Hulk-Size Jambox Might Annoy Neighbors: Rich Jaroslovsky

Rich Jaroslovsky
Rich Jaroslovsky, technology columnist with Bloomberg News. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

You may already know about the Jambox, the colorful, blackboard-eraser-size, toss-it-in-your-bag-and-go wireless speaker for iPads, iPhones and other mobile devices.

Now meet Big Jambox. It’s a lot like the Jambox, only... well, you get the picture. If it’s a little less fun than its baby brother -- and, at $300, a hundred bucks more expensive -- it does a few more tricks too.

Big Jambox is from Jawbone, which is known for its line of Bluetooth headsets and mobile accessories that combine advanced electronics, ease of use and distinctive design. That description applies precisely to Big Jambox, with its quick set-up, easy-to-use controls and surprisingly full sound.

You can hold the regular Jambox in the palm of your hand. Not so Big Jambox, unless you’ve got palms the size of the Incredible Hulk.

At 10 inches long, 3.1 inches wide and 3.6 inches tall, it’s roughly the size of a football. Its weight, 2.7 pounds, makes it easy to move from room to room or to toss into the back seat for a picnic, less so if you’re thinking of taking it along on a business trip. Jawbone says it will run for up to 15 hours on a single charge.

Yves Behar

Big Jambox comes in black, white and red, each with its own distinctive grill pattern. Designed by Yves Behar -- also responsible for the Peel TV remote device and New York City’s free NYC Condoms campaign -- its high styling practically screams “Use me with Apple products!” Yet it eschews Apple’s proprietary AirPlay format in favor of plain old Bluetooth.

There are tradeoffs in that decision. AirPlay speakers work at longer range and tend to have better sound. But there are benefits as well, in the ability to work with a broader range of devices, including those running Google’s Android operating system, and in portability. (AirPlay speakers only work over a Wi-Fi network.) Moreover, the casual uses to which you’d probably put Big Jambox aren’t ones where you’re likely to demand audiophile quality.

Not that the sound is bad, by any means. I was able to fill a significant chunk of Bloomberg’s San Francisco bureau -- sorry, colleagues! -- without distortion or vibration, as well as at home, in both my living room and outside yard.

Aural Illusion

In addition, a feature called LiveAudio creates an illusion of sound surrounding you, though I found it best when I was the only person listening and could position the speaker just so, to get the maximum effect.

LiveAudio also dampens the loudness. Luckily, you can easily turn it on and off by simultaneously pushing the increase- and decrease-volume controls.

Pairing Big Jambox is so easy you may want to do it again and again. It remembers connections with up to eight devices. Any two of those connections can be operational at the same time, giving Jambox a leg up on other Bluetooth devices. So you can share DJ duties at your next party.

I found the feature worked mostly as advertised; even in mid-song, I was able to flip seamlessly between Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue” streaming from an iPad and Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” on an iPhone.

‘Angry Birds’

Big Jambox is about more than music, though. You can channel the sound effects from “Angry Birds” or your other mobile games through it. I also used the included cable to plug it into the audio port of a flat-screen TV, turning it into a kind of portable sound bar that far surpassed the small speakers crammed into the display.

Perhaps its most practical additional function is its ability to act as a wireless two-way speaker for conference calls. The orginal Jambox does this too, but Big Jambox provides a significantly more satisfying experience, thanks to an improved omnidirectional microphone. The sound quality isn’t up to the level of a dedicated Polycom conference phone, but is more than acceptable for casual use.

At $300, Big Jambox isn’t cheap. It costs the same and does a lot of the same things as the SoundLink from Bose, a company not exactly known for value pricing. But the Jambox’s longer battery life, speakerphone functions and striking looks make it a fun and flexible choice for portable audio.

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

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