Review: Jawbone Era Bluetooth Headset (2014)
Jawbone's 2014 edition of Era ($100-$130) is the latest in the company's long line of Bluetooth headsets. Despite sharing a name with its direct predecessor, Era has undergone a pretty dramatic redesign. It's now significantly shorter and narrower, with a very clean look and simple controls. The earpiece comes in one of four metallic colors — the black, red, and bronze versions all have a raised ridge pattern, while the silver's lines cross in a diamond shape. In addition to four silicone ear tips, Era comes with a micro-USB cable for standard charging. A wall adapter is no longer included, and you can choose to add a compact black or silver case with a rechargeable battery built in for a $30 premium.
At 1.83” long, 0.83” wide, and 0.51” tall, and weighing only 0.21 ounces, Era is tiny—one of the smallest Bluetooth headsets we’ve ever tested. The difference is especially noticeable when the older and newer units are side by side. It almost looks like the headset is too small, but it still manages to include the basic features we’d expect. Starting at the top, there’s the single earphone, which is covered by one of the silicone buds. Small, medium, and large tips are included for the right ear, while there’s only a medium for the left. Designed to stabilize Era inside your outer ear, the tip doesn’t rotate at all, so however it lays on your face will be pretty much where it remains. For this model, the external earhook is totally gone; you must now rely on the rubber and the curvature of your ear to hold Era in place. We found that it fit well for us, but as everyone’s ears are different, results may vary.
Along the top edge, there’s a micro-USB port, as well as a single multifunction button that can be used for answering calls, activating Siri, and more. Moving down, along the side of the accessory, there are two microphones; one is towards the top, the other near the bottom. Finally, along the inner edge, you’ll find two nubs. One is a simple power switch, and the other is a voice activity sensor. This comes into play with the company’s NoiseAssassin 4.0 feature, which is able to identify your speech and separate it from background noise.
Era uses Bluetooth 4.0 to connect, although it’s backwards compatible with older devices that don’t support the newer standard. Once it’s paired, Jawbone’s free app offers extra features. It displays battery life as a percentage — an icon is also displayed in the iPhone’s status bar — and has a “find” feature that plays a tone to help locate a lost headset. Additionally, there are buttons that explain the one-, two-, and three-click shortcuts of the single button, allow you to switch voices for the audio prompts that can be downloaded when Era is connected to a computer, and show what devices the headset is paired to. There’s even an attractively designed music player built-in, so you can stream audio to Era. As is almost always the case with monaural headsets, the quality of the music playback isn’t fantastic, but for the tiny device, it’s acceptable.
Voice performance with Era hasn’t made any dramatic improvements since the last edition, and in some cases, we actually found the performance to be a little weaker. Without ambient noise to cancel, incoming and outgoing audio was on par between the two units—good for a headset, but not up to the level of the iPhone itself, and a little mechanical. When we turned music on, however, our voice sounded more robotic to our listener. In direct comparisons with the prior Era, the NoiseAssassin 4.0 feature wasn’t more impressive in any obvious way than before; it still screens out nearby or distant sounds respectably well, but at the cost of vocal fidelity.
In its standard $100 configuration, Era offers only 4 hours of talk time, which is noticeably lower than the earlier version’s 5.5 hours. Yet if you’re willing to spend the same $130 price as the original Era, you can add the charging case, which bumps the on-the-go battery life up to 10 hours. The small plastic housing is made to hang from a keychain, with a snap-equipped strap at one end. At the same side, there’s a flip-up micro-USB plug. Era connects, and then folds down, resting inside. A micro-USB port on the other edge is used for charging the case’s battery; three pulsing white lights show the remaining power. It’s a nice charging case, though unfortunately more necessary given the new Era’s compromised runtime.
Bluetooth headsets have become less relevant since the last Era came out, thanks in part to both cars with built-in speakerphones, and headphones with incorporated mics. Jawbone hasn’t let this stop it from building yet another good headset, but this one falls down a notch, earning our general recommendation. The company has put most of the features we’d hope for in an even smaller, more attractive package, while removing accessories and lowering battery life, offset by a lower starting price. We would’ve liked to have seen improvements to the audio, especially two years on, or equivalent run time without the need for a charging accessory, but the new Era is a compromise—and one some people will like a lot more than others.