A new headset wasn’t what I had in mind when Jawbone said it had a new wearable to show me, but the new Jawbone Era is a good reminder of why Jawbone is a leader in the headset space. As Jawbone increasingly becomes known for Bluetooth speakers and activity trackers, it’s easy to forget the company started out in the noise cancellation business and has made a number of excellent Bluetooth headsets. And based on my experience with it, the new Jawbone Era is a worthy successor to its predecessor.
Full disclosure: I’ve been using the original Jawbone Era to test the Bluetooth capabilities of cell phones and other devices for about two years now, so I’m a fan of Jawbone’s headsets. That said, I’ve also tested plenty of other headsets over that time, and I generally feel more comfortable using ones that are smaller than the Era. I’m not a big fan of using headsets in public, so in my opinion, the smaller the better.
Smaller is better
If you’re familiar with the original Era, this one will look a lot different. It’s still recognizably a Bluetooth headset, but compared to the original, it’s positively tiny – 42 percent smaller, in fact. It looks sleeker too. There’s a light pattern on the headset that looks similar to the speaker grille pattern on the Jawbone Jambox. Also like the Jambox, it comes in a number of different colors, including black, brown, red and silver.
Using the new Era is similar to the original, as well as many other Bluetooth headsets out there. There’s a multifunction Talk button on the back of the headset and a Power switch on the inside, next to a voice activity sensor with a status LED ring around it. It’s set to pairing mode out of the box, but it’s easy to pair with additional devices by holding down the Talk button when you turn the headset on.
Aside from the size, the only other thing that’s noticeably different about the new Era is that it comes with a charging case. The charging case is a sleek little box with a flip-out microUSB connector that the Era tucks into quite nicely. It has a little strap on the outside, which makes it easy to fasten around something else like a key ring. On its own, the Era is good for up to 4 hours of talk time. But the case can hold an additional six hours worth of charge. The original Era, on the other hand, was able to last up to five and-a-half hours, but didn’t come with a case.
Jawbone has also made a lot of changes that you can’t see. The new Era uses version 4.0 of Jawbone’s NoiseAssassin noise cancellation technology. This helps block out background noise when you’re making a call, so even in a relatively noisy environment you can be heard clearly. In practice this works really well. I placed a call using the Era on a noisy street in Manhattan and left a message on my voicemail, which I had no trouble hearing when I played it back.
Sound quality has also been given a boost in the earpiece itself, as Jawbone has redesigned the acoustic system of the headset. It has a deeper driver, and Jawbone says it spent three years developing a new design for the earbud. That seems a bit extreme, but I was told to think of the earbud as the room in which music it played — in other words, it has a big impact on acoustics. One thing’s for sure: It makes the headset really comfortable to wear, even without attaching the included ear hook.
Calls sound great over the Era — clear and crisp, with plenty of volume. The headset senses environmental noise and adjusts earpiece volume accordingly, so if you’re on a call and you walk outside, the volume automatically gets louder so you don’t have trouble hearing. The Era also supports wideband audio (or HD voice) on compatible handsets and networks, which should provide a nice boost to call clarity.
Jawbone says another big reason it re-engineered the sound system is because it received feedback that a lot of users listen to music with their headset. That’s a little surprising, but I know I do my fair share of listening to music while writing with just one earbud in. And music definitely sounds better on the new Era than it does on the previous one, with a richer, fuller sound. That said, I still think the Bose Bluetooth Series 2 headset provides the best mono Bluetooth music playback I’ve heard.
You can use the Era with Apple’s(s aapl) Siri or Google’s(s goog) Google Now voice assistants. This allows you to place calls, play music, read back emails and even get turn-by-turn directions in your ear as you’re walking or driving. The headset also works with Jawbone’s mobile app, which allows you to customize some of the button functions on the headset. You can also use it to help you find a missing headset: As long as the Era is on and within reach, it will make a high-pitched beeping sound until you find it. (In case it happens to be in your ear, you’re given plenty of warning before this actually happens.)
The Era also works with Jawbone’s Nerd USB connector, which allows you to connect the headset to any computer, regardless of whether the machine itself has Bluetooth. Jawbone is updating the Nerd’s firmware so that it can take advantage of the Era’s wideband capabilities.
Jawbone no longer sells the original Era, but if it did, the decision of which headset to buy would be a no-brainer. The new Jawbone Era sells for the same $129.99, which includes the charging case. You can buy the headset itself for $99.99. Compared to the original Era, you’re getting a smaller headset with better sound quality and more programmable features for the same price.
Compared to other small Bluetooth headsets, the Jawbone Era might seem a little pricey, but I’m inclined to think the quality is worth it. It’s just as comfortable to wear for long periods of time as some of the bigger, professional models from Plantronics, with a design that’s a lot easier to swallow for the style conscious. If you only need to use a headset occasionally, I think it’s fine to look for something less expensive. But if you’re looking for a headset to use on a daily basis, the new Jawbone Era is well worth your attention.