It’s been three years since Jawbone released the original Era headset, which garnered nearly universal praise and netted our Editors’ Choice award for its sleek looks and excellent sound quality. The new Era by Jawbone is a distillation of its predecessor—refined, shrunken down, and wonderfully inconspicuous. It dispenses with the ambitious, but unrealized potential of a built-in accelerometer, focusing on form rather than features. Improvements to call quality aren’t as apparent, but performance was great to begin with and the new Era more or less matches the original. Its combination of discreet looks, solid performance, and new lower price ($99.99 direct, or $129.99 with charging case) help it earn our Editors’ Choice award for Bluetooth headsets.
Design and Call Performance
The Era is hands down the best looking Bluetooth headset I’ve ever seen, and one of the few options that won’t draw immediate ire from passersby. It’s impressively petite at 1.83 by 0.83 by 0.51 inches (HWD), with a squared off silhouette and subtle grooves that give it a distinctive, yet discreet look. It weighs in at just 0.21-ounce, and coupled with the finned eartips, the fit is incredibly secure and unobtrusive. Jawbone includes small, medium, and large eartips for the right ear, but only a medium left eartip. The Era is available in black, silver, bronze, and striking-red finishes.
Jawbone dropped the base price of the Era ($99.99) and now offers a more expensive option ($129.99) that comes with a handy charging cradle. The cradle itself is about the size of a car key fob with a swivel-out micro USB plug and a synthetic leather loop for attaching to a keychain. You can plug the included micro USB cable into the cradle’s end to charge the Era, but the real trick here is a built in battery that adds extra juice on the go. Jawbone estimates about 4 hours of talk time with the Era alone, while the cradle can add another 6 hours of charge. Bundling the cradle with the Era saves you $20, as the cradle itself retails for $49.99.
The original Era made big strides in call quality over the Jawbone Icon with improved bass response and superlative noise cancellation. The story with the new Era is a bit more complicated. I tested the Era against its predecessor and the Plantronics Voyager Legend using an Apple iPhone 5s and Samsung Galaxy S4 both running on Verizon. The good news is that earpiece volume has gotten a significant bump without sacrificing audio quality—voices came through full, clear, and natural sounding with both devices. It also sounded better for music playback in my tests, with a bit more oomph on the low end, and without getting overly muddy. Transmissions through the mic seem to have taken a slight step back. In multiple tests, the original Era sounded a touch clearer than its replacement with more natural tones. In voicemails I left for myself, my voice, which is on the low-end, sounded overly bass heavy and somewhat muddy. I preferred the Voyager Legend’s mic performance over both Eras, but it was still pretty susceptible to wind buffeting. Between the earpiece improvements and slight mic regression, I’d call it a wash between the new and old Eras—the second-gen is definitely still a top performer, it’s just not as dramatic an upgrade as its design.
Jawbone rates the Era’s wireless range at 33 feet, but in my tests, signal started to drop out closer to 20 feet. That was true of the original and most Bluetooth accessories in general, and within the confines of a normal sized room, this shouldn’t be an issue. In a battery rundown test, the Era lasted for just 3 hours of continuous talk time using a Verizon iPhone 5s.
The new Era loses its ambitious accelerometer based gestures and potential app integration, but I actually prefer the pared down interaction. It’s got a single button on the back that activates multiple functions depending on how many times you press it. Voice dialing worked perfectly in my tests, and I had no trouble initiated Google searches or Siri queries. There’s a Jawbone app that lets you change up the voice prompts and remotely trigger a chirping sound to help you locate a misplaced headset. You can also queue up Spotify or local music playlists in the app, but you can also control music playback without loading music into the Jawbone app, so that feature seems redundant.
The Era by Jawbone is beautifully crafted, but more importantly, beautifully discreet. It’s the first Bluetooth headset I’d be fine with wearing in public. Call quality isn’t top of the line, but it’s still very solid and audio through the earpiece trumps every other headset I’ve heard, if not through the mic. If call quality is of utmost concern, you’ll have to turn to the boom-mic equipped Plantronics Voyager Legend, which is anything but discreet. The Era remains one of the top-performing Bluetooth headsets, though, and coupled with the tasteful, unobtrusive design, it earns our Editors’ Choice award for Bluetooth headsets.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc