The New Jawbone

Unparalleled Jawbone Bluetooth headset isn't perfect, but it's close.

Nov. 25, 2008 -- "It sounds like you're in your apartment."

Seeing as I was battling my way through world-famous New York City foot traffic at the time, that was the greatest compliment anyone could pay Aliph's Jawbone Bluetooth headset. Cars, trucks, horns honking, people yelling, and yet the person on the other end of my cell phone call heard me and nothing but-- as if I was ensconced in my tiny, noiseless, residence.

The oh-so-slick Jawbone oozes style and, to the extent that any Bluetooth headset could be called "cool," coolness as well. Its coolest feature, however, is the noise-cancelling technology inside.

Jawbone uses a patented "voice activity sensor" to detect when the user is talking. The VAS is a tiny white protuberance that makes contact with the side of the user's face (hence the name "jawbone") that registers the vibration of the user's voice. That, in combination with two conventional microphones and one seriously advanced noise-cancelling algorithm, allows the Jawbone to distinguish between the user and everything else with amazing accuracy.

Jawbone calls it nothing short of noise "assassination," and for the most part, it works.

For the most part.

In practice, the VAS has to be placed on the user's face just so. The Jawbone's Achilles' heel is that it needs to remain in close contact. If it doesn't, the entire system seems to break down.

There were a few instances during my use of the Jawbone that the person on the other end heard nothing but noise, forcing one person to forcibly terminate the call.

Part of the problem is the Jawbone's ear loop, designed to cradle your ear and hold the Jawbone headset to it. Multiple sizes of ear loop are thoughtfully supplied, but none of them bend particularly readily. This makes fitting the Jawbone while it's on your ear -- exactly when you should do it -- particularly troublesome.

Now back to the Jawbone's aforementioned slickness: This is an undeniably sexy device. So sexy that Jawbone goes so far as to call itself "earwear."

The diamond-patterned exterior (available in five fashionable colors) looks like it was hewn out of a single sheet of industrial grade metal. The ear loop (at least in two of the sizes) is wrapped in single-stitched leather. The LED indicator, unlike those obnoxious, perpetually glowing Bluetooth headsets, is hidden in the diamond pattern and is only visible when it glows (in multiple colors, of course, though for the most part an elegantly understated white).

The battery charger contacts, also virtually invisible, mate to the included charger with a satisfying magnetic "click."

In short, like a fine watch or a Bentley, everything on the Jawbone screams thoughtful, expensive design.

The problem with all of this form, of course, lies in the function. Those of us who are less tech-savvy might not pick up on the fact that the Jawbone's two buttons are artfully hidden (but hidden, nonetheless) behind the device's face, which isn't actually metal but a cleverly flexible plastic.

They may also not be able to discern what the flashing LED means, or what the Jawbone's "Close Encounters"-esque tones mean.

For those of us, however, who are geeks but also attempt to cling to some sense of style, the Jawbone remains a pleasantly surprising well-designed treat.