Now that smartphones are becoming ubiquitous -- and especially because the holiday shopping season now starts somewhere around Halloween -- there are more semi-luxury items starting to hit the market. These are things that you don't necessarily need, but that you might want, either for yourself or for your family -- and that cost a bit more than you'd ordinarily want to spend.
One item that definitely belongs in this category is Jawbone's new Jambox Bluetooth speaker. This small, stylish device does double duty as an straightforward audio speaker and a speakerphone. It bears a list price of $199.
Jawbone is known mainly for its stylish consumer-level Bluetooth headsets -- and in fact, the Jambox can actually be seen as a sort of extension of the company's latest headset, the Jawbone Icon. Both use Jawbone's MyTalk service, which allows you to customize your device -- letting you, for example, quickly access a frequently-used number, use voice dialing, or choose one of several different "personalities" to announce who is calling or how much battery life is left.
The look of the speaker -- as with the Icon -- is definitely one of its selling points. The Jambox is a 5.9 x 2.2 x 1.6 in. rectangular device that comes in black, gray, blue or red; at 12 oz., it's very portable, although the weight will be a noticeable addition if you drop it into your backpack. The grilled metal body is protected on the top and bottom by thick rubber bumpers (somewhat reassuring for those of us who tend to drop our mobile tech).
There are three control buttons on the top: two volume buttons in the shape of a minus and a plus sign, and a multifunction Talk button that lets you interact with the apps, start or begin a call, or find out what your battery life is.
After playing around a bit with the Jambox, I can report that it really does work quite nicely. After pairing it with my Droid, I was able to play music from my own collection and from Pandora; while I don't have the ear for the subtleties of musical pitch and tone that others have, I found the quality a vast improvement over the phone itself and over cheaper (and smaller) mobile speakers.
Its phone features also worked well. I could use my phone's voice dial with unexpected ease; and was able to take an incoming call (by tapping the Talk button) or refuse it (by holding the button down for several seconds). When I took a call, or when I made one, the music continued as soon as I hung up; it didn't continue automatically when I refused a call, but I'm not sure whether that was a function of my Droid or of the speaker.
I also have to say that I was amused by the various "personalities" that you can load into the device (I chose a rather frivolous male voice who sang out, "Ta ta!" when I refused a call).
According to Jawbone, the speaker has a maximum range of about 33 feet; I was able to take my phone down the hall and into another room (about 25 feet), and downstairs to the first floor of my home, with no interruption of signal.
Does the Jambox compare favorably to similarly-priced hardwired audio speakers? Probably not. But it's ideal for a working area where you are both playing audio and taking calls -- especially if you want to impress your clients or friends with your sense of style.
This story, "Jawbone's Jambox Speaker: Stylish, Practical and Reasonably Mobile" was originally published by Computerworld.