Review of the Jawbone Prime Headset

The Jawbone Prime is a Bluetooth headset that allows you to talk hands-free without attaching any wires to your phone. Note that your phone MUST have Bluetooth for this headset to be of any use to you.

Last Updated: 03-Oct-2009

I would like to thank Howard Chu for lending me his Jawbone Prime.

Itís been quite some time since I did my last Bluetooth headset review (almost 6 years in fact) and so I fully expected the quality of the devices to have improved accordingly with time. I also expected that the current iteration of the much-touted Jawbone headset would be a wonder of modern technology and put the old devices to shame. I was in for a rather nasty surprise.

Let me say right off that the Jawbone does manage to live up to its hype concerning noise cancellation, but aside from that I found virtually nothing to like about this device. It starts with form-over-function design philosophy in which usability and practicality take a backseat to style. This is most evident the first time you try to press the Jawbone into your ear while you are in a call. Itís virtually impossible to do without inadvertently hanging up. This is because the engineers tried to create a buttonless design in which all of the functional buttons are actuated by pressing on parts of the shell. Looks great, works terribly.

To their credit the designers provide numerous ways of wearing the earpiece and they include a wide range of grommets to best fit the userís ear. It also includes a hook for putting around the ear, but I just couldnít find a combination that worked for me. Maybe my ear is just weird, but at no time did I ever feel comfortable wearing this device.

But letís put the mechanical deficiencies of this product aside for a moment and deal with the issues that are paramount to a device whose sole purpose is to act as a speaker and a microphone. How does this thing sound? Well, on the incoming side the tonal balance is tinny with a thin quality that just doesnít come close to matching what one would expect from such an expensive earpiece. Granted, the overall clarity is good, but it sounds like a cheap earplug from an old AM radio circa 1970.

Outgoing tonal balance is quite the opposite with a rather muddy quality to it. Even when there is no background noise the sound is muffled and indistinct compared to the native microphone of my Nokia N95, on which I performed the tests. Once background noise is present however, the sound quality just goes downhill from there.

While the Jawbone Prime does a remarkable job of blotting out the background noise, it does so at the expense of the userís voice. The sound becomes choppy and far less distinct as more and more noise is blanked. The tonal balance doesnít really change, but the overall clarity most certainly does. However, I will say that under severe noise conditions it is preferable to listen to someone calling on the Jawbone than on any other type of microphone where the background noises get through.

Perhaps one of the most annoying aspects of the Jawboneís noise reduction (from the viewpoint of the person at the other end of the line) is the dead silence when the user isn't talking. Under these circumstances it makes the caller think the connection has dropped. Itís very frustrating, and itís why comfort noise was developed. Too bad the Jawbone doesnít offer this feature.

Finally, donít get me started on the packaging. I spent an inordinate amount of time dreaming of sarcastic ways to mention this, but in the end I just decided to come right and say that Jawbone Prime has some of the most incredibly wasteful Earth-hating packaging you could possibly imagine. The volume of plastic used in the box far exceeds the amount consumed by the earpiece and its charger combined and I saw no mention that theyíd used recycled plastic.

So there you have it. I could find no redeeming features of the Jawbone Prime that would temp me to personally plunk down over $100 for one. In fact, I'd be loathe to use it even if someone gave me one for free. The sound quality on both incoming and outgoing calls is just so below what I've come to expect from cell phones that using this device would feel like taking a giant step back in time. It does only one things well, and that's to blank background noise. So, if you have a serious problem with your callers complaining about the background noise when to speak with them, the Jawbone Prime might be a reasonably solution for you, but for day-to-day use I simply cannot recommend this Bluetooth headset.

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