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Appeared on: Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Aliph Jawbone 2


1. Introduction
About a year or so ago I was able to review the original Aliph Jawbone Headset. At that time, I said "This is the best Bluetooth Headset I have ever used." The only other headset that even came close was the BlueAnt z9 - but the Jawbone was the winner - for lots of reasons.

My only gripe at that time was with the size and "comfort" of the Jawbone. It was big (relative to the Z9 and other headsets) and tricky to find a comfortable fit while wearing glasses. Well, now the Jawbone2 comes along and the first thought that many of us have is "how do you make the best even better?" The answer seems to be "you improve on just about everything." There is now no second place in the world of Bluetooth headsets - there is the Jawbone2 - and everyone else. This headset is truly remarkable in just about every way - read on for the full review.

When I first watched the Jawbone video last year - it seemed like this was allot of hype - too much to believe. When I tried it out for myself, I really was amazed at how this headset totally eliminates outside noise. There is quite a bit under the hood of the new Jawbone - so let's get some of the information from the Aliph Web site:

About Aliph

Aliph was founded in 1999 by Alex Asseily and Hosain Rahman, two young engineering entrepreneurs who met as Stanford undergrads. The pair shared a belief that voice would be the dominant interface for mobile devices and that creating a noise-free environment was critical to delivering an improved mobile communications experience. Aliph is committed to ensuring that mobile users have the best possible experience anywhere, anytime. Since 2002, Aliph's technology has been optimized for DARPA to maximize communications clarity in the most hostile conditions. Aliph's first consumer product, the Jawbone headset, debuted in 2004 to critical acclaim for its marriage of performance, design and comfort. Headquartered in San Francisco, Calif., Aliph is funded by private investors and the Mayfield fund.


2. The science, design

THE SCIENCE

Jawbone eliminates real world noise better than any other headset because it is the only headset that can accurately separate speech from ambient noise.

The mobile phone is the prevailing communication tool for business and personal productivity, and people expect to be able to use their phones in all environments without sacrificing audio quality. Jawbone's patented NoiseAssassin™ technology is unique in its ability to separate speech from ambient noise with remarkable precision. Jawbone's NoiseAssassin is able to achieve this while other headsets cannot due to:

Patented VAS:
Jawbone's Voice Activity Sensor (VAS) is able to detect very accurately when the person is talking and capture the frequencies of his or her speech even in the presence of noise.

Advanced DSP Algorithms:
The NoiseAssassin algorithms were developed over a number of years for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

These required powerful noise suppression algorithms for use in the most extreme acoustic noise environments including battlefields and helicopters. The algorithms use Jawbone's two microphones and the VAS to accurately model the noise environment.

Jawbone detects when and how a person is speaking, models the noise, and aggressively eliminates it.

Conventional "noise eliminating" headsets do not 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. Furthermore, because they can't accurately identify the speech signals, they distort the speech in the process of attempting to eliminate the noise. The result of this distortion is a significant degradation in intelligibility and quality in order to achieve a perceptual reduction in noise.

THE DESIGN



The New Jawbone is the next step in the integration of best in class noise elimination technology with personal design that is both humanistic and minimal.

"The Jawbone strategy we set-out to follow three years ago has proven that products that live on our face need to be designed differently than typical technology wares; we regard them as personal accessories or even jewelry, and, as such, believe they need to be a complete departure from the gadgetry of the mobile and headset industry."Yves Behar, Chief Designer and CCO of Aliph

In the tradition of bringing together beauty and science, the new Jawbone is a miracle of miniaturization and 50% smaller than the original award-winning Jawbone. Every effort has been made to contain best in class noise elimination technology in the most unassuming, yet richly detailed product.

No Visible Buttons
The "invisible button" policy at Jawbone accomplishes a clutter-free look. Touch-surface technology allows the user to operate switches by lightly pressing the outside shield.

Premium Materials
Constructed with ultra-smooth medical-grade plastic, the new Jawbone also comes with optional fine leather earloops.

The Experience
Comprised of an outer shield and inner surface, the new Jawbone experience is two-fold. The outer shield, curved and rectilinear to follow the face, is lightly textured in a sound-reflective progressive relief, a three-dimensional texture visually representative of noise abatement surfaces. This unique surface becomes animated as light creates highlights and shadows when worn. The inner surface, the one touching the face and creating contact with the Voice Activity Sensor, is gently curved to be ergonomic and comfortable on the skin.

OK - now we know how they did it and what they were thinking - so.....On to the review!


3. Using the device

What's in the Box:

Before we look at what comes in the box - we need to look at the box itself. Aliph is almost unrivaled in their packaging. They are able to really captivate the user - you see this thing and you just say "Wow" - I have to have this.

