Recently, I went through another round of a roughly annual “find a Bluetooth headset that actually works” exercise after throwing the latest failed attempt in the electronic junk drawer beside the cracked Palm V and the old SCSI Jaz drive. First of all, let me state for the record that I don’t consider myself one of those Bluetooth headset guys and generally observe a personal “only use in the car” rule. Also, when I’m looking at Bluetooth headsets, I’m definitely not looking for something that doubles as a fashion accessory, nor am I looking for something that fits comfortably enough to wear all day. I want something that works reliably with my phone, fits reasonably well, and doesn’t degrade call quality. While I generally do my best to be in a quiet place for calls, it’s inevitable that I’m out and about sometimes and need call someone from the car, in an airport, etc. Anyone who does many business conference calls knows that the guy calling from a car or at a busy airport gate can be a distraction to everyone else. “Can you mute, please?” is a common refrain in those situations.
Until recently, I used the Jabra BT5020 with my iPhone and even though Jabra claims “wind noise reduction” as a feature, a lot of my calls began with the person on the other end asking, “where are you, in a wind tunnel?” I tried the Samsung WEP-200 on Tim Bray’s recommendation, but had trouble pairing it with my iPhone (this seems to be common), and it fell out of my ear if I moved my head even slightly. In my latest round of research, all roads pointed to the Aliph Jawbone. (Disclaimer: just as I was about to go buy it, I serendipitously got an email from the PR firm representing Aliph asking me if I wanted to review the Jawbone, so I received a complimentary review unit).
After a couple months of using the Jawbone regularly, I can attest that it works as advertised and has exceeded my expectations. The online demo of the Jawbone’s Noise Shield technology seems too good to be true, but it isn’t — what a pleasant surprise. The Noise Shield works so well that I sometimes use the Jawbone in situations where I could actually use my phone without the headset, e.g. standing outside a restaurant on a noisy San Francisco street. This breaks my “only in the car” rule, but the noise reduction is worth it. I’ve tested the Jawbone in the car with the Noise Shield off (“you sound like you’re in the car”) and with it on (“wow, you sound like you’re in a quiet office now!”) In all cases, the caller on the other end comes through loud and clear, too. The battery life for my level of usage has been excellent, too.
I do have a few minor gripes. The unit can be a little clumsy to get on and off of your ear. The variety of included earbuds and ear clips were impressive but I couldn’t find a combination that fit my ear really well. Still, the Jawbone fits well enough and its enthusiastic users have some suggestions to create a better fit. When the Jawbone is on standby, I have to turn it off and then on to re-pair it with my iPhone, but that is only a minor annoyance.
All in all, the Jawbone is an excellent product that delivers on its promise. Since I’ve been using it, no one has asked “where are you?” or “can you mute, please?” I never thought I would say this about a Bluetooth headset, but I love it.