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Kool Tools: Jawbone 2 headset

Volume Number: 24 (2008)
Issue Number: 09
Column Tag: Kool Tools

Kool Tools: Jawbone 2 headset

by Dennis Sellers


In the Biblical story of Samson, he offed a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey. If he'd had an iPhone and a Jawbone from Aliph, perhaps he would have been a bit mellower and more in touch.

The Jawbone is a Bluetooth headset that uses a military-grade noise-canceling system called Noise Shield that's designed to virtually eliminate all background noise. What's more, it has an ergonomic design by product designer Yves Behar and is crafted to look like an accessory along the lines of jewelry or eyewear.

The latest Jawbone Bluetooth headset (US$129.99), which is perfect for the iPhone, is 50 percent smaller (it weighs 10 grams and measures 0.9 x 0.4 x 2.4 inches) than the original Jawbone, and features noise elimination technology called NoiseAssassin, which is designed to address real-world noise environments such as busy streets, cars and airports via Voice Activity Sensor (VAS). The Jawbone 2 headset uses the VAS to distinguish the sound of your voice from ambient noise and then uses proprietary Digital Signal Processing (DSP) algorithms and the Jawbone's two microphones to subtract the noise so only the sound of your voice comes through. The NoiseAssassin technology was originally developed for Aliph by DARPA (The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), which creates and delivers technology for the U.S. military.

In other words, the Jawbone detects when and how a person is speaking, models the noise, and gets rid of it, for the most part. According to the folks at Aliph, conventional "noise eliminating" headsets don't have the VAS and can only estimate when speech is occurring with software-based Voice Activation Detection (VAD) systems. For these systems to work, the speech must be significantly louder or spectrally different from the noise. These systems fail in loud environments or in the presence of other people's speech, the Aliph gang says.

The Jawbone 2 build is designed to enhance the acoustic performance while keeping the device lightweight, stable and comfortable. The outer shield is curved and rectilinear to follow the outline of the face and is textured in sound-reflective progressive relief. The texture almost makes the Jawbone 2 look flat against your skin and doesn't easily smudge with fingerprints.

The inner surface, the one touching the face and creating contact with the Voice Activity Sensor, is gently curved and built to be comfortable on the skin.

Compatible with all Bluetooth-enabled phones, the Jawbone 2 supports more than four hours of talk time and eight days of standby time. It boasts a "fast charge" battery that charges up to 80 percent of capacity in just over half an hour. It can be charged with the included USB cable on a computer or with the wall-charger. The new Jawbone has a range of 33 feet.

Version 2 of the headset sports two streamlined buttons that you operate by touching the outside shield to control all the functions of the headset. Interestingly, the buttons aren't readily apparent. You can't see the controls, but you can feel them. The Talk button is on the front of the headset, and the Noise Assassin button is on the top.

The Jawbone 2 is made with such materials as medical grade plastic and comes with three sizes of earbuds and four earloops that can be worn on either ear. There are two sizes of soft, stitched leather earloops and two sizes of slim earloops for use with eyeglasses. The varied earloops are designed to accommodate a variety of ear sizes. On the reverse side of the Jawbone is a little rubber nub that detects your voice. That side of the device rests on your cheek - hence the headset's name.

Though the Jawbone 2 may be the best Bluetooth headset around, it's not perfect. There's no volume rocker, so you have to cycle through five different volume settings instead of simply increasing and decreasing the volume. It may be a little too "girly" in appearance for some guys. Occasionally, there's an irritating crackling sound when adjusting volume or turning on/off the Noise Assassin feature. Also the LED light is inconveniently located directly atop of the Talk button.

The latest Jawbone is available now in matte black, but silver and rose gold versions are coming.


Dennis Sellers is a long time journalist. He started in the newspaper business, but has been in the online journalism business for the past 15 years. He's the editor/publisher of Macsimum News (http://www.macsimumnews.com)

 

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