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Noise, what noise? Introducing the Jawbone Bluetooth Headset

It was time this month to look for a noise cancelling headset that would allow me to continue to hold productive business conversations while driving, walking near traffic, near construction/building sites, near noisy air conditioning units and while looking after my 7 month old son. I also wanted something that I could wear whilst at the gym to listen to my podcasts and music as well as taking telephone calls while I’m on the treadmill.

I needed noise cancellation in my life. Something which could take away the sounds of road traffic, air conditioners, screaming kids and building sites. What could be better than military technology, designed by DARPA to aid front line battlefield communication between infantry units in the midst of a war zone?

A war zone. I imagine helicopter-rotor noise and gunfire… But can it handle screening out a busy office worker’s life noise, or my hungry 7 month old baby?

It arrived this morning, so here’s my review of Aliph’s Jawbone Bluetooth Headset:

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What’s in the box?

  • The Jawbone (with earpiece and ear hook pre fitted)

  • Instruction materials

  • USB Charging cable and power plug adaptor

  • Four ear loops (standard and large, one for each ear)

  • Five ear buds (two round, three lipped)

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Suspiciously missing from the package was a carry case, box or bag to store the Jawbone when not in use.

The box design is amazing. Even better than the new iPod Nano box. The Jawbone is held in place by a plinth like some a trophy piece in a museum or an award. The packaging design suggested good things to come.

“Most highly rated Bluetooth headset ever”

The manufacturers of the Jawbone, Aliph, claim that the Jawbone is the most highly rated headset on the market today. It certainly received a rave reception back in early 2007 when CNN and ABC both made live reviews on their news channels; anchors were amazed at how the Jawbone’s “Noise Shield” technology allowed uninterrupted conversations despite the overwhelming background noise from while leaf blowers, strimmers, vacuum cleaners, loud music and motorway driving with the window open.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrRx805JqM4 400 300]

 

Aliph’s engineers certainly put sound quality first on their priority list. This is a very good thing.

Design and Noise Cancellation

The design of the Jawbone is excellent. It has a clean and high quality build using premium materials – the plastic is very hard and yet smooth with a glossy finish very much like the type of material used for optical glasses. The device itself is very light, it weighs just a measly 14 grams and is lighter than many of the other Bluetooth headsets on the market. This is impressive given the hardware incorporated within it. I chose black to help reduce it’s apparent size, but it is available in silver and red.

Coming to the size, this headset is one of the bigger headsets. It’s not small and dainty like the Apple iPhone headset. The main reason for this is that the device has a small silicon nipple which needs to rest on your jawbone, hence the name. This silicon nipple detects when you are speaking and automatically shuts off the microphone when you are not talking, eliminating all noise from reaching the listeners ear. During my tests I noticed that there was some very light noise being transmitted from the device during this time, in such a way as you know that the Jawbone user hasn’t hung up. When the user is talking, the vibrations on the nipple are used to determine what noise is speech and what isn’t; the digital signal processor in the headset works its magic to eliminate sounds that are not expected. As if that’s not enough, the Jawbone has two additional background microphones to measuring ambient noise. It uses these to automatically adjust the volume coming through the earpiece – loud if you’re in a supermarket – quiet if you’re in a library. And it’s all automatic, switching on automatically whenever you make a phone call.

During my tests nothing got through the noise shield. Music played at high volume through my Creative Gigaworks S750 set could not get through, no classical, no hip-hop, no jazz. The air conditioner couldn’t be heard by the caller on the other end of the line. I received an unplanned call from my 80 year old grandmother during these tests, and she could hear me very clearly, despite the pounding rhythmic rap of Missy Elliot in the background.

You could be driving down the highway with music blasting and your windows down, on a call to your boss and no-one would know that you were not already sat at your desk. That’s how good this is.

The headset is operated with only two buttons. One button at the back (with ‘Jawbone’ written on it) is used for binding (press and hold), adjusting volume (press once to cycle through manual modes) and turning off noise shield (press and hold during a call). Once bound you won’t need to bind again, volume works automatically depending on your environment and you only need to turn noise shield off to demonstrate it’s abilities to your friends. In short, you never need this button.

The main bulk of the device is another button, this is used for placing calls, hanging up and making push-to-talk commands to your phone/PDA. The buttons are a little hard to press and could be made more tactile.

