Bluetooth headphones have become pervasive in the athletic market as technology improves and we move closer to a cordless society. Even the new iPhone has gone cordless, so its clearly time to make the jump. Athletes of every level are making the switch simply because there are great companies out there producing sport specific headphones that are more than just earbud replacements. In this round-up, we take a look at Jabras latest lineup.
Jabra has been in the bluetooth game for quite a long time, so they know a thing or two about connectivity and sound quality. In their sport lineup, they offer four different models and we had a chance to look at the Sport Coach, Pulse, and Pace. Each of these offer slightly different levels of form and functionality and each comes in at a different price point. Basically, they have designed a lineup to meet everyone’s needs.
Jabra Sport Pulse
So the Pulse is the high end of the series in my mind. It features a premium design with 3 different tips and ear gels for a perfect fit, and we can tell you if you find the right balance of fit they really won’t fall out. The unit also gives you passive noise cancellation and also improved bass. The biggest feature though is obviously heart rate sensing. The built-in monitor can get your heart rate from your inner ear and it can deliver clinical level accuracy. We tested this and it was within only a few bpm from other input devices like straps and watchbands. Because it gets heart rate it can also deliver VO2 which means even more data. The downside here is that all this information only goes into the Jabra app and is not delivering it via ANT or other that can be used by other measurement systems. The unit gets 5 hours of battery life and we did notice a bit of a phone side battery drain when used for very long runs. Overall, the unit is well designed and looks very premium despite being only $159.99.
Jabra Sport Coach
The Coach model is basically a mirror image of the Pulse in terms of design and fit and even sound quality. Styling-wise it’s not as premium, but the body styling is practically identical in every way. It has the same number of tips and and gels (3 each) and also weighs in at half an ounce. It also sports a 5.5 hour battery life, 3 year warranty, etc. The feature that sets the Coach apart though is its ability to work with the Sport Life app and count repetitions using an internal motion sensor. Because it can track motion the Coach can also measure distance, pace, steps, cadence and calories burned. It is pretty crazy because it does actually do all of this and actually does a decent job of it. I struggle a little with why I would want this happening in my headphones instead of a watch or fitness tracker, but it does do what it says. I like this model simply because its only a small uptick from the Pace yet has the great sound quality, fit, and styling from the Pulse. At $119.99 it’s a pretty solid choice.
Jabra Sport Pace
The Pace is really all about simplicity and is really a solid entry level bluetooth headphone. It features 5 hours of battery life, weighs less than half an ounce, and comes in black with 3 accent color choices. One of its biggest selling points is its quick charge feature, basically 15 minutes of charging gets you an hour of run time. It does feature an around-the-ear design which isn’t my favorite, but this is definitely a preference thing. It includes three sets of clips for sizing as well. Tech-wise it supports both iOS and Android equally well and just like other Jabra headphones it syncs very quickly with your phone. At only $99.99, it’s a respectable price for an entry level bluetooth headphone.
The Sport Life App
I’m only touching on this very loosely as the focus here was really on the headphones, but because the Pulse and Coach models are so heavily integrated with that app it really has to be included. The Sport Life app itself is really like any workout app like you have used before. The design is solid and provides run data, training guidance, etc. It has achievements, fitness testing, etc so it ticks all the big marks. Honestly though, I really want some of these folks to start working together and stop building their own apps. There are just so many out there that do the activity tracking, social community, planning, sharing, coaching, etc that I think so many of these products would do better partnering.
Run Test and Thoughts on the Lineup
Now after extensive run tests, here are my overarching feeling on the Jabbra headphones. First off, the design of the hardware itself in terms of both fit and function is super solid. Finding a solid fit for almost every ear shape is easy and once in place, they never really flinch. Bluetooth connectivity is strong throughout and the audio quality is decent and suffers little to no interference. I would note that on maximum volume they are not as loud as others I have tested, but as you’re running with them and should be aware of what’s going on around you, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. My biggest callout is around the battery and it’s not about the battery on the headphone itself. Because of the enhanced functionality specifically on the Pulse and somewhat on the Coach, you see a decent level of additional battery drain on your phone. So while the functionality is solid and does exactly what it says it does, you have to know this comes at a cost and in this case it’s the decrease in your overall phone battery life. For example, on a 15+ mile run, my battery would find itself about 20 to 30% lower than when using other Bluetooth headphones that lacked the additional functionality, the only one that didn’t was the Pace and the Coach was slightly less of a hit. I also noticed this happened when I didn’t use the functionality, so even if the app wasn’t open, I was still experiencing the heavy battery use on the phone. In order to double-check this, I made sure I had no other apps running and had freshly rebooted the phone, so the only thing in play was the headphone and function itself.
So where does this leave me you might be asking yourself. If I have to pick one in the lineup, then I am taking the coach for a few reasons. First, fit-wise the design of the in-ear unit (which is almost identical to the Pulse) and the lack of the around the ear loop it solid. Second, I don’t need the heart rate in my ear because its coming from various other inputs, like my watch for instance, so the additional cost and battery drain are unnecessary. I haven’t mentioned the Pace and this doesn’t bad, I just don’t love the around the ear design. What I would LOVE to see is a $99 version that features the Coach/Pulse body without the additional functionality. This might be one of the best buys on the market if Jabra could find a way to come in at this price point. Have a look for yourself and definitely try them on before you buy.