The Bluetooth headset is either beloved or maligned, utilitarian or self-aggrandizing. Consumers find it either convenient — both hands free! — or unbelievably irritating.
I’m in the latter camp. I’ve never consistently used a Bluetooth headset with my smartphone. A headset is like a cricket sticking out of your ear, chirping to the world around you, “I’m so busy, busy, busy.”
Could Jawbone change my mind? I decided to find out by testing the company’s diminutive new Era headset.
Jawbone has a long history with Bluetooth headsets, and with noise-canceling audio technology, especially. The company’s last headset was released back in 2011. That Era model was relatively thick, and weighed nearly half an ounce.
This new Era, which effectively replaced the old Era when it hit the market earlier this month, is about 40 percent smaller, looks sleeker, and also claims improved audio technology. It costs $130, including headset and nifty charging chase; for $100, you can buy the headset alone.
After a week of using the Era in a variety of scenarios — for phone calls, conference calls, FaceTime, driving, bike riding, even using it to call up Siri on the iPhone — I’m still not a Bluetooth headset convert.
But the Era’s audio quality is unmistakable. All of my calls sounded clear, and its charging case not only gave it extra battery life, but also prevented me from losing the earpiece.
So, if you are a Bluetooth headset user and you want something small, you’ll want to consider the Era.
Of course, Jawbone is not without plenty of competition in this arena. Motorola offers the Elite Sliver and the Sliver II, ranging from $40 to $130 online, which wrap around the back of the ear for a more secure fit. Plantronics’ newest headsets are the $99 Voyager Legend, which lets you accept or reject phone calls using voice commands, and the $200 Voyager Legend UC, an amped-up model aimed at PC users.
I didn’t get to test these, but they’re all larger and more conspicuous than the Era, which measures 1.83 by .83 by .51 inches and weighs just .21 ounces. If you have small hands like I do, it’s about the size of your finger from the knuckle to the nail. It’s offered in black, red, bronze and silver, and has subtle ridges on the outward-facing part of the headset.
The part of the headset that rests against your ear has two nodes: A pin-sized power button and an LED indicator light. On top is a micro-USB port, for charging, and the main button you’ll use to answer your calls and control your music.
Finally, there’s the little wedge that goes into your ear. The Era comes with four different-sized ear buds — three for the right ear, one for the left. The one I used felt really comfortable, like it was molded for my ear.
Pairing the headset with my iPhone was a quick and painless process.
That single button at the top of the Era performs a variety of functions. Pressing it once will answer an incoming call. If you’re listening to music on your smartphone, pressing it once will stop the track; press it three times and the music will resume.
If you press and hold the button firmly for a few seconds, it will queue up the smart assistant on your smartphone. On iPhone, this is Siri; on Android smartphones, it’s Google Now. Using the headset, I prompted Siri to find me the closest pizza joint and get me directions, without having to physically touch my phone or look at it once.
Jawbone believes that its new Era is going to change user behavior when it comes to phone communication. In the age of nonstop text messaging, instant messaging and emailing, picking up the phone to actually talk might feel like a lost art.
I have a hard time believing that a two-inch ear dongle will completely change these patterns. But there were a couple of instances where I was more inclined to talk on the phone than I would have been otherwise.
For example, I made a quick phone call to my mom while I was waiting for a sandwich at the deli one afternoon, because I knew I’d still have my hands free to pay at the register. A couple days later, I answered a call even though I was in the middle of writing on my laptop, just because it was so much easier to tap the Era button than it would be to fumble through my stuff and untangle my headphones.
I also used the Era while FaceTime-ing with my nephew; Jawbone says its improved audio technology caters especially to the video chat or VoIP crowds.
I didn’t use it much in the car, because I just had a new Bluetooth speaker system installed. But for those without Bluetooth in the car, a headset like this can be invaluable, especially in states where hands-free laws are enforced.
Everyone I called or spoke to said they had no trouble hearing me, even when I was in noisy environments, and people on the other end sounded clear to me, too.
I still felt a little self-conscious wearing it. While the Era is compact, it’s not the tiny futuristic earpiece that the characters in the new movie “Her” slip in and out of their ears with such ease. On a couple of occasions, I could see people’s eyes traveling to my ear while I was having an in-person conversation with them.
Either that, or I was convinced that I looked like I was talking to myself.
The Era’s battery lasts for about four hours of talk time, and its carrying case can juice it for up to six more hours. So, if you charge the case as well as the Era — which should take about an hour — it’s like having a little Mophie pack for the headset.
Unfortunately, after my Era died, I discovered that my charging case was a dud. It just wouldn’t charge. The company sent me a new case right away, and this one held a charge, as indicated by three tiny LED lights on the side of the case. The headset hasn’t died since I last recharged it a couple days ago.
The Jawbone Era hasn’t changed my phone habits entirely. But for Bluetooth believers, its fresh design and audio capabilities help simplify smartphone communications where it counts.