The first thing you notice is that the Jawbone itself is sort of "suspended" in plastic in the upper part of the box - in a very nice plastic stand. The bottom of the box is in a very nice cardboard cover with a sort of embossing of the new headset. Slide out the hard plastic case and inside are two compartments - one says "Power Up" and included the new, proprietary charger and one says "Customize your Fit" and included a series of earbuds and ear loops.

Each section is beautifully packaged and just speaks of quality and thoughtfulness of design. Inside is a pullout with very easy directions to get started quickly.

Design:

"If it's not beautiful, it doesn't belong on your face," said renowned industrial designer Yves Behar, chief designer of the Jawbone headset. He is right - this thing is beautiful. My test unit was all Black - sleek and nicely designed. Gone is the sort of "Mesh" look of the old Jawbone. The Jawbone2 has a nice diamond pattern on the front.

The Jawbone2 is designed with only two buttons - and they are both "invisible." The main button is the "talk/answer" button which sits in the middle of the headset. A very thin LED is also near that button to show you when you are connected to your phone. "White" means you are paired with your phone - short "Red" flashes mean you are out of range.

Towards the back of the front of the headset is the "Noise Assassin" button. Granted, the name is a bit much - but once you use it - you understand why it is called "Noise Assassin."

On the underside of the headset are the Earbud, Earloop slot and the Voice Activity Sensor. The Jawbone2 ships with three earbuds - small, medium and large and four earloops - two are leather and two are a very thin plastic wire.

As the designer stated and as Aliph makes clear right on the box - this is considered "Earwear" - a new genre of accessory - functional, stylish Earwear.

One noteworthy feature is the charger itself. The charger has a USB cable that can either go into an included AC adapter or into the PC. The proprietary end unit of the charging cable is a brilliant "Magnetic" design. The old Jawbone did take a couple of hits in some reviews because of the complicated way the proprietary charge had to click into place. With the new Jawbone - the strong magnetic attachment is almost automatic and very secure.

Ease of Use:

There is a huge amount of technology inside this little headset. The good news is that you never really know how complicated the device is because everything is automatic and seamless. Once the headset is charged and turned on for the first time, it automatically goes into "Pairing" mode. The Jawbone2 connected to my BlackBerry 8320 flawlessly the first time and then automatically every time afterwards.

Volume adjust automatically because of the sophisticated Voice Activity Sensor - it automatically gets louder in noisier situations. You can adjust the volume manually by pressing the Noise Assassin button as well.

Essentially, you press the "Talk" button to answer calls and end calls and your press the Noise Assassin button when you are in "Standby" mode and you initialize voice dialing on your phone. Hit the Noise Assassin button three times and you redial the last call.

Sound/Call Quality:

This is what ultimately matters the most with Bluetooth Headsets - how do we sound to the caller and how to they sound to us. The Jawbone2 has "hands down" the best call quality I have heard in a bluetooth headset - it is that simple. Callers always sounded very clear to me -now, if they were on a crummy headset - they sounded like they were on a crummy headset - but they were always as clear (if not clearer) than using the phone itself.

The amazing part of this headset is how others could hear me when I was in noisy surroundings. I drove with the windows down, turned the radio up, used the headset at the Beach on a windy day - I threw just about everything at this headset to test it. In each case, listeners on the other end could not identify that I was in a "noisy" environment. I compared this to "lesser" headsets and listeners had great trouble hearing me - the Jawbone2 bested the competition time and time again.


4. Overall Conclusions

This is the best headset I have ever tested. If there is a better headset on the market, I haven't heard about it. It is expensive, and it is exclusively at AT&T stores (for now) but it is worth the money and the trip to the store. The design is comfortable and fashionable. It is very powerful, easy to use and the build quality is second to none.

There are a couple of things to be aware of with this headset: - First, the Voice Activity Sensor has to sit against your cheek for it to work right. You just have to get the right fit with the right combination of earbud and earloop. Secondly, if you are "upgrading" from the old Jawbone, beware that the battery life is not quite the same. I could go weeks without charging my old Jawbone. It makes sense, since this is 50% of the size, that the battery life would be less. It is advertised as 4 hours of talk time and 8 days of standby time. In real world tests, I got a little less than four hours of talk time - but it was pretty close.

If you want "The Best" Bluetooth headset - for now, that crown rests atop the Aliph Jawbone2.

Final Grade: A+

Pros: small, amazing noise cancellation, comfortable, crystal clear

Cons: Expensive

The new Jawbone is available today for $129.99 at AT&T retail stores nationwide and online at www.jawbone.com and www.wireless.att.com. Available initially in matte black, it will be coming soon in silver and rose gold.



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