Wearable Computing is the coming thing this year, even though it has existed for awhile. Some of the more popular and fashion controversial wearable devices we’ve had around for some time include Bluetooth headsets. These are controversial because some like the practicality while others rail against the perceived geeky and dorky look. I’m often amazed at how many folks who used to malign wearing a Bluetooth headset seem to be enraptured with Google Glass and the small manacles that we’ve seen in early smart watches. But then Bluetooth headsets were looked at as cool things too back in the day.
When it comes to practical uses I don’t worry too much about the dorky look factor that some attribute to Bluetooth headsets. They serve me well when I’m driving. They serve me well when I’m working on some other task while I’m on a call. And they serve me well when I sit down by myself to eat and am expecting a call.
My Bluetooth headset of choice for a number of years has been a Jawbone product. I think I’ve owned and used every model they’ve come out with and I’ve been impressed with each one. Jawbone has a newer model of its latest headset the ERA, and to all appearances it looks like Jawbone has been paying attention to the fashion conscious criticism.
The new Jawbone 2014 ERA Bluetooth Headset is smaller and has different finishes than the cheese grater look of the some of the previous models. Colors are Black Streak, Silver Cross, Red Streak, and Bronze Streak. The intention is to make it more acceptable to wear in public. Unlike the previous models, the new Jawbone ERA comes with clear and curved plastic attachments that pull over the ear piece to hold it snuggly in your ear. There are multiple sizes available (3 for the right ear, 1 for the left) so hopefully you can find the correct fit for your ear.
Shrinking the size of the device makes sense, and with the new plastic ear mounts the device does feel like it will stay in my ear even if I happen to shake my head a time or two, unlike the previous model. That said, there are some things that were lost from the previous model that I do miss.
First the battery life for talk time has diminished from an expected 5 hours to 4. Second, the surface of the former model allowed you to tap on that surface for certain controls like answering a call. Now you have to rely on a small button that can be tricky to reach. If you’re used to the previous ERA, this will take some retraining to keep you from taping on the side of your headset when a call comes in.
In my experience since purchasing the new ERA I also notice that the Bluetooth connection does not extend as far as it did with the previous model. I don’t know if that’s related to the new smaller form factor or not, but with the new model I can no longer travel into the next room without the connection getting disrupted. That’s a major disappointment. I also notice that the new model has a harder time keeping a connection if my phone is in my pocket than the previous model did. Again a disappointment.
Those are the drawbacks and disappointments with the new Jawbone ERA 2014. Here are some of the newer features.
The first new feature, beyond the smaller size, is that Jawbone has created a small cradle to allow you to extend the battery life of the headset when you’re out and about.
You don’t wear this on the side of your head with the headset. You can place the headset in the cradle and if the cradle is charged it will add an extra 6 hours of battery life to your headset. This could come in handy for a short trip depending on how frequently you use your headset. It could also come in handy for storing the small headset nested in the cradle in your gear bag. I haven’t had time to check out the battery life claims of the cradle yet.
The new cradle is pricey. It can be purchased with the ERA headset for a package deal of $129, or you can purchase each separately with the headset costing you $99 and the cradle priced at $49. Both cradle and headset can also be charged with a microUSB cable (a small one is provided with the dual package) and you can charge both together.
Siri and Google Now
The second new feature is more conceptual. Jawbone has recognized that innovations like Siri and Google Now are playing an increased role in the mobile user experience. The software has been redesigned to work better with Siri and Google Now. In my testing I’d say this has been done quite well. Previously you could use the earlier model for both but their were often complications if a command or sentence wasn’t heard correctly by Siri or Google Now. Things are much more streamlined and in both instances the interaction with the two personal assistants is much more effective. By the way, you can pair the Jawbone 2014 with multiple phones simultaneously.
Find my headset
Jawbone has also added a feature to help you find your ERA headset if you misplace it. By using an App on either Android or iOS you can issue a command to the headset. If it is turned on you’ll hear a audible notification on the headset that should help you locate it in your house or in a purse.
Jawbone Bluetooth headsets have been noted for the Noise Assassin technology that makes calls easier to hear when you are talking to someone over the phone. Jawbone says it has continued to improve this technology, although I’m having mixed results with callers on the other end. Some don’t notice a difference between the two headsets in testing and others prefer the sound they are hearing on the earlier model. That said, volume levels on my end are much better and I’m hearing callers much better.
I was concerned enough about the complaints of those I called to talk with technical support. They were very helpful in helping me perform a firmware reset. The tech I spoke with said he noticed a slight improvement in how my voice sounded after the reset, but he had no initial problem hearing me the way others have reported. After the firmware reset, I’m still receiving those same complaints from some I call frequently.
As mentioned earlier the controls on the new Jawbone ERA are all about the button on the back of the headset once it is in your ear. There is a separate button to turn the headset on. To answer or terminate a call you press the button once. To ignore a call press and hold the button for 2 seconds. To redial a number press the button twice. To switch between two calls press the button once. To end a call and switch to another press the button twice.
Music and other Audio
If you wish to listen to music or other audio you can press and hold the button to increase and decrease the volume. You’ll hear it cycle up or down. One press will pause audio, three presses will play the music again. The audio quality for music and audio books is certainly improved between the older model and the newer version.
Jawbone also says it has tuned audio performance to work better with FaceTime and Skype. In my testing I don’t notice much of a perceptible difference between the earlier mode and the new model. Both work fine.
The Jawbone App that lets you add music to playlists, choose a voice you would like your headset to talk to you with, and also remind you of how many times you need to press a button for certain functions.
While I’ve been a fan of the Jawbone Bluetooth headsets for quite some time, I’m not nearly as impressed with this newer ERA as I have been with previous versions. I appreciate the desire to make the headset smaller, but for the unit I purchased the audio quality seems to vary too much with different callers when they are hearing my voice. While I miss some of the functionality of the previous model ERA, I don’t see that as a huge drawback. But while it may seem small the loss of an hour of battery life is a big deal in my usage scenario. The new charging cradle may be designed to offset that somewhat, but at $50 (or $40 if you buy it with the headset) the option is pricey in my view. These cons outweigh the pros and the new innovations for me.
Since Jawbone came on the scene it has branched out into the fitness market and also the Bluetooth speaker market. They’ve had considerable success in both of those markets with the UP wrist bands and Jambox speakers. I hate to say it but I don’t think the Bluetooth headsets are getting the same focus these days within the halls of Jawbone. All it takes is a glance at the Jawbone store to see this. You have to scroll quite a ways down the page to find the first mention of the Bluetooth headsets. That’s certainly understandable, but if the new smaller ERA is a play to appeal more to a public that is starting to focus on Wearables, the size and design might do so, but practically speaking this headset is inferior to its larger predecessor in my experience. The new ERA is replacing the older one which you still might find available in stores for a discount. If you don’t need any of the advanced features and size isn’t an issue you might want to give the older model a try.