The improved Jawbone Era quashes background din yet remains stylishly compact.
Editors' Note: This review has been updated after experience reviewing the Plantronics Voyager Edge.
For people who need to talk a lot on the go, only the freedom of a hands-free Bluetooth headset will do. The trouble is wireless handset makers have traditionally had difficulty delivering excellent call quality along with a practical yet, dare I say, fashionable design. The new $99.99 Jawbone Era, however, comes the closest yet to attaining this coveted Bluetooth combo. The smallest and most attractive mono headset I've ever laid my hands on, I honestly wouldn't think twice about wearing it in public, even in New York where people tend to be judgmental.
Of course the Jawbone Era won't satisfy everyone. Its short battery life isn't ideal for marathon chatterboxes, and those with big hands might find the device's small button and power switch tricky to operate. Even so, the Era's clean audio quality and powerful noise-cancellation are hard to pass up.
The newly redesigned Jawbone Era is, hands down, the smallest Bluetooth headset I've ever seen. In fact, the gadget is so small and inconspicuous it's the first product of its kind I'd seriously consider wearing without fear of judgment on the ruthlessly fashion-conscious streets of New York.
Not much larger than a piece of bubblegum, or perhaps very big pill, the Era's rectangular body is downright minuscule. In fact Jawbone claims this fresh creation is 42 percent smaller than its predecessor, the original Era. Its six-gram weight is all but nonexistent as well. Essentially a little black bar (also available in silver, brown, and red) the Era consists of an earbud and soft silicone ear gel cover, and a power switch.
Tech to kill the noise
The headset's two microphones work in conjunction with the voice activity sensor -- the small rubbery nub next to the power switch -- to knock out background noise on calls. The company has dubbed the solution NoiseAssassin 4.0, a continuation of Jawbone's technology that has graced its headsets for years.
On the back side of the Era sits a Micro-USB port for charging the headset, a welcome change from many wireless headsets that require a proprietary connector and cable. Also here is the device's only physical control (aside from the power switch), a multifunction command button.
Pressing the button once will answer or end a call, and also switch calls if two are active. Performing a double press does a redial while hitting the key three times will kick-start your phone's music player and resume the last queued track. One fault I find with the Era's one-button approach is that the headset lacks a dedicated volume control. To adjust the loudness you must press the command key for a few moments to cycle volume up and down.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.