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Thursday January 20, 2011 2:57 pm
Aliph Jawbone Era review
The Aliph Jawbone Era is the start of something new. It's the first Bluetooth headset with an accelerometer and a dedicated applications processor, which could turn it into anything from a game controller to a pedometer, or a navigation unit. Beyond that, though, it's just a top-notch Bluetooth headset, and fully worthy of our Editors' Choice.
Design and Call Performance
Like all Aliph products, the Jawbone Era is a sharp-looking headset. It's slimmer and slightly longer than the most-recent Jawbone Icon ($69), with a three-paneled, textured front; it actually looks more like the previous-gen Jawbone Prime. The Era comes in four colors, but they're all low-key: black, white, red and black-and-red. It comes with five different sets of ear tips (three that sit in your ear, and two that sit on your ear with a hook), an AC charger with a very short micro-USB cable, and a case. There's a single button on the butt end of the headset, and a power switch and pairing light on the inside face. Once you find the right ear tip, it's a secure fit; I wore the test unit comfortably for a three-hour conference call.
Aliph has improved call quality over the Jawbone Icon. The Era isn't quite up to the level of the Plantronics Voyager Pro+ ($77 at Amazon, 4 stars), but it's close enough that it won't matter for many people. The previous Jawbone sounded harsh, and tinny in the earpiece; the Era pours in bass. That makes for a richer but occasionally slightly muddy sound. I'm happy to say that I didn't experience any pops, clicks, or hisses in my tests. Aliph's headsets are no longer too quiet, either, which is a very good thing. The Era has adaptive volume, which works very well outdoors to balance earpiece volume with background noise. Indoors, it tends to be quite loud.
Transmission quality is impeccable. This is where Aliph excels, and the company is still the class leader. Calls sound pretty much perfect on the other end, and noise cancellation is very strong, with only one exception: A bit of wind noise came through in my tests.
The Era's speaker is 25 percent larger than the Icon's, which means better sound quality, but that doesn't really pay off with phone calls. Stereo-over-mono, music, and podcasts sound terrific, though; this is the best single-ear Bluetooth music experience I've ever had.
I got decent range with the headset—about 25 feet for music, and 30 feet for conversation—before it started breaking up.
And if you use the Era for music, battery life becomes even more important. I got 5 hours of talk time, which is good for such a small headset. You can get an audible battery alert by tapping on the headset's button when you aren't on a call.
This Headset Runs Real Apps
Like the previous Jawbone Icon, the Era runs "apps." The Icon's apps consisted of new alert voices, and ways to reconfigure the headset's action button so it can dial services like TellMe on demand. The Era still runs these more simple applications, but it's also designed to run real apps: code that's executed and run on a dedicated TI applications processor inside the headset.
To make potential apps richer, Aliph added an accelerometer to the Era. Currently, you can use the accelerometer for two things: Shake the headset to put it in pairing mode, and tap on it firmly to end a call. That's pretty neat. The real game starts when Aliph releases an API, which they promise to do "when it's robust."
Aliph told me it's considering an audio caller ID app, one that would use the accelerometer to turn the headset into a pedometer, and a smartphone controller that would make an image or, say, a game pan to the side when you move your head. You don't need to download apps to enjoy the Era's excellent audio performance, though.
The Aliph Jawbone Era is the best Bluetooth headset available today, and its powers will grow. While the Plantronics Voyager Pro+ still has slightly better call quality (and I'd still recommend it for people who are on the phone all day, every day), the Era is far more stylish. Its high-quality A2DP is compelling, and its application platform is thrilling from a geek perspective. If you can afford $130—a lot for a Bluetooth headset—the Aliph Jawbone Era will put you on the cutting edge.
This article, written by Sascha Segan, originally appeared on PCMag.com and is republished on Gear Live with the permission of Ziff Davis, Inc..
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