I was mouthing off so much to a friend about this speaker that somehow I promised to write a review so that I would shut up. Here it is:
Summary: I love this wireless speaker. Easily one of my favorite, most useful techno toys. Huge sound in a beautiful and small package and an excellent speaker phone to boot. Maybe a bit expensive for most of us, but you’re unlikely to regret it. Have $150 burning a hole in your pocket and love music? Get one. The sole compromise is that at its loudest, it’s not quiet loud enough.
Best Uses: Home computer speaker, In the office, at the park, on a bicycle, travel.
I’m a gadget guy. Albeit, a restrained by monetary and nuptial reality gadget guy. This means I have to pick my spots; make sure that I can make a reasoned, straight-faced case for the acquisition of the next quality-of-family-life improving gadget. So, while I’d love more gadgets, on the gadget collector’s spectrum, I’m not as hot shit as a lot of other people I know. I say this in order to warn you. What follows is really a regular Joe’s take on a particularly cool gadget. If you want super technical specs and down to the tenth of the second measurements of various performance attributes, check these websites.
The digital music and mobile computing revolution has transformed the way, the where, and the how of our music listening experience. If you’re reading this, you know and can probably tell the story better than I can, but the gist is we are no longer tethered to 5,000 lbs stacks of records or trees of spinning upright racks full of CDs. No, mp3, the Cloud and ever smaller memory chips now allow us nearly unlimited storage and access to music.
One thing that really hasn’t changed all that much is that whatever your gadget, you still have to get the sound from the record/cd/mp3 to your ear. There really are just two ways of doing this: headphones or amplified speaker- same as it ever was. I’m not a headphone guy. I was in high school, and still use them on airplanes, but mostly I don’t care for them. I have a stereo in the living room but with two young kids, I don’t find a lot of time to sit around listening to music. Mostly, we listen to music while we’re doing other things, like in the kitchen or in front of the family computer, or in the car, at work. In other words, the music has to be where I am.
Way back when the iPod Classic was just the iPod, an entire industry burst onto the scene to amplify it. Docks were invented. Now with wireless everything, everywhere, all the time, mobile music listening has become un-docked. Freedom.
The Jambox by Jawbone has arrived. If you’ve been in an AT&T store recently, you might have noticed them. The Jambox speaker is truly a piece of design art. Something you might find in the gift shop of a fine arts museum.
It’s small. Roughly the size of a stapler but denser, heftier, solid (5.95”L x 2.24”W x 1.57”H). A narrow, chunky rectangle of rubber and metal, like a brick of good chocolate. The top and bottom are rubberized, grippy. It has three rubber buttons on its top side and an on/off switch on its right side that is nearly flush; seems like it would be tough to break anything on this unit. I’ve been carrying it around loose in my messenger bag for the last month and aside from some lint sticking to the rubber, you’d never know it’s been tumbling around in there like a sock in the dryer.
There are two ways to connect to the Jambox: with a Bluetooth enabled device like a cell phone, or with a 3.5mm audio cable to a device like a phone, stereo or iPod. Connecting via Bluetooth is as easy as your Bluetooth device makes it. Flip the power switch on the Jambox up and it automatically searches for its Bluetooth pair. Easy. They say the range is about 30 feet, and I’d guess that’s about right.
The three buttons on top: 1. + volume up, 2. – volume down, 3. Answer telephone. Yep, since it connects via Bluetooth to your phone, if you receive a call, the music (or whatever you’re listening to) shuts off, the Jambox voice (see below) says, “Call from 415-XXX-XXXX”, press the button and you’re using the Jambox as a speaker phone. It has a built in mic, so just start talking. To disconnect, press the button again and the music resumes. Easy. By pressing the call answer button when not connected to a call, the Jambox voice will tell you how much battery life is remaining. You can also reject calls by holding down the same button for 2 seconds and you can mute a call by simultaneously holding the volume + and – buttons for 2 seconds. When you turn the unit on, the whole speaker vibrates.
Under the on/off switch on the right side of the unit are two jacks: 1. 3.5mm audio input, 2. Micro USB Charger cable. I can’t tell you how long it takes to get from an empty to a completely full battery, but it isn’t that long. One reason I can’t tell you is that I’ve never run out of battery life. The on/off switch is cleverly designed such that the outside rim of the round switch is illuminated by a colored LED. When the battery is running low, it flashes red. When fully charged it is illuminated white. When it is in connecting mode, it flashes white. When you hit 25% remaining battery life, the Jambox Voice interrupts what you’re listening to and tells you how much batter life remains. The manual says a fully charged battery should last up to 10 hours. I listen to it a lot and my experience is that the battery life is excellent.
Sound. As I’ve mentioned, I’m no expert and admittedly, I have very little to compare it to but I think this thing has, especially given its size, enormously good sound. I mean, really good sound. To the point where you think, how could this tiny thing sound so damn good? There are moments when the sound is so good that it literally seems like the sound is surrounding your head. The only knock on the sound is that at its loudest, it could still be a bit louder- especially outdoors or in big rooms. Much has been written about this by far more savvy reviewers. If you’re considering it, you shouldn’t be thinking about replacing your stereo with the Jambox, it just won’t get the job done.
Holding it your hands, you can feel the bass pumping deep and solid. Highs are high enough for me and drums kick like they should. Hold the volume +) and volume – simultaneously and “LiveAudio” is turned on (or off). Magically, LiveAudio gives you “3D” sound, basically increasing the sensation that the music is surrounding you. Pretty cool except that with LiveAudio turned on, it decreases the loudest volume a touch so that the already not loud enough loudest setting is even less loud.
I see that Jawbone has now released the BIG Jambox which appears to be a jumbo version of the original Jambox reviewed here. My guess is that this is in response to the lack of volume of the original model and the desire to have bigger sound to fill bigger spaces. It’s also twice as expensive but from what I read, it is a worthy big sibling.
A few words about the Jambox “Voice” I mentioned above. The unit speaks to you. It tells you it is ready to be paired via Bluetooth, it tells you how much battery is left, it tells you the phone number of an incoming call, it tells you if LiveAudio is on or off. The default voice that comes loaded on the unit sounds like a female Japanese flight attendant. Once you have purchased your Jambox, you are encouraged to register a free account on the Jawbone website. Connect your Jambox to your computer via USB for updates and a large variety of MyTalk “voices”. Some are clever some are just plain silly.
You can also get a “JamChain” which is a mount on a plastic chain that enables you to wear your Jambox around your neck. I got one of these off the Jawbone website for free and I (or one of my kids) wears it when we go biking in the park. Kind of silly, but also kind of cool and useful.
If you care a whole lot about the color of your Jambox, no worries, it’s customizable. Purchase it from the Jambox website and, for a price, you can choose from 13 different grill colors and nine different top and bottom “cap” colors.
Bottom line, I really love the Jambox. I don’t care if it’s not loud enough. For its size, solid design and sound quality I’m not sure you can do better.