Tech Toy of the Month: The New Jawbone

new_jawbone_black_front.jpgA couple of years ago I started noticing a few people wearing an interesting Bluetooth headset with an equally interesting name – The Jawbone. Reading up a bit about it, I found that the Jawbone received fairly high praise as a very good quality headset. However, I really wasn’t interested in it myself because I thought the device was a bit too large and bulky for my taste. Yes, I am a Bluetooth snob. Primarily because I have mostly used Treo phones, which have been notorious for only working well with certain types of Bluetooth headsets. Fast forward to this year and I started reading about a new Jawbone. “The New Jawbone”, which some people have dubbed “Jawbone 2”, is thinner and included improved noise reduction. In reading about it on the manufacturer’s web site, what really struck me were the demos showing unbelievably clear phone calls in incredibly noisy environments. Being a technology professional, it is rare that I am truly impressed by a technology demo. But the new Jawbone demos literally had me saying “wow”. So after a couple of months of thinking about it, I finally bit and bought one myself. Does the new Jawbone live up to its promises? Read on to find out.

One reason I held off buying the new Jawbone was that I didn’t think I would find it very comfortable. I generally prefer headsets where the bulk of the weight rests behind or on top of the ear as opposed to outside the ear. Looking at the new Jawbone, it seems fairly obvious that most of the weight would be located outside the ear. However, when actually wearing the new Jawbone, I think it feels almost weightless. Additionally, the way the new Jawbone sits on my face it feels like it is hugging my cheek, providing a sense of stability where I don’t feel like the device is going to fly off my face even during quick head movements. I forget I am wearing the new Jawbone much more often than I did with previous headsets. Certainly, the smaller size of the new Jawbone has a lot to do with its comfort, but the smaller size also makes this a much more discreet headset, making it less likely that you will be confused with a Borg.

In looking at the new Jawbone, it appears to not have any buttons. But in reality, the whole middle area of the Jawbone acts primarily as the answer/call end button, while the rear acts primarily as the volume button. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think of this control set. However, once using the new Jawbone, I found the controls of the Jawbone feel extremely intuitive. Answering and ending calls is very easy because I only need to aim for the center of the headset instead of the relatively small buttons I’ve used on other headsets. Similarly, I can adjust the volume a lot easier than on other headsets.

So far, it seems my Jawbone has worked very well with my Treo 755p. This is no small feat considering the propensity of the Treo line of phones to give their users fits when working with Bluetooth headsets. In a couple of weeks of use, I can only think of a few instances where the Jawbone didn’t connect quickly with the phone when answering or making calls. This has been a big problem for me in the past. Additionally, the times that this did happen I believe it may have been due to the Jawbone running low on battery. Now I’ve read postings on the Internet where not all Treo users have had great luck with the new Jawbone, so your milage may vary.

Speaking of battery life, the advertised talk time is over 4 hours with standby time of over 8 days. To me it appears that the new Jawbone will last me about 2 full days before needing a recharge. After 2 days, it seems that is when I start to have connection issues with my phone and headset. I use my phone probably a little more than average, so I find this to be acceptable. Plus I’m in the habit of charging my headsets and phone every night, so this isn’t such a big deal to me. I also think this is more of a problem with my phone than the Jawbone. Other reviews I’ve read state they are getting longer times between recharges than I am. I honestly can’t say the Jawbone has gotten to a low battery condition, only that I noticed the flaky interaction between it and my Treo seems to resolve after a recharge.

The new Jawbone’s charging system is well-designed. The charging cable has a USB connection on one end that can plug into a wall charger (included) or computer, with the other end using a magnetic clip system to ensure a snug fit to the headset without the strain of an actual plug. The magnetic clip is similar to what Apple’s Magsafe power adapters on their recent laptop models. The use of a USB connection allows Jawbone users flexibility in charging their headsets, as many more devices are using this approach. A Jawbone user in need of a charge can tap into the multitude of USB-based charging devices on the market or the nearest friendly computer or USB hub. The New Jawbone boasts very quick recharges, claiming an 85% charge in 35 minutes, fully charging in less than an hour. I can say that I have noticed the Jawbone does charge extremely quickly.

Now if you’ve viewed the new Jawbone demos, you’re probably wondering if the devices actually work as well as they show. While I’ve not tested the device in an actual construction zone or from the inside of a derby car, I did run a few experiments so that I could test the quality of the new Jawbone’s noise reduction capability. Basically, while driving I called my home answering machine so that I could record myself talking with my Jawbone and listen to the recording later. I tried talking with my car windows down, with traffic driving by, and my radio up (and all three simultaneously at times). What I found was that the Jawbone did in fact deliver on its promise to reduce almost all background noise. I was amazed at the difference on my recordings when I disabled the noise reduction to when it was active. I could not hear on my recordings the very distracting wind noise that I was experiencing in my car. At the times when I did turn off the noise reduction, the wind noise was very audible on the recording. On my recordings I would note when loud trucks were driving by me while I was in the car, but yet I could not hear them or they were barely audible on the recording.

The New Jawbone’s NoiseAssassin technology seems to be nearly perfect in eliminating “ambient” noises such as wind noise, cars, or crowd noise, but not perfect at eliminating louder, “distinct” background sounds. I’ve noticed there are a few situations where some background noise does come through enough to be distracting (do note again that I’m a Bluetooth snob, so I’m being quite nit-picky here). The first is music or talking from a radio. It appears the Jawbone is not perfect at differentiating voices or music on a radio from the voice of the user wearing the headset. I noticed on my recordings that when I had the radio up to normal listening volume, I could hear enough of the radio to be somewhat distracting. What I could hear seemed to be the singer’s voice and the beat of the music. The other situations where background noise comes through is other people’s loud talking, kids yelling, and sudden loud noises. Again, it seems that the Jawbone can’t quite differentiate these types of sounds well enough from the user’s voice to be completely effective in reducing these noises. However, don’t get me wrong, the new Jawbone does well enough in reducing even these types of noises to hold an intelligible conversation. It’s just that the other person on the line may be able to hear these types of noises, while they may be completely unaware that you are driving in a car or walking down a street.

Overall, The New Jawbone is the best Bluetooth headset I’ve ever owned both from a comfort and quality standpoint. Certainly, this headset may not be perfect for every individual, as some reviews have cited poor fit, which reduces the noise reduction quality of this device. But I would encourage anyone who is looking for a comfortable and high quality headset to check out The New Jawbone. Just make sure to purchase from a retailer that has a good return policy. This headset is not exactly cheap – but I feel you are getting what you pay for – and if it just doesn’t work out for you, then you should be able to return it.

Contact Marcel for any questions you may have regarding the latest technology gadgets!