, voice-dialing support, multipoint technology for connecting two devices simultaneously, and A2DP stereo Bluetooth so you can listen to music and turn-by-turn directions. Like the Icon, it has spoken alerts and custom audio tones for certain functions. It'll let you know if the headset is in pairing mode, if it's connected, the estimated remaining battery life, and more.
We're also glad to see that the Jawbone Era is compatible with MyTalk, a Jawbone service that lets you customize the Era with a variety of different Audio and Dial "apps." These range from different audio profiles in various languages, to customizing the Talk button so that you can use it dictate a text message or even send a Twitter post via third-party partners. One of the MyTalk apps is Jawbone's own Thoughts voice-messaging application for the iPhone. As the MyTalk features are almost the same on the Jawbone Icon, please read our review of the Aliph Jawbone Icon for more details on the MyTalk service.
The Jawbone Era has one MyTalk feature that the Icon does not, however. If you load up your phone's address book on the MyTalk Web site, the headset will now be able to read out caller ID by name if the caller is in your contacts list. Remarkably, it does so without a robotic tone like most other Bluetooth headsets. This is because Aliph actually hired a female voice actor to record the most requested first and last names. If the name is not prerecorded, the name audio is generated by a Nuance text-to-speech engine. This extra functionality is thanks to the Era's multiprocessor technology and serial flash storage, according to Aliph.
A note for iPhone and BlackBerry owners: When paired with a Jawbone Era, you will see a visual headset battery meter on the phone as well. Aliph has mentioned that it is working on the same feature for other smartphone operating systems.
We paired the Aliph Jawbone Era with the Apple iPhone 4. Audio quality was simply fantastic. The dynamic wideband speaker did the job, as the HD quality audio sounded clean and crystal clear. This was especially evident with music, even if the bass was a little weak.
Not only was the sound clear, callers also sounded natural, as if they were sitting right next to us. We used the headset in both a bustling cafe and a quiet office environment, and it was smart enough to adjust the volume accordingly. Not only that, but the caller's voice did not crackle or turn robotic at high volumes as is often the case with most other headsets--Aliph has somehow managed to increase the overall intelligibility of the voice as well.
As for outgoing audio quality, our callers were impressed as well. The noise cancellation and wind noise reduction were just as effective as on the previous Jawbone headsets, if not better. We tested the headset when standing in front of a blowing fan, and even though our callers could hear the wind in the background, they said our voice still stood out above the swooshing sounds. They did detect a bit of static and crackle, however, so it wasn't completely clean. Still, the quality was very good overall.
The Aliph Jawbone Era has a rated battery life of 5.5 hours talk time and 10 days standby time.