Aliph made quite a splash when it introduced its original Jawbone Bluetooth headset, partly because of the unit's DARPA-developed noise-reduction technology, and partly because of the earpiece's stylish design. The company's latest iteration, the Jawbone Prime, enhances both with an evolving design and even better "NoiseAssassin" noise reduction technology.
Externally, the Jawbone Prime isn't dramatically different from the Jawbone 2: a new texture graces the gently curving, rectangular outer shell, and new color choices let you accessorize. The most notable functional change to the design is the Prime's lack of a required earloop. While one is still included in the box, it's optional, as Aliph has redesigned the earpiece with a flexible tip that holds the Jawbone Prime in place by itself.
I have trouble finding a comfortable fit with earbuds, and that was the case with the Jawbone Prime. I played with the various sizes of tips included in the package and failed to find one that fit comfortably and held the device in my ear. Instead, I opted for a generic round earbud and the earloop.
Two buttons--hidden from view, but responsive to clicks--enable you to answer calls and turn the noise-reduction feature on or off. The latter button also lets you adjust volume, cycling in one direction only. I found this approach annoying; I would have preferred separate volume up/down buttons or a rocker switch. A tiny LED on the Prime glows red or white to show you the unit's operational status: red for low charge or power down, white for OK. Unfortunately, the LED only glows when you press a button.
The part of the headset that sits against your face has a tiny white bulb that Aliph calls the Voice Activity Sensor (VAS). In the past, in order for a Jawbone headset to operate effectively, the VAS had to actually touch your face. With the Prime, that's no longer the case, though it certainly sounds better if the VAS is resting on your cheek.
It's the combination of voice-activity detection through the VAS and digital signal processing that's the secret to NoiseAssassin's success, according to Aliph. And to the Jawbone Prime's credit, I found that the noise reduction technology works as advertised in a variety of settings.
In my house, for example, with a table fan turned on and pointed towards me, callers could clearly hear my voice without any distortion. The same held true for walking outside in light breezes and riding in an automobile, though my voice came through softer in those environments--I occasionally had to speak up to be heard clearly.
As for the clarity of incoming calls, I found the volume level left a bit to be desired, and the sound quality was a bit tinny, regardless of the eartip I used.
The Jawbone Prime recharges using a custom power cable that connects to a USB port on your computer or the included AC adapter. Aliph claims the Jawbone Prime's battery lasts for about 4.5 hours of talk time or about eight days of standby time; I saw no reason to dispute these claims based on my informal tests.
It's hard to go wrong with a Jawbone if you're looking for an unobtrusive but stylish headset to complement your iPhone. Aliph even makes the Prime in a variety of designer colors--you're not stuck with black or silver. But the Prime isn't without limitations. Aliph's vaunted NoiseAssassin noise reduction technology notwithstanding, the Jawbone Prime's volume level and call-reception quality make it less appealing to me than Plantronics' superlative Voyager Pro headset, which I previously reviewed.