Jawbone Jambox. Jawbone Jambox. Jawbone Jambox. Try saying it 10 times fast — if you get anywhere close, you’re doing better than me.
Aliph (known for their high-end Jawbone Bluetooth headsets) just announced their newest product venture: high-end Bluetooth Speakers. They were nice enough to swing me a review unit a few hours early. The downside: I’ve been saying and writing “Jawbone Jambox” over and over all evening, so my brain can no longer parse either “Jawbone” or “Jambox” as real, properly spelled words. The upside: I’ve got a nice unboxing video, along with my impressions thus far, ready for your perusal.
At an MSRP of $200 dollars, the Jawbone Jambox is pretty much in a league of its own. Very, very few portable Bluetooth speakers dare venture anywhere near that price point — but at the same time, very few offer a 10 hour battery life, a tiny 12 oz package, and expandability by way of firmware and add-on applications.
With that said, when a product’s primary purpose is to make sound, there’s really only one question that matters: How does it sound?
The Jawbone Jambox sounds good. Not great. Does it sound better than the speaker on my iPhone, or my iPad? Absolutely. Does it sound better than any other portable Bluetooth speaker I’ve heard? Yes. Is it good enough to warrant that 200 dollar price tag? No.
Aliph put a helluva lot of research into building these things, hiring people with 40+ years of acoustics work behind them. Even if they hadn’t told me that, you can tell just by listening to it: for a box so small (and so battery-powered!), the noise that comes out of it is pretty dang decent.
Alas, that’s much like boasting that your 12 year old has a slightly better laptime than aaaaall the kids in his 8-and-under swim class. At $200, and with a product history like Aliph’s, the Jambox needs to blow minds. If Aliph is going to start building Bluetooth speakers, they need to build things that would make people say “Holy crap! That’s Bluetooth? And it’s BATTERY POWERED?!”
The Jambox doesn’t do that. It’s loud, but you’ll often be trying to make it a biiit louder. The bass is there, but it’s just enough that you’re left wondering if you’re imagining things. None of this seems to be a limitation of the Bluetooth protocols involved, either — even plugged into the 3.5mm jack on the side, the sound is only marginally better.
(From left to right: The Action [Talk] button, Volume down, and Volume up button. I spent 5 minutes thinking the Volume up button was a tiny D-pad. )
With their Jawbone Icon Bluetooth headset, Aliph introduced their myTALK platform, which allows users to customize their device with add-on apps after purchase. Through these apps, the action button (the one used to answer and end calls) can be modified to do different things when held rather than the default setting of triggering your phones voice command feature. Want it to speed dial a specific number? Sure. Voice-to-sms? Why not!
Aliph brought the myTalk platform over to the Jambox, offering up these same apps as examples. When you think about it, though, do any of these apps really make sense here? With something like the Icon, you’d often have easier access to your headset than you would your pocketed phone. The headset can serve as a remote. With a Bluetooth Speaker, though, it seems you’d almost always be closer to your phone, controlling music and what not. Why use a stick when you can use a sword?
That’s not to bash the idea of Jambox expandability as a whole; i’m sure there’s a ton of potential here. The current apps just aren’t really showing it.
As a speakerphone:
With 4 years of headset history behind’em, Aliph came into this field with one real, undeniable specialty: makin’ calls. As such, you’d probably expect the Jambox to rock at it — and you’d be right. Inbound voice quality was great, and the folks on the other end could hear me loud and clear even when I was across the room. The Jambox is a really, really good speakerphone.
For its size and battery-powered-ness, the Jambox makes some surprising sound. For its price tag, however, it falls short. I’m sorry, Aliph; I dig damn everything you guys do, but the Jambox just isn’t for me.