Aliph, better known for its Jawbone line of Bluetooth headsets (including the Icon, Prime, and EarCandy), has taken the company’s first foray into the world of Bluetooth speakers with the Jawbone Jambox. I had high expectations for the Jambox, given the company’s expertise in the areas of Bluetooth technology and audio fidelity, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The Jambox is available in four different colors: blue, red, black, and gray. As with the Icon headset line, each Jambox color sports its own unique texture—the blue version (which I reviewed) has a wavy look, the red one wears dots, and the black and gray models each use a different pattern of triangles. The Jambox is cargo-pants-pocket-friendly, measuring 6 inches wide, 2.2 inches deep, and 1.6 inches tall, and weighing just 1.5 pounds.
In size and sound, the Jambox is very similar to the SoundMatters FoxL v2 ( ), as the two products share a common ancestry. According to Aliph, the company licensed the “core analog acoustics” of the FoxL, but modified the enclosure, improved the Bluetooth circuitry and antenna performance, and included Aliph’s DSP (digital signal processing) technology. I loved the FoxL v2 when I tested it, and Aliph’s take improves on several of the FoxL’s few weaknesses. One example is the Jambox’s construction: the FoxL sported a flimsy kickstand and included a thin, rubber mat to place underneath the speaker to prevent it from vibrating around your tabletop. The Jambox employs a solidly rectangular shape, and its top and base are solid rubber—you don’t need a stand, and the unit won’t dance around even when you pump out bass-heavy tunes. (This rubber, along with solid construction, make the Jambox durable, as well—when I met with the company, Aliph CEO Hosain Rahman dropped the unit from several feet onto a table without visible damage to either.)
The top of the Jambox includes three buttons: Volume Up, Volume Down, and Talk. You use the Talk button to answer and end speakerphone calls, access DialApps (more on those in a bit), or trigger a voice alert that tells you how many more hours of listening time you have left. On the right-hand edge of the Jambox is a backlit power switch, along with a 1/8-inch (3.5mm) stereo auxiliary-input jack and a micro-USB port.
When you first turn on the Jambox, it automatically enters pairing mode. If you need to pair with a different device at a later time, you slide the power switch up to the On position and hold it there for a couple seconds. A voice then announces, through the speakers, that the unit is ready to pair. I had no trouble pairing the unit with my Mac, my iPhone, and my iPad.
You charge the Jambox through its micro-USB port. Using the included AC adapter, you can get to approximately 80 percent of capacity in 90 minutes, or charge completely in about 2.5 hours. You can also use any other powered USB port, though charging from a computer’s USB port takes longer. Aliph says you should get eight hours of battery life (depending on listening volume, of course) from a single charge. I found that I got at least that much, and usually more.
You can use the micro-USB port for more than just charging, though. Aliph dubs the Jambox “the world’s first intelligent wireless speaker,” because it can interact with the MyTALK service that the company first introduced with the Icon headset. With MyTALK, you can install “apps” onto the Jambox—specifically, new voices for some of the Jambox’s spoken announcements, as well as the aforementioned DialApps. These apps let you listen to your emails, navigate (and post to) Facebook and Twitter, or dictate SMS messages. During my testing, I installed the “Be Super” audio app, which uses an over-the-top superhero-esque voice for announcing phone calls and voice dialing. Oddly, while most announcements used the new voice, the announcements for remaining battery life and pairing mode continued to use the stock—though pleasant—female voice.
One MyTALK feature that I’m most looking forward to installing is Simultaneous Multipoint. It’s a technology that lets you connect two Bluetooth devices to the Jambox at once—for example, your iPad and your iPhone. You’ll then be able to, say, play Flight Control on your iPad, with the game’s audio belting from the Jambox; if a call comes in on your iPhone, you can pause the game and take that call, with the Jambox’s audio automatically switching from the iPad to your iPhone. Unfortunately, this feature wasn’t available in time for me to test.
The Jambox comes well-packed in a cleverly-organized, shoebox-style package. Included are two USB cables that work with the included AC adapter or your computer’s USB port: a 60-inch version and a shorter 12-inch cable. The shorter cable comes in handy for travel or when the Jambox is close enough to an outlet to charge during use. Also in the box are a 36-inch-long, 1/8-inch audio cable for connecting to non-Bluetooth devices, and a snug, fabric travel pouch. (The pouch fits just the Jambox, not its various accessories.)
Like the FoxL, the Jambox’s sound quality is excellent, particularly given its size. That so much oomph can come from such a tiny package is amazing. Audio is clear and distortion-free, even at very loud levels, and the upper-bass presence is impressive—significant enough that I could really feel it at louder volumes, which you would never expect from such a small speaker. I found the Jambox’s overall sound quality to be top-notch for music, movies, and game audio, and especially enjoyed using it as a wireless speaker for the iPad while playing games and streaming video using the Netflix app.
As for speakerphone audio quality, callers told me they knew that I was on a speakerphone, but they could hear me—and I them—just fine. I did have one complaint here, though: When using the Jambox as a speakerphone, I needed to increase the Jambox’s volume level quite a bit, because callers consistently sounded much quieter than anything else I listened to. But if I forgot to turn down the volume before I switched back to listening to music—or, in the case of the iPhone, if I didn’t have time to turn it down before the call ended and that switch happened automatically—the Jambox would start blaring out my music. This isn’t a dealbreaker, but it’s certainly something to be aware of.
My only other complaint is about as minor as can be: At one point while rocking out to the Jambox, I noticed that something sounded off. I eventually noticed that, thanks to the unit’s symmetrical, uniform look, I had placed the unit facing away from me. After I made that silly mistake once, I learned how the buttons on top should be oriented and never made that mistake again.
Macworld’s buying advice
Despite the call-volume issue, I loved the Jawbone Jambox—its look, its features, its portability, and its sound are each top-notch, and the MyTALK apps offer a nice bit of extra functionality. I would recommend the Jambox to anyone in the market for a portable Bluetooth speaker.