Jambox by Jawbone Review

“Ohhhh! It’s the hipster speaker!” – @didip

That’s what my co-worker said when he walked into the office this morning. Waiting for me when I got to work was the new Jambox by Jawbone. You may remember the video for the Jambox that went around the interwebs that featured a hipster looking dude and set the tone that these speakers that could replace your stereo as well as your conference phone in your office. Well guess what? I tend to be on daily of conference calls (via IAX via Zoiper) and we really needed a stereo for our PDX Studio, so a pre-order was made and the Jambox was delivered!

[st flickr=http://api.flickr.com/services/feeds/photoset.gne?set=72157625397638016&nsid=71881727@N00&lang=en-us]

More photos of the Jambox on my flickr.

The first thing you’ll notice is that it comes in a shoe box (hipster) with a screen printed boombox on the top. I will admit, the design and packaging is very apple, but urban hipster instead of the modernist-chic of Jonathan Ivey, and it’s pretty sexy. Upon taking the top off, I took out the Jambox and put it on the desk and tried to turn it on, nada. This thing doesn’t seem to come with a charge. So I hooked it up and pushed the top button, again, nothing. Finally I noticed there’s a sliding switch on the side, slid that on, and it announced it was ready to pair. The Jambox seems to have a few status messages that are spoken aloud to you. I like this.

I also love the size and weight. The Jambox is TINY! It’s smaller than a chipotle burrito. It’s lighter too!

It was pretty easy to get the Jambox to initially pair with my Macbook Pro (10.6.5 fwiw). I fired up iTunes and played some toons and it sounded terrible! I was a little bummed, but I soldiered on. My co-worker and I started trying to connect other devices, my iPhone, my MBP but using Zoiper to make a call, and in this process we figured out that we had the Jambox sitting on it’s side! Looking back, I can see how they intend for you to use it, but my co-worker and I are pretty smart guys (heck, he’s even got a CS degree!) and we had literally no idea which end was up. Here’s the good news, when you do get the Jambox right side up, it sounds awesome.

Let me tell you a little about our office. It’s got 16 foot ceilings, it’s about 12 x 12 and it’s one of the more echo-y places I’ve ever been. Using my trusty Harmon Kardon iSticks, audio sounds pretty terrible in this office. However the Jambox actually lives up to it’s marketing. For a tiny (this thing is just slightly longer than a sharpie), wireless, and battery powered speaker it sounds great! It’s got so much bass, it makes my desk vibrate and will even dance across the table. And surprisingly enough, it’s actually less echo-y in our little studio than the multi-hundered dollar, USB speaker system.

As a speaker phone, I haven’t used it for any long meetings yet, but initial tests are great. In our cave, using the built in input and output of a MacBook Pro results in terrible echo and looping even in Apple’s iChat (which does noise canceling). The Jambox exhibited none of this behavior. I’ll tweet more about this when I use it tomorrow on a few hour-long calls. Certainly, the on-board echo canceling Jawbone is known for is very nice on this unit.

However, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows: Bluetooth audio still kinda sucks. I spent a fair amount of time trying to reboot the Jambox, trying to get the computer to forget it so that the iPhone would notice it (when it did, it worked/sounded awesome), and quite a bit of time trying to make the MBP recognize the Jambox as an audio input/output device. This was not easy and led to much frustration which turned in to, at the end of the day, somehow having the bluetooth in my MBP completely turn off necessitating a reboot of the computer to get bluetooth to turn back on again (annoying when you’re also using a bt mouse). By far, the biggest letdown of an otherwise satisfying user experience, is that using it wirelessly, with multiple devices, totally sucks. The other weird thing is that the Jambox shows up as 2 types of outputs, one a “headset” and one a “speaker”. I don’t know when to use which, or what the ramifications are of doing either. Also, I had the absolute worst luck trying to get the Jambox to work with Zoiper. I think the final combination was, turn on the Jambox, pair with the macbook pro, choose it as an input/output, and finally start up Zoiper (with the Jambox already programmed as the input/output in the preferences). How this will work when I use Zoiper with headphones later on, we’ll see.

Overall, is it worth $200? I’d say the jury is still out. I find it hard to recommend it at this point, because the bluetooth stuff seems like completely voodoo to get working, but maybe after I better figure out pairing with different devices I’ll change my mind. For the price, you can buy some seriously good speakers, and its hard to tell how Apple’s Airplay technology is going to shake out on the speaker-system front (numerous manufacturers have announced support, but I haven’t seen any products hit the market). I certainly would find wifi based speakers more appealing, but I doubt we’ll see Airplay speakers that can also work as a noise canceling speaker phone for a small office/conference room.

  • Thanks for posting this very helpful review. It sounds to me like the Jambox is yet another product made by people who think “design” begins and ends with “industrial design”: The box is sexy, the packaging is sexy, but it’s the behavior that ruins the experience. Interaction design is what you need to craft good behavior. I think I’ll put my purchase of a Jambox on hold…

    • BJ Clark

      Alan,
      I totally agree. I wonder how much of the interaction design issues are unavoidable (ha!) by Jawbone because of issues inherent in Bluetooth (which was obviously designed by the “inmates”) and how many issues are from the Jambox itself. It’s hard to say. There are certainly interactions that are nice, such as speaking battery levels, and startup-shutdown specific noises when turning the unit on and off. Also, it seems like the interaction from iPhone and iPad are much more pleasant, but this is mostly because once you pair, anytime you start some kind of audio playing (such as making a phone call), it asks you if it should use bluetooth.

      Certainly, I hope they can work the BT issues worked out in version 2.

  • Stephen

    BJ-I think you missed on 2 important points.

    #1. The device is living, breathing and upgradable via the MyTALK website. So you don’t have to wait for version 2’s and 33’s because they can release new firmware daily if they wanted.

    #2. I highly doubt they would put in all of the good interaction (voice alerts, etc.) yet fail to pay any attention to Bluetooth interop….there’s just no way. I don’t think I have used Bluetooth on any device where it didn’t have hook ups.

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  • Interesting that Bluetooth is wonky on the Mac in very similar ways to linux/bluetooth wonkiness. I’ve had issues on some machines where “plugging in” my bluetooth headset makes the bluetooth mouse go all wonky. I also sometimes have my BT completely shut off after a day or so of use. I wonder how much it has to do with the OS, and how much to do with the actual BT hardware.

    The speaker/headset thing has to do with bluetooth audio “profiles” – most BT audio devices can either do the “headset” profile, which is two-way but lower quality; and the A2DP “speaker” profile, which is higher quality but output-only.

  • David

    I’m still a little confused by mine – the same song played from my iPhone which sounds great via bluetooth, sounds like rubbish from the Macbook Pro, bluetooth or wired – is this everyone else’s experience? Do i need to change a setting? I’m seriously considering returning it…which i hate to because it sounds pretty good, but i’m not convinced it was worth $200 if i can’t even plug it in to get great sound from my laptop.