Review of the “Jaybird JF3 Freedom” Bluetooth earbuds
“Bluetooth earbuds?”, you ask. Yes. And for someone like me who never goes anywhere without an Audible audiobook in his ear, they are a Godsend.
Over the years I have gone through many, many pairs of earbuds. I kept my MP3 player in a vest pocket or (recently) in a holster on my hip. That left a cord running from my ear down the left side of my body.
That damned cord had a magnetic attraction to door handles, bike handlebars, fence posts, furniture, pets, passing dragonflies, etc. Life gets especially exciting when the cord wraps itself around a steering wheel while you are in heavy traffic. How we suffer for our art.
Every time something yanks earbuds from your ear, which is painful and worse, makes you lose your place in your audiobook, it weakens the internal wire connections. I generally got Skullcandies for about $20, which had good sound and were more durable than most. But even treating them gently I could only get 3 months or so out of them.
Last Xmas my wife got me Bluetooth earbuds, the Jaybird JF3 Freedom. So yes, these guys have been around for a year or so already, but people still stop to ask me about them. I’ve only used them with an iPhone, but they are supposed to work with any A2DP Bluetooth device, which includes Blackberries, Droids, etc..
Looking at the picture above, you can see a pinky-sized grey button on the right earbud body. That acts as a play/pause button for whatever music player (or the Audible app) you have going. It also answers the phone but the built in mic is crappy so I don’t use the earbuds for phone calls.
The same button is also how you power on the unit, which is my biggest problem with the thing: you have to hold it down for 7 seconds (why??) to power it on. At 8 seconds, it starts the pairing operation. I have lost count of how many times I started pairing when I only wanted to power it on. To stop pairing, you have to power it off, which takes 4 seconds. Then you power it back on, another 7 seconds. Damn it, one second too long, it started pairing again. Power it off, 4 seconds. Power it back on. Et cetera.
(FYI this same button also gets you Siri on the iPhone if you press it for 2 seconds. