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The Jawbone quickly became one of the best known premium headsets when first released in 2006.

But does it still deserve the reputation it earned almost two years ago?  Or has technology now caught up with - and possibly overtaken - its earlier innovative status.

 
 
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Aliph Jawbone Bluetooth Headset review

Good sound quality,  average feature set, high price
 

A very distinctive appearance is makes the Jawbone stand out from many of the 'me too' other styles of Bluetooth headset design.

Part of our series on Bluetooth - more articles listed on the right.

 

 

For most people, the most important feature in a headset is sound quality.  Nothing else matters if the sound quality isn't good.

The Jawbone scores highly on this essential measure, and has the added value of working extremely well in a noisy environment.  But don't play this feature out of proportion - most of us are seldom in a noisy environment, and when we are, the need to use our cell phone is not essential.

For normal users with normal needs, you'll find the Jawbone good but not great, and starting to show its age compared to the latest offerings now available.

With a list price of $120, and a street price of about $75 on Amazon this is a premium priced headset.

NOTE - NOW REPLACED BY THE SUPERIOR JAWBONE 2 PRODUCT

What you Get

Aliph's Jawbone comes inside a regular cardboard box with a clear plastic window to see the headset itself.  It is easy to open and get the unit out of the box.  Surprisingly, perhaps, my headset came in a box that was branded with AT&T/Cingular rather than with the Aliph name on it, even though I bought the headset through Amazon rather than from an AT&T/Cingular store.

But maybe that makes sense.  Almost no-one has heard of Aliph - it is a brandname with no value associated with it, even if it is a good company with a clever headset.

Note that just because the headset is sold in an AT&T branded box, it can work with all normal Bluetooth compatible phones, not just AT&T phones.

In addition to the headset itself, there is a brick style power adapter that has a USB socket on it, a cable that then connects the Jawbone to either the power supply or a computer, four different sizes of ear-piece (plus a fifth one already on the headset) and four different loops to go around your ear (two left side loops of different sizes and two right side loops of different sizes).

A user manual, a warranty card, and a warning sheet (about not having the volume too high) complete the package.

The warranty is for one-year and is non-transferable.

The unit lists for $120, and can be found for less at the usual sorts of electronics resellers such as Amazon (where it is currently $75).

Feature Chart

Use this information to quickly understand the capabilities of the unit and to compare with other units.
 

Feature                         Comment

Cost

List price $119.99.

Purchased from Amazon for $75, May 08

Note - this is an obsolete model and has been replaced by the better in almost every respect Jawbone 2.  We do not recommend you buy an original Jawbone headset, because the new Jawbone 2 is comparable in price and superior in performance.


Ergonomics

Easy to put on and take off

More difficult than some.

The Jawbone apparently needs to press lightly against the side of your face to work properly, and so there is a moderately tight fit between your ear and the ear loop, and not much space to fit your ear into the ear loop.

The tight fit also made it harder than average to remove.

Easy to use the control buttons

The Jawbone is a larger than average sized unit, with plenty of space on its front and sides for controls.

But, like all other headsets to date, this space is not put to good use.  The unit has only two buttons - one is an on/off and control button, the other is used for volume control, pairing, and turning the noise cancellation technology on and off.

Why does the industry refuse to make use of such simple concepts as, eg, a slide switch to turn the unit on and off, eliminating the sometime ambiguity of 'is the unit actually on or off at present'.

While Aliph gets zero marks for the ease of use of its buttons, this is no worse (but also no better) than any other Bluetooth headset to date.

An interesting added complication of this headset is that its two 'buttons' are hidden beneath the outer 'skin' of the headset.  There's no visual clue, just from looking, as to where or what the buttons are at all.

Comfortable to wear

Not very.  After only a few minutes it became increasingly uncomfortable.

But I've seen some people walking around malls with these units on their ear semi-permanently - so either my discomfort is not universally the case, or else some people will go to ridiculous lengths so as to 'look cool'.

