Sunday, January 25, 2009

OOBE, Review, and Follow-Up: Joby Zivio Boom Bluetooth Headset

You may recall that at CES Unveiled, the folks from Joby gave me their new Bluetooth headset. The Zivio Boom is an interesting industrial design, a bit different from other Bluetooth headsets I've used. We'll get to that in a moment. For now, let's take a look at the packaging.

Prior to my purchase of the original Jawbone two years ago, every Bluetooth headset I'd bought was similar to that of most consumer electronics devices, packaging-wise--Bluetooth vendors hadn't really thought about how to make their packaging stand out. While I didn't record the out of box experience (OOBE) on my original Jawbone, the OOBE on my Jawbone 2 remains one of the most popular posts here, along with my posts on modding the Jawbone 2 for better fit.

The Zivio experience reminded me of the Jawbone experience--somebody spent a few extra bucks to make a good-looking package, which probably translates into another $10-30 at retail. Good stuff, packaging guys. I like the Zivio's package for the following reasons:
  • Product name is in big freakin' letters
  • Rest of front is free of clutter
  • Black matte finish survives shipping wear and tear much better than black glossy
  • Plastic tab for ease of hanging
  • Rectangular shape enables easier shelving and most efficient shipping
  • "Red light district window" (a teaser for what you're buying) shows product itself
  • Huge image of product on the side
Removing the package's outer case, you're presented with a very cleanly laid-out inner package, broken into thirds--documentation, the device itself, and attachments. Note that the boom on the headset is extended--instant visual gratification! Shipping the product with the boom retracted would have enabled a package smaller by at least a third, maybe more--but Joby is obviously trying to appeal to a market that understands quality, and is willing to pay a premium for it. No, an extended boom doesn't guarantee quality, but it certainly does convey elegance. For me, it works. Beyond that, assuming the manufacturer's ability to secure shelf space, a bigger package equals a bigger product advertisement.

The left side contains a very simple, icon-heavy pocket guide. Color-coded and very cleanly laid-out, the pocket guide is commendable for both its brevity and its clarity. The center contains the device itself, which we'll examine in a moment. The right side contains a plastic insert holding six earpiece attachments and an earhook. Three of the attachments are gel-style; three are etymotic-style, intended to fit firmly inside the ear canal. The earhook is an interesting design--the base of the earhook attaches magnetically to the Zivio itself, allowing 360 degree rotation of the hook's base; the earhook piece rotates in the base's socket, providing further flexibility.

Below is a shot of all the pieces in the package; apologies for the lousy quality of all these photos, but I wasn't expecting to attempt to document an OOBE in a poorly-lit Las Vegas hotel room. In addition to the insert holding the earhook and earpieces, the package contains a small power brick, a short and a long USB cable, and the earpiece itself. You'll note a plastic bag containing more earpieces; I don't believe that this bag ships in the standard retail package, but I could be wrong.

A few more things to like here. First, the power brick is black matte, very similar in finish to my MacBook, meaning it's relatively impervious to wear and tear. The power brick has two USB connectors, enabling charging of two devices simultaneously, which is awesome. Each connector on the brick has a blue LED, which illuminates when a device is connected, providing very nice feedback. The cables are USB on one end, micro-USB on the other. As I've noted a couple of times, micro-USB is the way of the future, so I'm excited that the Zivio Boom uses micro-USB for its charging method.

The device itself is compact, with a beautiful industrial design. The first shot shows the Zivio without its boom extended; the second shot shows the extended boom, as well as the blinking light during the pairing process. A close-up look shows three simple buttons, used for volume control and for typical functionality. A look at the reverse side shows a polished, reflective case absolutely modeled on Apple's industrial design--"designed in California, assembled in China".

Despite the blatant rip-off of Apple, I agree with this approach to labeling--the former conveying the implicit quality in a U.S.-designed electronic device, combined with the truth in advertising concerning where the device was built. Plus, manufacturers could do a lot worse than ripping off Apple's approach to packaging and design. On the earpiece itself, you'll notice a speaker reminiscent of a Western Electric 500 handset's earpiece--one of the classic phone designs of all-time.

The earpiece swivels around an axle, enabling a range of angles at which the headset may be used once in the ear. Combined with the six gel & etymotic options and the magnetic hook, the range of permutations for fitting your ear are nearly infinite.

And yet, I still couldn't find a comfortable fit. I don't think I have particularly unique ears, although that might be a tough assessment to make without speaking with an otolaryngologist.

But, despite trying all six earpiece attachments and using the earhook in a ton of positions, I just flat-out couldn't make the Zivio Boom work for me. My personal assessment is that the device's evenly-balanced weight across the length of the device actually works against it in my ear--the mouthpiece side kept drooping, no matter which earpiece I was wearing, and whether or not the boom was extended or retracted. I wore the unit for three days at CES, and was always aware of the fact it was in my ear. Contrast that with my Jawbone 2, which (with the Jabra mini-gel) I can keep in my ear for an entire day with almost no realization that it's there.

As I mentioned in my initial look at the Zivio Boom, there's a lot to like about this highly stylish device, particuarly its advertised 10-hour talk time. Lest you think I've thrown the unit into the drawer of tech detritus, fear not. My buddy Vince Murdica recently joined SiBEAM, Inc., running sales in the Americas and EMEA. Vince recently lost his Jawbone 2; as a guy who can easily spend his entire day on calls spanning a dozen time zones, he needed a Bluetooth headset which would provide long battery life and a comfortable fit, as well as minimizing incentives for Officer Friendly to pull him over. I'm happy to say that he's absolutely thrilled with the Zivio Boom, reporting that it's the most comfortable Bluetooth headset he's ever owned.

So, while the Zivio Boom wasn't for me, it's working great for Vince, who's at least as tough and demanding on Bluetooth headsets as I am. I think that I could've eventually made the Zivio work for me, but I would've needed a ballistics gel earpiece (for which I've had molds made) and an adapter to attach it to the Zivio; for now, I've chosen to not go down that path.


  1. As a 'tough' user of Bluetooth, cell phone, computer and just about every other device necessary for 200k+ miles per year of travel and 5k mins/mo of talk time, I break everything. Not some things, everything, and much quicker than anyone I know. So far Zivio is not much different. The ear gel fits my ear great, but after roughly 1 week of use, it fits so loosely on the device, the gel spins around the device just due to gravity. The ear hook+magnet design has an enormous amount of flexibility to fit any ear (Except Coops apparently), however the rubber portion that holds the hear hook to the magnet, rips so easily, after 10 days I ripped two, of the two, that I had.

    Solution is superglue. Ear gel doesn't slide, ear hook is absolutely married to the magnet, and fits great. One drop on each the gel and the hook/magnet. Volume is great, talk time is outstanding, and now that I've stopped breaking it (for 2 days since the glue) I'm a fan again....

  2. Nice follow-up comment. I am trying to remember what Coop called me for NOT using a Bluetooth headset.