Jawbone's latest portable speaker untethers the mobile audio experience for smartphones, tablets and notebooks via Bluetooth. Yes, this device is bulkier and pricier than the original Jambox, but the Big Jambox also promises much bigger sound along with apps to customize the experience. Find out if this $299 speaker lives up to its name.
The distinctive Yves Behar-designed grille (available in graphite, red or white) covers four of the speaker's sides, with large rubber buttons on top and eight rubber stabilizers on the bottom. Underneath the grille are two 2.25-inch drivers and dual passive bass radiators. The power and pairing buttons as well as jacks for AC charging, audio line-in and microUSB are on the unit's right side.
Measuring 10.1 x 3.7 x 3.2 inches and weighing 2.7 pounds -- as much as some ultraportable laptops -- the Big Jambox is about the same size and weight as the Bose SoundLink (5.1 x 9.6 x 1.9 inches, 2.9 pounds).
Included are microUSB and 3.5mm line-in cables, though there's no travel pouch. For mobile protection, you can pick up a carry case for $49.99 (or $24.99 bundled with the speaker). The metal speaker grille feels sturdy, but we wish it came with some sort of protection; the Bose SoundLink II, by contrast, has a built-in grille cover, and the Braven 650 comes with a bag.
Setup & Operation
Pairing the Big Jambox is simple: put any Bluetooth-equipped device in discoverable mode, press the Jambox's pairing button to initiate the handshake, and select the Big Jambox on your device.
The built-in rechargeable battery is rated for up to 15 hours, but typical usage yields around 11 hours. While the Big Jambox's microUSB port can be used for charging the speaker, it does so at a glacial pace. iOS users can see the speaker's battery life in a headset icon at the top of their screens, while Android users can download a free app with a battery meter and a few scheduling and voice-activation features. (There are currently no apps for other platforms.)
Using the large rubber buttons -- shaped according to their function -- is a pleasure, and the rubber feet on bottom keep the speaker from vibrating on hard surfaces. Holding down the + and - volume buttons turns on the LiveAudio feature (more on that later).
The "J" button activates the speakerphone, though you can customize the button's function via the MyTalk website after a brief signup and software install. These DialApps let you configure the "J" button to do things such as voice dialing, access Siri on iOS devices, and access favorite numbers.
To install an app, users must first download the Jawbone Updater software onto their PC or Mac. From there, you plug the speaker into your notebook to sync apps and recent driver updates from the MyTalk website. Too bad you can have only one AudioApp and one DialApp activated at any given time.
Jawbone Companion for Android lets users hear calendar alerts through the Jambox and display the speaker's battery meter on the phone.
You can also customize the voice that greets you when you power the Big Jambox on or off, pair it, or drain the battery halfway or less. Some of the voices, like the Mobster, are actually pretty funny; oddly (as of this writing) the voice that tells you when LiveAudio is turned on or off does not change.
Music from the Big Jambox generally sounded crisp with an emphasis on treble, making the speaker sound very bright. Bass response wasn't as strong as on the Bose Soundlink II, and deep bass from the likes of Bass Mekanik disappears. However, bass guitar on Bob Marley tracks like "Exodus" came across with decent power. Our test unit distorted very slightly at top volume, but otherwise the sound held together well. Movie explosions in "The Bourne Legacy" came through reasonably well, and dialogue was clear.
The LiveAudio feature adjusts the timing of sounds so they reach your ears as though they are not coming from a 10-inch-long box, attempting to make the spatial cues more realistic. This feature works OK for movies, though it lowers the overall volume and shoves the dialogue into the background a bit. Forget about using LiveAudio with most music -- it mangled our rock, reggae and jazz test tracks. Fortunately, Jawbone maintains playlists on services such as Spotify and MOG containing music that works well with the LiveAudio feature.
In general, upper bass had less impact on the Big Jambox than on the Bose SoundLink II. The net result is that while tracks such as Bob Marley's "Exodus" will still sound punchy on the Big Jambox, it will sound warmer and fuller on the SoundLink. And when a drone missile strikes a secluded mountain cabin in "The Bourne Legacy," the Big Jambox's LiveAudio feature gives you better spatial cues as the missile comes in, but the SoundLink has a deeper rumble to it during the explosion. Gunshots actually sounded crisper on the Big Jambox.
Speakerphone calls were clear on both ends, and we could be heard well from anywhere in the room in relation to the speaker.
Like its smaller brother, the $299 Jawbone Big Jambox has a stylish design and clever features, such as LiveAudio and speakerphone capability. Those who are solely interested in audio quality will prefer the Bose SoundLink, though that device lacks the ability to make and receive calls. But if you're looking for a multipurpose portable speaker with large sound, the Big Jambox is worth a listen.