There are two LED status lights in a strip between the two buttons which light up or flash white and red, depending on what you’re doing. The device also beeps at you to tell you it’s on, off or hanging up or answering a call, etc. You can also with a bit of work get all your PDA/Phone sounds to stream directly to your headset so that you can get your music, movies (sound), or PDA sounds directly to your ear. TomTom Navigator for example can give you (just you) turn by turn directions directly into your ear without having to compete for the sound waves in your vehicle. Further to this, Microsoft Voice Command 1.6 can read you your incoming text messages, appointments, emails, and tell you who is calling.

Fitting and Comfort

The Jawbone comes with four different ear hooks, large and standard, one for each ear, as well as a selection of ear pieces.

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I would be surprised if you couldn’t get this device to fit your ear out of the box. I have above average ears and wear glasses, and still the large loop doesn’t feel tight and the Jawbone is well fitting enough to take with me to the gym for an active workout. The ear buds aren’t in the ear, but sit just over your ear entrance. This is a good thing, since the Jawbone has a rather loud startup beep which would be be unpleasant if the speaker was positioned any closer to you ear. Some of the buds have lips to place against your tragus (the bit of cartilage covering your ear canal entrance). If you need a more snug fit, you can contact this company to who will send you some putty to mould your ear and send a custom silicone earpiece to you.

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The earpieces themselves are impressive, unlike in the ear headphones these rubberised earpieces are fairly rigid and have a solid plastic twist-mounting mechanism so you are unlikely to lose them. Good thinking.

Performance

The battery life on this device is advertised at up to 6 hours talking (with noise shield on) and 120 hours of standby. Other reviews that I have read tend to agree with this estimate or have found the claims to be exceeded. If anything, Aliph appear to have underestimated the battery life of their device. Bear in mind this fantastic battery life, with the digital sound processing has all been achieved at under 14 grams…

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The Bluetooth range is specified as up to 33 feet (10 meters), which is consistent with the Bluetooth v1.0/1.2 specification. This device also supports the Bluetooth v2.0 specification, but I only managed about 10 meters away from my Bluetooth v2.0 phone before getting an unusable amount of static in my earpiece. I could easily put my phone downstairs at home and walk a room or two away and continue the conversation – more appropriately, at the gym the phone will live in my gym bag whilst I wear the headset to the gym equipment. This is the best performing Bluetooth headset I have seen, but I am left wondering if Aliph adopted the 2004 Bluetooth v2.0 specification with its reduced duty cycle, if they could have seen lower power consumption and thus longer battery life? I wonder why they didn’t support a better 2004 technology, choosing a slower 1998 revision instead.

Design Flaws

Every product has areas which are not so good. I admit I knew about these flaws when I purchased the Jawbone, but the flaws are not so big that they were a deal breaker for me. For 95% of people, the Jawbone is the best Bluetooth headset on the market today (and has been for a year).

  • Fragile ear hooks – The ear hooks mount by pushing a thin piece of metal into the spring loaded body of the Jawbone. It is at the point where the metal halves in thickness, that it can be prone to snapping. The ear hook feels rigid to me and mine haven’t snapped yet, but I can see the potential in the future if somewhere were to twist the ear hook by snagging it or sitting on it
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  • Proprietary charging cable – The charging cable, although one end is a normal sized USB cable has a proprietary 4 pin charging connector socket at the other end. Aliph could have used a standard micro-USB connector like those found on phones and digital cameras. So here is another type of proprietary cable I have to have cluttering my desk. By the way, replacement cables (as per ear hooks) can be purchased from Aliph and I understand they could be very expensive (I couldn’t see a price on the Aliph website)
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  • The rubber protective cap – This is going to get lost within a day or two of usage. I therefore have taken all the pictures for this review without it attached, since everybody is going to be losing theirs pretty much instantly. How ridiculous is that?
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  • Expensive – this technology and premium design (despite the flaws above) doesn’t come cheap, baby. If you’re in the UK and want to buy one from the high street, expect to pay through the nose at the Carphone Warehouse (they have exclusive rights to sell this in the UK). Alternatively, check the prices on Amazon.co.uk and Expansys for comparison.

  • Windows Mobile A2DP – Not really a design flaw as such, but this device does seem to support the A2DP protocol (playing audio through Bluetooth), but it took a bit of playing around with my phone to get it to work. By default, the device presents itself as a “hands free” service – which means it integrates with phones for picking up, calling and hanging up and not much else out of the box. However, it will work out of the box as a simple hands free set exactly as planned; but us techie geeks want to innovate with our devices just one step further… For home users, this device is unlikely to improve since it doesn’t support flashing the firmware, so the software cannot be upgraded (unlike one or two of the competing headsets).

