Jawbone has built a reputation for producing slickly designed Bluetooth headsets and the company's latest flagship model - the Jawbone ERA - continues that tradition. The ERA is an exceptionally lightweight package that has 25 percent more audio output than previous models, an updated version of NoiseAssassin noise cancelling technology, an onboard processor and flash storage, but its the first ever inclusion of an accelerometer in the unit that has really grabbed attention. So is this a case of tech for tech's sake or does it actually add up to a better headset? We've been putting the ERA through its paces to find out.
It's the job of ad copywriters to make a product sound fantastic. It's the job of reviewers to establish what's really going on. But on the odd occasion a product will do pretty much exactly what the PR blurbs say it will do, and that makes it an easy product to review. I'm happy to report that this is one of those cases.
"It's so light and comfortable, you'll probably forget you're even wearing it" we're told. "Yeah right" seems like a fair response, but using the 10.2 gram ERA non-stop during several two-hour car journeys I tend to agree - I did forget it was hanging out of my ear (once I'd found the right earcup attachment anyway). On that point you get a choice of eight earpieces in total - four have a small integrated loop that holds them in place while the remainder are for use with a flexible over-ear hook. In my case the integrated loop option did the trick and the over-ear hook stayed in the box.
Jawbone says the ERA's 10 mm wideband speaker is 25 percent larger than previous models and, backed by noise and wind cancelling technology and auto-adjustment of inbound call volume depending on your environment, it's certainly up there with the best headsets we've tried in terms of sound clarity.
Style-wise the ERA is clearly a continuation of the Jawbone "look" - at 2.02 inches (51.3 mm) x 0.57 inches (14.5 mm) x 0.95 inches (24.1 mm) it's a longer, thinner version of the ICON model and is available in four low-key finishes: Midnight, Shadowbox, Smokescreen, and Silver Lining.
Like the ICON it can also remember multiple paired devices (in the ERA's case up to eight), which proves very handy when - like many if us these days - you are juggling calls on VoIP and mobile phones.
The streamlined styling is also boosted by the lack of buttons - there's a small on-off switch on the inside but key functions are controlled by the accelerometer which, while its role is pretty basic at this stage, is very effective in simplifying the use of the headset. Using motion technology developed by Fullpower called "MotionX", the accelerometer does two things - it lets you pair the device simply by shaking it and it lets you answer or end calls with a simple "tap tap" on the side of the device. We had no problem pairing the device in this way and the ability to answer calls with a "tap tap" anywhere on the side of the device lets you get on with business without fiddling for buttons or taking your eyes off the road.
Jawbone sees the MotionX technology as a platform to build on in future and we can expect to see some new applications emerge - one interesting possibility that's been flagged is using the accelerometer to pan across images on your smartphone as you are moving your head from side to side.
These updates would come via Jawbone's MyTALK platform - an app store for the device that also gives you access to software updates and lets you customize voice profiles and other settings. For the ERA this also brings "Caller ID by Name" - a function that syncs to your address book and can identify incoming callers in a normal sounding human voice.
Battery updates are also given by voice and apps are available that show the amount of juice left on the screen of your smartphone. Battery life is specced at up to 5.5 hours talk time and up to 10 days standby time.
Overall we were impressed by the ERA - it's well built, comfortable and succeeds in keeping sound clarity high by throwing a lot of tech into a small bundle. The accelerometer throws a new element into the mix and definitely adds to usability ... it will be interesting to what Jawbone can come up with in terms of genuinely useful motion applications in future. It's in the high-end price range at US$130, but this is high-end gear and the extra outlay is probably justifiable if you are a heavy headset user.
Product page: Jawbone ERA