Indeed, one enthusiastic Jawbone user said that he has become so used to his Jawbone, which he finds completely comfortable, that he even fell asleep wearing it.

It is probable that some experimentation with the four different ear pieces and two different ear loops is needed to fully optimize the comfort.

Can you use with glasses

The curved nature of the ear loop may interfere with glasses being worn at the same time, and you'd probably need to take your glasses off being putting your headset on or off.

This headset is one of the less well designed ones for use with glasses.

Can use with either ear

Yes.

Because the ear loops are curved in all dimensions, rather than just being a flat loop, Aliph provides different ear loops for use with the left or right ear.

Securely mounted on ear

Oh yes, the tight fit with the ear loop ensures there's no way this is going to fall off.

How to carry

I have no idea how to best carry this.

It is comparatively bulky, and with a flimsy seeming ear loop that can wiggle around, it seems likely to get caught up on any other things in your pocket if you keep it in your pocket when not in use.

Compatible with Nectar retractable and necklace style headset holders.

Weight

The unit weighs 0.7 ounces - heavier than most other current headsets, but not objectionably so when actually on your ear.

Because it is held firmly in place, you're not worrying about it wobbling or coming off.


Ease of Use

Commands intuitive and easy to remember

No.

The key thing to remember is how to turn the headset on and off - not as easy as it might sound with hidden buttons beneath the skin of the headset.

With a more restricted set of features than some other headsets, it is perhaps easy enough to remember only how to turn the headset on and off, and how to answer and end calls, doing everything else from the phone rather than from the headset.

Volume adjustable

Yes.  The unit will cycle through six different volume levels by repeated pushes of the button at the end of the unit.

How fast does it turn on

It takes about four seconds to turn on and about another four or five seconds to synch with the phone.

Manual

A small (4.6" x 2.8") 29 page manual comes with the unit and can be downloaded from Aliph's website as well.

Strangely, the printed version of this manual appears to be more up to date than the electronic version on the website.

Support

Disappointingly, there's no way to get phone support.  There are a few FAQ questions and answers on Aliph's website, and if your question isn't answered there or in the manual, you have to fill out a form to send a form based email.

The website is silent about any promised turnaround time for responding to questions.

A test question sent at midnight had still not been replied to when this article was published after the close of business the next day.

This is an unacceptable level of (non)support for a premium priced product.

Pairing password printed on device

No.  But like almost every other headset, it is 0000 so in an emergency you have a good chance of guessing what it is!


Features

Battery life

Up to 6 hours of talk or 120 hours of standby time claimed.

These timings are about average or perhaps slightly below average compared to other units on sale in April 2008.

Low battery indicator/signal

The unit will flash red and give warning beeps when the battery is getting low.

Battery type

Not specified, but some type of rechargeable lithium battery.

Replaceable battery?

No.

As with other headsets, the chances are by the time the battery has died, you'll probably have bought a new headset.

Battery charging method/time

Here's another unit that gratuitously features a non-standard charging socket.  What is wrong with these people?  If nothing else, one has to believe that using a standard off the shelf Mini or Micro USB plug and socket would be less expensive than designing and custom building their own style of connector.

A poorly designed and bulky four pin connector is used for charging.  Why four pins?  It only needs two (for power + and power -)?

Not only is this connector bulky (it wraps around the entire rear of the headset) it also has insufficient polarity control to prevent you from plugging the headset into it round the wrong way.

The only mitigating point here is that at least the other end of the charge cable ends in a standard USB connector, so you do have the option of charging from a USB hub or computer.

A red light on the headset goes on while charging and changes to white when fully charged.

Multi-voltage charger

Yes.

Charger weight/size

A small brick charger.

2.6 oz total for the charger and removable cable.

Other charging methods

None provided, but because the cable that has the charger-to-phone connection at one end terminates in a regular USB plug at the other end, you can connect the unit up to any regular 5V USB port or power supply.

