What Happened to Bluetooth Earpieces? / by Erin Wade

As a general rule, I fall into the "if it can be texted instead, it should be texted" school of thought. Despite this, I end up talking on the phone a fair amount, particularly for work.

If I must talk on the phone, I do not want to be stuck actually holding the device up to my ear like an animal. For years my go-to device for solving this particular first-world problem has been a Jawbone Era. However, time appears to be taking its toll on the device - it no longer activates voice control as it is supposed to, and when the little British voice promises "four hours of talk time remaining" she proves herself a liar a short time later, announcing I have only fifteen minutes left (I have blown right past the fifteen minute mark with no problems multiple times, so perhaps it's due to onset of earpiece dementia rather than deceit). More importantly, either the sound quality, or my ear quality, has declined to the point that it's often hard to hear conversations at full volume.

I've gotten a good five years out of the device, and it's endured some harsh treatment, spending time in my pocket with keys, for example, and at least once being dropped out of my ear while at downhill biking speeds, so I can't complain about the use I've gotten from it, but it is clearly time to look for something new. My first stop on this journey, given those five years of good service, would normally have been to look a the new offerings from Jawbone.

There aren't any. Though the website blog denies it, Jawbone appears to be going through hard times. Once a seller of high-end earpieces and Bluetooth speakers they shifted their focus to fitness trackers a few years ago. The earpieces are almost impossible to find on their website, and are marked "sold out" when you do find them; and, as for the fitness trackers... well... how often do you see someone wearing a Jawbone Up?

So, with a heavy heart I went looking elsewhere.

What I am finding is that the market for these types of devices appears to have changed. Because the time that I spend talking on the phone is virtually always for work, my priorities are on audio clarity in both directions. For that reason, I tend to look towards the higher end devices for features like noise reduction and with the expectation of good call quality. What I'm finding is that there doesn't appear to be much of a high end market any longer (which might explain a thing or two about Jawbone's change in focus). There are a few - The Wirecutter recommends the Plantronics Voyager Edge, with a couple of runners-up to consider, including the Plantronics Explorer 500, which they prefer for noisy environments like the car (The Wirecutter does a pretty good review). Given my use, the Explorer looked like the device for me.

Unfortunately, you apparently cannot get it with free shipping through Amazon, and multiple attempts to purchase through Plantronics website resulted, each time, in this:

Session Timeout

Very frustrating and rendered in Times New Roman, which makes it inexcusable.

This leaves me, today, somewhat in Limbo. And it makes me think: I have been using my Jumbl receiver with cheapie earbuds in the interim because I can hear the calls much better through them than with my Jawbone, and I'm not getting complaints from the folks on the other end of the call. The Jumbl costs $19.99 on Amazon...

...And maybe this is the sort of thing that has happened to the Bluetooth earpiece market...

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