Pros:

  • The best noise filtration on the market. Filters out almost everything but your voice

  • Automatic volume adjustment

  • Very light

  • Very comfortable (comes with numerous fitting accessories to customise your fit)

  • Impressive battery life

  • Excellent call quality

  • Multiple uses: Use with your mobile, but also your home and work PC, laptops, Play Station 3, XBox 360, etc)

  • Compatible with Bluetooth 2.0 and 1.0 (old!) devices

Cons:

  • It’s rather expensive. RRP £79.99 GBP / $150.00 USD

  • Fragile ear hooks

  • No carry case

  • Proprietary charging cable

Conclusion:

If you’re looking for a Bluetooth “hands free” headset for your mobile phone, you have only three choices on the market today; whether to buy your Jawbone in red, black or silver.

The noise reduction has to be experienced to be believed, it really will filter out everything but your conversation. It is light enough to be worn all day and can go for several days without a charge. It’s wireless, stylish and robust.

Whilst this device does have its flaws, I would encourage anyone looking for a Bluetooth headset for mobile, PC, gaming console or war-zone battlefield use to strongly consider the Aliph Jawbone Bluetooth headset. If Aliph can continue to innovate in this space, and the next Jawbone addresses the design flaws above, they will be set to lead the Bluetooth headset market well into 2010.

Mike’s rating: 9/10

Published inOld Evolved ISV PostsUncategorized

10 Comments

  1. sarah sarah

    an excellent review, thank you very much!

    i am thinking about getting one of these headsets, and found eBay to have the best prices (around £45/50).

  2. So does this mean it wouldn’t work with the skype client?

    Good review, thanks

  3. mikelwilson mikelwilson

    Hi Nicholas,

    Thanks. Depends on the Skype client. If you’re talking Skype client for desktop, although I haven’t tested it I’m almost certain that it would work since the device presents itself to Windows XP & Vista as a “Headset” with speaker and microphone. Vista even identified it as a “Jawbone” 🙂

    If you mean the Windows Mobile Skype client, then maybe. I have the Jawbone working with all my applications (Voice Commander, Media Player, Phone, etc) but some people report difficulties getting the bluetooth handsfree to work as a headset on Windows Mobile. It does involve changing the registry and you should really make sure that you’re using the latest ROM for your device.

    Hope this helps.

  4. I did mean Windows Mobile.

    I have one of the ROMs from xda developer.

    Will look into if i can afford one of these, thanks again 🙂

  5. mikelwilson mikelwilson

    Nicolas,

    If you get one of these you’ll love it. No other headset comes close.

    I have since found out that the headset struggles with wind noise, but they all do and it’s subjective, but I think this one sounds better. The design and placement of the microphone does tend to shield out the wind well unless it’s coming at you face first 😛

  6. I love my new Jawbone, but it turns off after a few minutes on a Skype call (MB Pro OS 10.5.2). Does anyone have a workaround?

  7. mike mike

    Hi Jeff,

    I haven’t noticed this behaviour myself or seen it reported widely. Might be something to do on the Mac side of things or battery not charged?

    If you can find a Mac OS compatible USB bluetooth dongle you could pair your Jawbone with that. If this works on Skype without cutting out then you have uncovered the problem as being the Mac Bluetooth implementation. If not, then it’s either the Jawbone or Skype.

    Sorry I can’t help more, check back later as someone else might have a solution 😛

    Cheers,

    Mike

  8. Ted Ted

    Just a quick two notes. In regards to te cap being flimsy and is going to get lost, they say on their site that the cap is just to protect the unit in shipping and is not needed for daily use. As for the fit, I appearently have a big head, with big ears and the unit would twist in enough that the sensor would not be resting on my head. I took the earpad and earloop off and cray glued an eargell from a Jabra heatset that I use to us onto the Jawbone. Now I just pop the Jawbone in and don’t have to worry about the loop and it works great! (The guy from Jawbone suggested to use the eargell with the loop, but I had a hard time getting the Jawbone on.)

  9. Adrian Adrian

    So this cancels out the noise going into the mic, but doesn’t cancel out the noise coming through the speaker? Not so great as I prefer not having the volume increasing but would rather have the external noise decreasing like my noise canceling headphones do which I love.

    Sounds like a good product other than that, but I’ll wait till noise canceling is on both ends.

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