The first Bluetooth headset shipped in 2000, and it seems as though ever since I have been on the hunt for the “perfect” headset. After trying several different ones, I believe Jawbone makes the best and their latest, the ERA affirms that opinion.
Jawbone last released a headset in 2011, so the new ERA has been nearly three years in coming. The slow release of a new version seems to mimic a view of Bluetooth headsets falling out of favor. Many people cringe at the thought of a small plastic object attached to their ear and the memories of people who appear to be talking to themselves.
Frankly, I think using a speaker phone in public to be much more rude than using a headset. However, I expect many who will buy the new ERA will be like me, headset users looking for an upgrade rather than those buying a headset for the first time.
Most of my phone calls are for work and can be very long, making a headset a required accessory. My hearing is not the best, and I am deaf in my right ear, so I have more demanding requirements. The headset must work in my left ear and I must be able to hear conversations clearly.
The new Jawbone ERA meets my requirements, even though it has a bias towards people wearing the headset in their right ear. Presumably right-handed people prefer wearing headsets in their right hear, and the ERA reflects this bias by shipping with three right earbuds: small, medium and large, and one left earbud: medium. Jawbone plans to sell small and large left earbuds on their website, but so far they are not available.
- UPDATE: Jawbone has begun selling the Type C earbuds for both ears on their web site. You can order a variety pack that provides one earbud of each size, left and right ears, or six earbuds of a specific size and ear for $9.99.
The ERA earbuds are designed to fit snug in the concha of the external ear so that the headset is firmly in place and does not move. A small part of the bud goes into the entry of the ear canal. I am able to wear the medium left earbud but it feels a little large, pressing against the top part of the concha, making it painful to wear for long periods of time. It may be that the rubber needs to be broken in, but I suspect the small earbud may be a better fit for me.
- Professional wireless and wired headsets used by musicians and television personalities are custom fitted to a person’s ear so that they stay put and are comfortable for long periods of time. The ERA earbuds use a similar design but are obviously not custom fitted.
One problem I had with the Jawbone ICON I had been using is that it has a round earbud and a ear loop that I have to use to keep the headset in place. I wear glasses and the ear loop tends to conflict with the glasses, so I am happy to find a headset that I can wear without an ear loop.
Phone conversations are very clear with the Jawbone ERA, and so far no one with whom I have had conversations with have complained about how I sound. Speaker and microphone quality have always been a strong suit for Jawbone due to the audio technology they call NoiseAssassin. NoiseAssissin utilizes multiple microphones and audio processing to filter out background noise. You must wear the headset against your face as it utilizes bone conduction to capture your speech.
Besides the dork factor that causes many to avoid using Bluetooth headsets, a real problem for many is the need to keep them charged. You might have to remember to carry a wired headset, but at least it always works. Jawbone sells a charging case for the ERA so that you can top off the headset’s battery will carrying it.
The earbud extends outside the case, so I don’t think it provides much protection, but I do like the idea of topping off the headset battery. The case has a micro-USB adapter that you plug the headset to, and you use another micro-USB port on the case to charge it. The case provides one additional full charge to the headset.
Battery life can be a problem, the headset has four hours of talk time. If you are a real heavy user you will need to remember to put the headset in the case for top-offs between conversations. Heavy users at least need to remember to charge the headset each night.
For most people battery life is the biggest impediment to using a Bluetooth headset, and so far this is a problem no manufacturer has solved. The headsets need to be small and light, which means they can’t have large, heavy batteries. By creating the charging case, Jawbone is showing how little battery technology has evolved forcing us to seek acceptable workarounds. I would rather see improvements in battery life, but the charging case is a good workaround.
Purchased together, the ERA headset and charging case cost $129, or you can purchase the headset alone for $100. For someone like myself who needs the best sound quality, I think the $100 is money well spent. Unfortunately, for now I recommend that if you must wear the ERA in your left ear wait until Jawbone starts selling the additional earbuds on their web site. If you can wear the ERA comfortably in either ear, I think you will be very happy with this headset.