For the last week I’ve been playing with Jawbone’s latest Bluetooth headset, the ERAtm. Marketed as the smallest, lightest, most comfortable headset that Jawbone has created, it makes some bold claims. I’m perhaps not the best person to review a Bluetooth headset, as I come at them from the angle of never having found one that I enjoyed using, much less on an ongoing basis.
So I could have a play, Jawbone supplied me with an Era in black, paired with the portable charging unit. I couldn’t take a photo of the unit supplied as good as the press shots supplied by Jawbone, and so you can clearly see what we’re talking about here, here is the Era in all its glory:
The Era is, as you may have gathered, a two piece puzzle. There’s the earpiece itself, shown in the foreground of this picture, and there’s also a holder/charger for the unit. You might wonder why there’s a portable charger to accompany the unit, and the reason is simple.
The Era is rather small. In fact, it’s tiny. At just 4.5cm long, and weighing just 6 grams, the smart will recognise that this doesn’t leave much for a battery, much less anything else. However, packed into this tiny unit is a battery that will deliver over 4 hours of talk time, and when paired with the portable charger (which conveniently doubles as a holder and key-ring attachment) you’re looking at over 10 hours of talk time. You really could talk all (business) day on this thing and still be going.
Anyway, that’s the hardware side. It’s tiny and weighs nothing, and it feels surprisingly comfortable in the ear; the soft silicone ear-fitting piece directs the audio into your ear canal, and also helps secure the Era in the right place. It’s seriously comfortable. Jawbone’s Jorgen Nordin tells me that you could leave it in all day without noticing it … this is a bold claim.
I don’t know that I could forget that it was in my ear, but it certainly wasn’t uncomfortable. It was also extremely secure — shaking my head as hard as I could, I couldn’t dislodge it. In fact, I couldn’t dislodge it unless I stuck my finger up there to flick it out.
The Era is operated by precisely one button. There’s no bells and whistles here — there’s one button to interact with the Era, and a second on/off switch which does precisely that. The push button does one of a few things depending on how many times you push / hold it:
- Tap it just once to hear the battery level if nothing’s happening
- Tap it once to answer or hang up a call, if your phone’s ringing / on a call respectively. If two calls are active, switch between them.
- Redial the last dialed number by tapping twice.
- Three taps will start playing music.
- Press and hold will load Voice Search (see below).
You might think that the inclusion of playing music is kind of odd on a single-ear headset; indeed, listening to music in one ear does precisely nothing for me, but it does have its uses. You can listen to a podcast or a tune in the background while you’re doing something else, and still hear what’s going on around you. It’s probably useful for some, but for me it just doesn’t make much sense.
The audio quality, though, is pretty damned amazing. Sporting compatibility with HD Voice, I can confirm that using the Era with a compatible handset and network (and someone else who has the same) results in absolutely crystal clear audio, the likes of which are hard to describe. It was just spotless.
The other functions — making calls, hanging up, etc — all work as they should, with one notable exception. This one isn’t Jawbone’s fault, as far as I can tell, but more an issue with the way Android works. If your handset is unlocked (i.e. not at the lock screen) then activating the Voice Search will launch Google Now, and you can tell your phone to do whatever you like: navigate somewhere, send a text message, or make a call.
Jawbone make much of this functionality, spruiking the one-touch access to Google Now (or Apple’s Siri if you’re an iOS user). However, this feature might be a bit more handset dependent than Jawbone might like.
Tested on an HTC One (M8), the one touch access to Google Now didn’t quite work as expected. If your screen is locked — for example, as it would be if its sitting in your pocket — activating Voice Search will not load Google Now; rather, it will load some dumbed down version of a voice dialer, which is neither very good nor user friendly. In fact, it’s somewhat inexplicable as to why this is still a part of Android, because it’s a very, very poor part. Trying to get the Voice Search button to launch Google Now by default from the lock screen was an exercise in frustration, and so I eventually gave up.
Sadly, this seemed to work the same way on even a Google Nexus 5, so your mileage really may very quite a bit on this point.
The good news? There is a workaround, of sorts, to get Google Now to launch even behind a locked screen. This app from the Play Store — Voice Command — seems to get the functionality working. If you get an Era, and can’t get Google Now working as you’d expect, try this.
Putting that annoyance to one side, the Era was a pleasure to use. I especially loved the quality of the audio when on calls. Double microphones and the results of some amazing research into noise cancellation mean that the Era pretty much blocks everything that isn’t your voice, allowing me to make intelligible voice calls in packed stores, in the car, and on public transport without so much as any interruption to my call with the other party.
On this front, Jawbone have done great things with the Era, justifying the price tag. Would I recommend that you get an Era if you live life on the go? Yes, I probably would. If you’re the type that already uses a Bluetooth headset, you really should try out the Era as a possible upgrade; it works especially well, it’s light, and the sound quality is amazing.
However, if you’re not already a headset user, the Era may or may not convince you. Sure, it works well and it is comfortable. However, the fact remains it has to sit in your ear to be useful, and some people — myself included — don’t find this very comfortable for extended periods.
Plus, there’s the fact that people always look at someone wearing a Bluetooth headset in public like they’re some kind of knob.
Your mileage may vary.
Jawbone graciously supplied Ausdroid with an Era unit for the purpose of this mini review.
You can get your own from 30 April in Australia for $149 or $179 with the included charger/case. The Era is available online from Jawbone, and from Apple Stores around the country.