In the world of cell phone headsets, many users stay with the simple earbud models that come with their phone. While this may save you some bucks, you're usually stuck with poor sound quality. Fortunately, there are alternatives, and while Bluetooth headsets claim a monopoly on cool, they needn't get all the glory. Offering an outstanding mix of comfort, style, and performance, the Aliph Jawbone is far superior to competing wired models. As this is no ordinary headset, you'll pay a premium. That said, for $145, you do get what you pay for. As of press time, the Jawbone works only with Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and Nokia handsets, but compatibility for more mobiles is in the works.
The Jawbone has a striking design--in fact, it recently was featured in an exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The basic form factor consists of two rectangles connected to the phone jack and each other by a thick wire. The first rectangle holds the ear loop, the earpiece, the microphones, and the voice-activity sensor (see below). Measuring 2 by 0.7 inches and outfitted in sleek silver, it has a highly flexible ear loop that swivels effortlessly for use on both ears and a smooth earpiece that protrudes only slightly into the ear. The overall result was an extremely comfortable fit, and the Jawbone slides on and off with ease.
The second rectangle holds the belt clip and the user-friendly control buttons. Slightly larger at 2 by 0.8 inches, it's styled in the same silver and has a ring-shaped light that glows green when the headset is activated and red when a call is on mute. A power switch turns the headset on and off, and an action button mutes calls on Motorola phones and answers and ends calls on Sony Ericsson and Nokia handsets. We had small complaints with the cord and the phone jack, however. While the cord is exceptionally strong, it's stiff and difficult to wrap up for traveling (a small bag is included). It was also quite long, which made the overall setup a bit cumbersome when on the go. Also, the fit of the phone plug was loose. We had to check it a couple of times while on a call to make sure it was secure.
While we like the style, the Jawbone's real attraction is its excellent sound quality. Using an adaptive sound technology developed at Lawrence Livermore Labs, the headset incorporates two microphones and a unique voice-activity sensor. When placed against the cheek, the sensor actually detects the vibrations produced by speech, rather than picking up the sound from your mouth. When we tested the Jawbone using a Motorola V600, the effect was immediately noticeable. Callers said we sounded crystal clear, and we heard similar comments when we loaned the headset out to other users. Be aware that there's no volume control on the headset so you must make any adjustments on your phone.
But that's not all. The Jawbone also uses adaptive microphones that capture and cancel out background noise, so incoming audio also is enhanced and adjusts to the varying noise levels for your location. We tested the Jawbone in a quiet room and on a busy street corner, and it performed well. We had no trouble hearing our callers in either situation, and they reported that they could hear almost none of the background noise when we were on the street. The noise-canceling feature does require power, however. Instead of running off an integrated battery, the Jawbone pulls power from your cell phone. Aliph promises that the headset draws only about 15 percent of your battery life, but if you often use the headset, you should frequently charge your phone just to be safe. In our tests, we didn't see any real impact on our V600's battery life.