Once upon a time, there was a company called Aliph, which made a fine Bluetooth headset called the Jawbone. It started making Bluetooth speakers and fitness trackers, and became at least as well known for them as for its original product category. And though it changed its corporate name to Jawbone along the way, it hasn’t released a new headset since 2011.
Until today, that is. The company is announcing a new model called the Jawbone Era. It gets the name of an existing version, but after the current supply of units runs out, it’ll replace both the previous Era and another model called the Jawbone Icon, leaving it as the company’s sole headset.
The most immediately striking thing about the new Era is that it’s tiny — 42 percent smaller than the earlier Era, and also dinkier than the squatter, squarer Icon. Like other Jawbone products, it comes in multiple colors and case styles and aspires to look like fashionable jewelry as much as an electronic device — but at about two inches long, it’s also the company’s most discreet headset to date. Despite being so diminutive, it delivers up to 10 hours of battery life on a charge, according to Jawbone, up from 4.5 hours for the old Era. The company also says that the Era’s microphones are both smaller and better than those in past Jawbones.
The earbud is new, too: It’s got a long tail that’s designed to help keep the headset safely wedged in your ear even if you use it while running or biking. Jawbone includes four sizes: medium and large versions for the left and right ear, down from the eight earbuds that came with the prior Era. (Curiously, the manual mentions a small version first, but it’s not included; apparently, it’ll be available from Jawbone’s online store.)
Jawbone has given the new Era the latest version of its NoiseAssassin noise-canceling technology, which not only helps the people you call understand you, but aids speech recognition in Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Now voice assistants. In fact, Jawbone is pitching the headset as a compliment to both those services — which didn’t even exist the last time the company released a new model — and other Internet services such as Skype and FaceTime as much as a tool for making plain old phone calls.
I had fun trying the Era with Siri, which you can launch by pressing and holding the headset’s sole button. You can do quite a bit in both Siri and Google Now purely by talking and listening, such as getting walking directions or playing podcasts, which means that you can leave your phone in your pocket or purse and treat the headset almost like something akin to an audio-only version of Google Glass. You can also listen to music, which sounds good given that it’s entering only one ear, in monophonic form.
It all looks nice and works well, but I did miss one feature in the old Era: You could control it by tapping anywhere on the headset, as if the whole thing was one giant button. The new model ditches this clever approach in favor of a conventional button, requiring slightly more futzing, and also loses a feature that let you pick up the headset, shake it twice and then stick it in your ear to take a call. (I didn’t get to try a new version of Jawbone’s iOS and Android apps, which you can use to customize such options as the Era’s speaking voice; it can also make the headset beep, which is helpful if you misplace it.)
For $130 — the same price as the previous Era — the new headset comes with both a super-short MicroUSB charging cable and a cute little charging case with a loop that lets you fasten it to a keychain. (The case leaves the side of the headset with the earbud exposed, so I’d try to treat it fairly gingerly rather than just cramming it in my pocket or dumping it in the bottom of my backpack.) For $100, which was the price of the Jawbone Icon, you get the cable but not the case. Neither package comes with an AC adapter, but it’s 2014, and maybe most folks already have more USB wall chargers than they need.
The new Jawbone Era is available now at Jawbone.com and Verizon, and on its way to Apple Stores, AT&T and Best Buy.
ERA by Jawbone [Product Site]