Some products end up becoming so-called poster children for their category, and there's no doubt that Jawbone's Jambox is a premier portable Bluetooth speaker that's been one of the major driving forces behind popularizing the tiny wireless speaker category. What's always impressed people about the Jambox is how much sound -- and decent sound, at that -- comes out of such a small speaker. So, what does Jawbone do for an encore?
It goes bigger and more expensive.
Yes, the latest addition to the Jambox family, the $299 Big Jambox, is three times as large as the original Jambox, measuring 3.6 by 10 by 3.1 inches (HWD) and weighing 2.7 pounds. It maintains its little brother's signature boxy design with a wraparound metal grille and rubberized top and sides. A sleek-looking speaker -- it comes in graphite, white, and red -- it's easy to pick up and carry in one hand thanks to the indented, geometric design of the perforated metal grille. It's also worth noting that Jawbone's designers equipped the bottom of the speaker with eight of what the company describes as "strategically placed rubber feet to help isolate vibrations [to] reduce movement caused by heavy bass."
Unlike with the original Jambox, no protective cover is included, but Jawbone sells a $49 travel case as an accessory that looks like something you'd use to transport a long camera lens or a bottle of wine.
The Big Jambox is easy to set up to wirelessly stream audio from any A2DP Bluetooth-enabled device (as with most Bluetooth devices, you're supposed to be within about 30 feet of the speaker to stream music, but I managed a good 50 feet without any trouble). That means nearly any smartphone or tablet will work as an audio source -- with the notable exceptions of the Kindle Fire, the Nook Tablet and Nook Color, and the first-generation iPod Touch, which are not Bluetooth-compatible.
Aside from the bigger size and much bigger, richer sound, Jawbone has made a couple of feature upgrades to the speaker, one small, one more significant. This model has a dedicated Bluetooth pairing button on the side, which I appreciated, as it makes the pairing process slightly easier. The Big Jambox remembers up to eight devices that it's been paired with, and you can actually pair two devices with it at the same time, though it will only accept sound from one device (I know that doesn't quite make sense, but you can pause the music on one device and immediately start playing it from another that's already paired with the speaker).
With buttons on top of the unit you can adjust volume, pause/play tracks, and skip tracks forward and back. Press the button with the letter J on it and a soothing female voice tells you how much battery life is left. As with the original Jambox, Jawbone gives you a choice of voices, though you have to upload them through its MyTalk online app by connecting the speaker to your computer with the included USB cable.
The more significant upgrade is to the speakerphone capabilities. Jawbone says the Big Jawbone speakerphone is a Type-1-compliant speakerphone that features a "newly designed omnidirectional microphone for 360-degree sound input, with improved echo cancellation and full duplex communication." That makes it suitable for conference calls in a business environment (yes, every startup in Silicon Valley will soon have one of these). I can't say that I was able to notice a big difference in the quality of my speakerphone calls, but callers said they were able to hear me well and I had no trouble hearing them.
It's also worth mentioning that you have to use the included AC adapter to charge the Big Jambox's built-in lithium ion battery, which is rated to deliver up to 15 hours of juice (it takes 2.5 hours to fully charge it). With the smaller Jambox, you charged the battery via USB. In the case of the Big Jambox, the included USB cable is only used for firmware upgrades and uploading the customization options available through Jawbone's aforementioned MyTalk. Next to the Micro-USB port on the side, you'll also find a stereo line input for connecting devices that don't have Bluetooth. However, there's no USB port for charging your phone like there is with the Soundfreaq Sound Kick (sorry, but I have a thing for speakers that offer this feature).