How many pairings can be stored

The Jawbone can store at least two profiles (exact number not stated), but it can only be linked to one phone at a time.

Headset and hands-free profiles?

Both profiles are supported.

Audio profile for computers

No.

Bluetooth compatibility

Version 1.2

Power/range

It says it is a Class 2 device, but this is almost certainly wrong, because it also claims a 33' range, which implies it to be a normal Class 3 device.

Effective range

The Jawbone performs similar to most other Bluetooth headsets.  It gives up to about 50' of range if there are no obstructions - ie, if the headset can directly 'see' the phone.

This range drops off very quickly if there is no direct signal path, with some loss of quality even being noticed when the headset is on my left ear while my right hand is holding my iPhone down on my right hip.

Warranty

The warranty is a generous one year warranty.

Free return

Retailer policies will vary.

Noise cancelling/DSP

The Jawbone offers a sophisticated multi-layer approach to ensuring that background noises are minimized and your voice is clearly heard at the other end, using both analog (multi-microphone) and digital signal processing techniques.

It also has another feature - it not only controls the sound signal that is sent to the person you're talking with, but it makes some modifications to the incoming side of the conversation to help that cut through any background noise too.

I can't provide a recording of how the incoming sound is changed, but here is a sample showing how the headset manages to send out a clear voice signal in a noisy environment.

As you listen to this sample, notice a couple of things.  Until the headset first heard my voice, it didn't know what to do with the background noise, so it was feeding through at a high level.  But as soon as it heard my voice, it knew what to filter out and did so, and continued to do it any time I briefly paused.

Notice also how in a couple of places the tone of my voice changes.  This is because the Jawbone is modifying my voice as well as the background noise to get maximum clarity.

This test recording, if anything, massively understates the capability of this headset to eliminate noise - see comments in the section below about using the headset for more testing results.

This is the best noise controlling headset we've tested.

Sound quality

Sound quality was excellent and as good as any other units tested to date.

Here is a sample recording so you can hear the difference between talking through the Jawbone and directly through an iPhone, in a quiet environment, and draw your own conclusions.


Capabilities

Turning on and off

Turning on is simple - press the main button on the body rather than top of the headset and wait until the LED flashes white - this takes about four seconds.

Turning off is also simple - press the same button for about four seconds until the LED flashes red.

Auto connect

Yes.

Voice tag support

Supported (if also supported on the phone, of course).

Briefly tap the control button, then say the name of the person you wish to call.

Last number redial

Yes.

Press the main button twice.

Transfer call to/from phone

To transfer a call from your phone to the Jawbone, press the main button once.

To transfer a call back to your phone, press the main button for about three seconds.

Call waiting/Three way calling

No.

A really strange answer to the question 'does the headset support call waiting' on Aliph's website says : While call waiting is possible on the Jawbone, we are currently not supporting this feature. In some cases, your phone may not allow call waiting to be routed to the Jawbone which may prevent you from answering or swapping between calls using the Jawbone buttons.

So, apparently the Jawbone can - but can't - handle call waiting?

Call reject

Yes.

Press the 'other' button (the one on the end of the headset).

Call answer/end

Yes.

If the unit is already on, a short press of the main button will answer an incoming call.

To end a call, a short press of the control button is again needed.

The unit signals incoming calls with a quiet tune which you'd only hear if the unit was in your ear, so you probably need to rely on hearing the phone handset's ring.

Mute

No.

Other Features

You can turn the Jawbone's noise cancelling feature on and off by pressing the 'other' button for three seconds, but you'll probably never want to do this.

No other special features.


Subjective

Attractive design

A distinctive and unmistakable design, and available in three colors (black, grey and red).

Flashing indicators on standby

Yes, a white light flashes once every six or seven or so seconds while the unit is on standby.

This can not be switched off.

Size

The unit measures about 2.3" x 0.9" and is 0.6" thick, with the earpiece protruding out another 0.5".

The earloop increases its size to about 3" x 2.4", with the same thickness.

