Hands-on: Jawbone Era Lets You Tap to Answer Calls, Shake to Pair (Update: Video!)

Just when you thought Bluetooth headsets couldn't get any more interesting, the Jawbone Era from Aliph comes along. Similar in style to the Icon, Aliph's 2010 earpiece, the Era is wholly different on the inside.  That's because the Era packs a built-in accelerometer that can be used to answer or end calls with two taps of a finger. It can also be used to put the phone into pairing mode with four fast shakes.

The Era can perform other tricks, too. Like the Icon, the new headset speaks to you for incoming caller ID and battery level updates, and users can download and install new voices via the mytalk.jawbone.com portal.

On sale today for $129, the Era landed in our office a little while ago, and we've had some time to play with the device. For a hands-on video, on-camera unboxing, more product shots, and our first impressions, check below.

As is the Jawbone way, the Era is packaged with a lot of theatrics. You can check out our unboxing video below, but know this: Jawbone simultaneously makes it dead-simple and fun to get your product out of the box. Inside the cardboard is the Era headset itself, eight earbud options, optional ear clip, microUSB to USB adapter with an adjustable wire, and wall adapter with a USB port. There's also a foam carrying case and the instruction manual.

Jawbone says the Era can be charged fully in just one hour, and can reach 80 percent in 30 minutes. We plugged the device into our computer and waited 30 minutes. When we unplugged the Era and paired it with a Droid X, a very official-sounding woman said we had five hours of talk time remaining. Sweet.

Wait, let's not skip over pairing, right? Jawbone says you can give the Era four shakes to put it into pairing mode. That worked each time we needed to pair the headset, either to a computer or a smart phone. It's certainly laudable that Aliph took a process that befuddled many and made it easier to execute.

The only downside is that there's no way to get out of pairing mode if you launch it accidentally. Shaking the device another four times either does nothing or just extends the pairing session, and pushing the Era's single button (which gives you a battery status update) doesn't do anything. Once initiated, the device continues to pair for about five minutes, wasting at least some of the battery life the nice official-sounding lady said you had.

Once we were paired and starting talking, the Era was pleasant to use. Tapping the headset to answer incoming calls felt responsive and fast, though one time we accidentally hung up on a caller. While fumbling to adjust the earpiece, our touches were registered as taps.

We could hear all our callers clearly, and only in extreme noisy environments did callers report trouble hearing us. That particular scenario involved us standing near a power generator at Bryant Park that was the size of a tractor trailer. As we walked by the unit, our voice was reported as clear. When we stopped near the generator's noisiest point, our caller said she couldn't hear anything, which was to be expected. For walking around midtown Manhattan during the afternoon traffic rush, the Era held up nicely. Users can thank Jawbone's proprietary noise-cancellation software, NoiseAssassin, for that.

We also noticed that, for a one-piece Bluetooth headset, the Era played back multimedia very well. The company says there's a wide-band speaker in the headset that pumps out high-definition audio. Listening to drum-heavy jazz music while the Era was paired with the Lenovo U260 produced as much detailed sound as listening with our wired headset. Though single-ear multimedia listening is never great, the Era makes it better.

We had no problems walking around our apartment during a Skype session running on our laptop. Our audio quality didn't dip from room to room, according to our caller, and sound artifacts never popped up, even as we wondered into another bedroom about 18 feet away. Aliph says the Era can maintain a connection up to 33 ft.

With a rated talk time of 5.5 hours, standby up to 10 days, effective noise-cancellation, and fast pairing technology, the Jawbone Era is certainly impressive. We foresee at least a few accidentally calls or hang-ups if you're used to fiddling with headsets while you wear them, but if you've got a spare $130 and want to upgrade to a cutting-edge headset, the Era is worth wearing.

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