Jawbone Jambox unboxing and hands-on
- Powerful sound belies tiny size
- Good battery life
- Stylish, durable design
- Mild distortion
- Iffy as speakerphone
Shortly after we posted our original hands-on, we were informed that the Jambox concept isn't remotely new -- it's quite literally an evolution of the Soundmatters foxL v2 with a Jawbone cherry on top. (Update: Read how the two stack up right here.) Part of that is Aliph's trademark noise cancellation technology, but another part is pure industrial design, as the Jambox joins its Jawbone brethren in springing from the mind of Yves Behar. It's a coffee table conversation piece if we've ever seen one, as the six-inch-long Jambox is not obviously a speaker at first sight -- merely a small rectangular box completely enveloped by a delightfully textured one-piece mesh grille, with solid chunks of rubber at top and bottom. When light hits it from just the right angles, however, you can just make out a pair of drivers inside. At about the size of two Nintendo Wii Remotes stacked together, it's not something you'd fit in an average purse, but you could definitely pop it into a shoulder bag, backpack, or a large jeans pocket.
Jawbone made much out of the rigidity of its glass-infused polycarbonate structure and stainless steel grille during an early briefing, and sure enough they make for a rock-solid product here, pleasantly weighty and well-protected from accidental damage. We dropped it twice from four feet onto hard linoleum and noticed neither ding nor audible difference, and pressing lightly on the grille (as a curious child might) didn't dent it in. The Jambox also managed to vibrate itself off a shelf and onto our MacBook Pro's finicky trackpad. Not only did the rubberized Jambox survive unscathed, it also "fixed" the occasionally unresponsive trackpad without causing any cosmetic damage to the MBP's unibody construction. The rubber edges protrude enough for protection and allowed us to set the unit on its back to generate a touch more bass, and also add plenty of grip if you feel like pumping a Jambox-filled fist.
Performance... as a speaker
We ran the Jambox through a gauntlet of tests, ranging from smartphone Pandora sessions all the way through movies, games and carefully ripped lossless audio pulled direct from a discrete PC sound card, and the verdict was clear: the Jambox isn't a magical treasure chest of audiophile bliss, but it is a pretty potent portable speaker that sounds great. Clear mids made our favorite singer-songwriters sound fantastic, while booming lows brought out the best in the synthetic squawks and explosions in our games, and the highs... well, at lower volumes, they were pretty good too, but you'll also hear plenty of distortion with the box cranked up.
The problem -- but also part of the cool factor, don't get us wrong -- is that the Jambox's audio is a very localized, directional phenomenon. Even a stiff, airtight enclosure and moving-wall radiator won't help it override the laws of physics. Even at its best, it sounds like your favorite band is trapped in a tiny box, their sound attempting to escape. The bass has fantastic oomph and the audio plenty of clarity and depth when you're holding the Jambox in your hand, pointed at your face, but it won't fill a large party room (or function terribly well outdoors, as we learned camping out for Black Friday) and still sound like something worth listening to -- and the close-set speakers don't provide much stereo separation to speak of, either. If your social get-together is a bit smaller and less audiophile-centric, though, the battery life may last you all the way through. From a full charge, we were able to stream Pandora over Bluetooth at maximum volume (a worst-case scenario) for five full hours before the box gave up the ghost, and managed well over sixteen hours in mixed testing with a variety of sources and settings.
...as a speakerphone
Thomas Ricker contributed to this review.