Friday, May 16, 2008

New Jawbone Out-of-Box Experience and Review

If you know me, you know that I tend to be an early adopter on some stuff; on other stuff, I'm a fan of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" concept. I still chuckle at the teenager who looked at the 2G iPod I still carry, and said "Dude, how big's the drive on that one?" "Uh, 20 gig, Skippy."

Just call me Old School.

That said, I've probably gone through a dozen Bluetooth headsets over the years. I bought the original Jawbone a couple of months after its introduction, based on extremely positive reviews from a couple of buddies. While I can say that the original Jawbone has never been as comfortable as the Plantronics 640 and 655 I had immediately prior, it's been amazing in terms of battery life (better than 6 hours' straight talk time) and noise reduction, although I still wish A) that Aliph provided some type of carrying case (like the well-designed Plantronics units do), and B) that Aliph would ship something other than the absolutely crap hard plastic earpieces which make use of the original uncomfortable to the point of being downright painful. If you missed my post-CES recap on the original Jawbone, you can find it here.

With today's introduction of the new Jawbone, I decided to put my money where my mouth is. Having used the original Jawbone for the last 15 months or so, and loving it despite its flaws, I was eager to see if Aliph had listened to feedback from the blogosphere.

Apparently, they have.

Is the new one perfect? No. The charger still uses a proprietary attachment, rather than a mini- or micro-USB port. That said, the new connector is a dramatic improvement on the previous one, connecting and aligning via surface-mounted magnets and contacts, rather than the insertion method (heh, heh) on the old model. The earpieces are now a soft rubber, and the earhooks are smaller.

So, to the positives of the new Jawbone. First, size. Second, improved noise canceling technology (which was pretty damned good on the original). Third, branding.

Let's start with the branding. Since I spend quite a bit of my professional life thinking about various topics in consumer electronics, I'm psyched to see that Aliph has made the Jawbone packaging a little more visually appealing, luxurious even, than the original's packaging. I expect that in 6-9 months' time, the new Jawbone will show up at a lower price point in blister packaging, just like the original has. For now, big kudos to whoever did Aliph's visual identity implementation for the new product.

If you click on the next two photos, you'll see a bigger image of the new packaging.

Here's the front...

...and here's the back...

You'll note a couple of things. First, I've never even contemplated shooting photos of an out-of-box experience, so apologies for the lighting in these photos being off, but I didn't have any 3200K kit floating around the house. Second, I love the packaging, and the tagline--NOISEASSASSIN--just sounds freakin' cool.

The next two shots are from the initial unpackaging...

As I was opening the package, I felt a little like I think The Wife feels when she opens a gift from Tiffany. Tiffany & Co. absolutely get it when it comes to packaging appeal. Ladies, what other brand conveys such absolute appeal, making you know that you're likely to be thrilled with whatever's in the Tiffany Blue shopping bag with the white handles, in which resides a Tiffany Blue box wrapped in a white ribbon, in which resides a Tiffany Blue felt bag, in which resides, well, a surprise that you're likely gonna love? From a packaging standpoint, I think the typical male equivalent is a 4x4 at In 'n' Out Burger. The new Jawbone's package sets a very high bar for the competition, in that Aliph is now selling luxury (at least until the new Jawbone ends up in a blister pack). Yes, I'm willing to pay more for it. I'm a consumer. Judging from the fact that the first two AT&T stores I called today were already sold out of their allotment, I'm not the only one.

First views of the new Jawbone itself...

A couple of shots of included accessories...

The power adapter and all included accessories...

Various shots comparing the original Jawbone with the new Jawbone, along with a shot of the power adapter attached...

Now, to the most important question. Will it blend?

No, wait, wrong site.

In admittedly limited testing today, I found the following...

The fit of the earpiece still isn't good. While I love its smaller size and lighter weight, the headset feels like it's going to go flying off my ear. I'm using the largest of the 3 rubber earpieces, but I sure wish they had a larger one. My Plantronics 640 and 655 both fit perfectly and snugly in my ear using their large earpiece, with no need for an over-ear hook. I wish that Aliph shipped a bigger earpiece, but compared to the original, a definite improvement.

That said, the official mod of the original Jawbone looks like it's going to work well with the new Jawbone. Within a few days of my purchase of the original, I turned to the 'Net to see what the world had to say about better earpieces, since the original hard plastic earpieces were so brutal. Lo and behold, I discovered that the blogosphere had spoken, and that I needed to get ahold of some of the original Jabra mini gels, which you can find at HelloDirect's website. I feel like I should be getting a referral commission from these guys, since so many of my friends have purchased the Jabra mini gels after my positive feedback!

The 4 ear hooks seem to be improved from the original version, but I'll reserve judgement. While smaller, they lack the internal rubber piece that the original versions had which put light pressure on the back of the ear; on my ear, they provided an incremental but beneficial feeling of security that the headset wasn't going to fly off. 2 of the new ear hooks are encased in leather; the other two have what appears to be a very fine rubber coating. The new ear hooks are also universal, rather than the left- and right-ear specific versions on the original. I was a bit reluctant earlier today to really manhandle the hooks to get them to fit my ear; in doing so now, the fit feels much better, but the lack of a truly snug earpiece means I'll be further munging the hooks over the coming days and weeks. That said, with the Jabra ear gel, the fit is quite good, so maybe I'm all set.

When connecting the headset to the phone, the new Jawbone emits an audible tone. This is great, as I don't get stuck looking at my BlackBerry's screen to figure out whether or not they've connected. A definite improvement.

When turning on or off the headset when wearing it, the loud and annoying long tone on the original is now a somewhat melodic and much shorter tone. A definite improvement.

Performing tasks like changing the volume level are still non-intuitive. I'd love a simple rocker switch that enables up and down volume control. Instead, you're still stuck remembering which button to press (Noise Assassin) to cycle up through volume levels. No change.

Voice dialing appears to work just as well as on the original Jawbone. I say "appears", because the voice dialing on my Curve absolutely sucks. Whenever I try to use voice dialing, the phone gets the request wrong, I curse, and the phone ends up dialing Madagascar or Molvania or some such. Apparently no change.

So, net-net, after less than a day's use? Two thumbs up. Check back for an update over the coming weeks, or just add the site to your RSS reader.

Oh, and the cost? As you can see in the very first photo, AT&T is happily getting $129.99 plus tax in their stores. If the new Jawbone performs even the same as my original one, while being lighter and smaller, this was a purchase worth making.

Let me know your thoughts...

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