Jambox Makes IPads Sing, Smartphones Squawk: Rich Jaroslovsky

I admit it: I’m not the easiest person to sit near in the office. Just now, for instance, I’m engaged in a stirring iPhone game of Bejeweled 2 that’s being accompanied by a thoroughly distracting cacophony of clinks, crashes and booms. A couple of minutes ago, I was playing Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” at what might be described as on the loud side.

The soundtrack comes courtesy of a new miniature wireless speaker called a Jambox. It’s from Aliph, the company that makes the best-of-breed Jawbone phone headset, and it is a palm-sized package of sonic fun.

The Jambox, which has roughly the dimensions of a blackboard eraser, allows you to play all kinds of sounds from your smartphone, Apple iPad or other Bluetooth-enabled device. It’s small enough and, at about 12 ounces light enough, to toss into a suitcase or laptop bag, and simple enough that there’s no learning curve to speak of. It provides an out-loud experience that, if it doesn’t rival full-fledged stereo speakers, is still far superior to the audio that mobile devices can put out for themselves.

When would you use a Jambox, other than to annoy your co- workers? Perhaps you’re in a hotel room, and want to listen to your music while you’re getting dressed. Or maybe you’re watching a movie on your iPad with someone else, and want better sound than the tablet’s built-in speakers provide.

Wireless Squawkbox

The Jambox also functions as a wireless squawkbox for conference calls on your smartphone -- it has its own built-in microphone -- so road warriors might even be able to justify the $199 price tag on business grounds.

The compact Jambox feels solid in the hand. The top and base are rubberized while the metallic speaker grille wraps around the unit. Aliph, which has been devoting a good deal of effort to glamorizing the industrial design of its headsets, has done a similarly nice job with the Jambox, making it available in four colors, each with a different grille texture.

Set-up is almost startlingly simple. The Jambox is built around two interconnected technologies: Bluetooth, which allows wireless connections between devices at a range of at least 33 feet (10 meters), and A2DP, a Bluetooth standard for streaming stereo audio.

The first time the unit is turned on, a voice announces, “Jambox is in pairing mode, waiting for device to connect.” While the user guide provides instructions for entering a code on your mobile device to link it with your Jambox, it isn’t even necessary in many cases. The Jambox will just show up on your list of available connections; choose it, and you’re done.

Thumping Bass

I found the sound to be quite good, given the device’s small size. Movie dialogue is clear, music is crisp, and the unit does a particularly nice job delivering a thumping bass, an ability that sometimes eludes compact speakers. You won’t mistake it for a expensive set of stereo headphones, but it’s as good as, or better than, the best speakers I’ve heard on a laptop computer.

There are three buttons on the top; two of them control the volume and the third performs multiple functions, including answering and hanging up incoming phone calls. Along the side are the power button, a stereo jack in case you want a direct connection with your audio source, and a micro-USB port that allows you to charge the internal battery either from the wall or by attaching it to a computer.

Double Duty

The computer connection performs double duty: Through it, you can install apps -- foreign languages, speed dialers and the like -- downloaded from Aliph’s MyTalk site, which it launched in conjunction with its Icon line of headsets. While I so far haven’t felt a compelling need to run apps on the Jambox, it does offer the promise of being able to customize and add features to the device in the future.

One feature worth downloading, which unfortunately wasn’t yet available while I was testing the Jambox but is promised for launch, is multipoint. That’s the ability to have two devices paired with the speaker simultaneously, so that if, for instance, you’re watching a movie on your iPad and a call comes in on your Google Android smartphone, the Jambox can seamlessly switch into speakerphone mode.

Aliph says the Jambox can play for eight hours on a single charge, depending on how loud you have it cranked up. Of greater concern on the power front may be the impact on your handheld’s battery. Particularly if you’re using a device that doesn’t allow you to swap in a spare battery -- Apple’s iGadgets or Nokia’s N8, for instance -- make sure that a marathon session of Angry Birds doesn’t inadvertently knock out your ability to make a critical phone call.

The Jambox is currently available for pre-order from the Jawbone website and is due to show up in Best Buy Co. and Apple retail stores the week after next. Some people may be put off by the $199 price, though Aliph does include a nice assortment of accessories in the box: a carrying case, stereo cable, wall adapter and both a long and a short USB cable.

In all honesty, the Jambox isn’t a must-have. But it certainly is a fun-to-have -- for you, if not necessarily for your office-mates.

Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Rich Jaroslovsky in San Francisco at rjaroslovsky@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this column: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net

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