The fragile earloop makes it difficult to carry in a pocket.


Summary

This is an attractive headset boasting very good sound quality and excellent noise filtering.

With a list price of $120 and currently available on Amazon for $75, it is considerably more expensive than all other headsets tested to date, and so unless you have a special need for its noise cancelling, you might want to consider a lower priced headset.

 

Using the Aliph Jawbone Headset

The first thing one notices about the headset is its distinctive styling.  I imagine some people dislike its design, but I like it and it is a far cry from some of the incredibly ugly designs that were all too common when Bluetooth headsets first started to be marketed, or some of the glitzy trashy uglinesses that are being sold on a fashion/style basis these days.

When one picks it up and puts it on one's ear, the first thing one notices is how awkward it is to fit.  And, before (and after) having it on one's ear, where do you put it to carry it?  Its loose swiveling ear loop conveys a sense of fragility, and even if not fragile, it is easy to get it caught on other things in a pocket.

One more comment - it comes with a soft rubber protective cover that fits on the back of the headset to protect the charging terminals when not connected to the charger.  This cover readily falls off and will be lost within a few days of use (I lost mine the first day), and Aliph says it is only there to protect the unit during shipping.

This is a bizarre statement on Aliph's part.  The headset is securely held in place in a blister pack with no possibility of the charging contacts being short circuited by anything, either inside or outside the pack.  Why would they go to the bother and expense of making this special part when it isn't needed for the stated purpose?

In use, the headset is convenient, and the default volume control seems to be fine.  Quality is good, and the only detracting point is its uncomfortable fit and difficulty in putting on or off.  Typically when I have a call coming in I answer it on my phone's handset, then while holding the phone and talking, try to fish out of my pocket, turn on, and mount my headset onto my ear.  This is easy to do one-handed with some headsets, but much harder to do with the Jawbone.

The most impressive aspect of the Jawbone is its noise cancelling.  I spoke to a fellow Jawbone user while he was driving in his car, with the windows open, on the freeway at 70 mph.  Apart from occasional minor bursts of noise, it was difficult to tell the difference between talking to him in his parked car with the windows closed, and when he was driving fast with windows open on the busy freeway.  That is staggeringly impressive.

The company that invented the Jawbone, Aliph, is a US company based in the San Francisco area, but the headset itself is made in China.

Connecting with phones

Everything worked fine with no problems encountered.

Summary

The Jawbone, which as been available since 2006, is starting to show its age.  It no longer is the 'latest and the greatest' in any respect except perhaps for its noise control circuitry.

It doesn't have the latest Bluetooth 2.0, it has slightly below average battery life, and is larger and heavier than many of its more modern competitors.  It has none of the increasingly common new features like simultaneously pairing to two phones, and even omits a simple standard feature like mute.

When first released, it was truly remarkable.  Today, it is still good, but it no longer is the clear leader of the pack.

The Jawbone is also aging in one other important dimension.  Bluetooth headset prices continue to fall, but with a list price of $120 and a street price of $75, it is still a premium priced product in a marketplace where it no longer offers so much premium to go with its price.

The Jawbone has a current (May 08) street price of about $75 through Amazon .  This puts it in the higher price bracket and is appreciably more expensive than other units that perform almost as well.

So - bottom line - the Jawbone is twice the price of the other current best recommended high end headset (the Cardo S-800).  Should you spent $75 for a Jawbone or settle for the S-800 for $40 less?

To find out the answer to that question, we've provided a comparison page highlighting the differences between the Jawbone and the Cardo S-800.

Chances are you'll be happy with either choice, and if your work or life-style requires you to be able to carry out phone conversations in unusually noisy environments, you would probably find the extra cost of the Jawbone to be money well spent.

Recommended.

Update This is still a good headset, but the Jawbone 2 is better and comparably priced.  For that reason, you should not choose a Jawbone, but instead should get the newer better Jawbone 2.

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Originally published 2 May 2008, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 

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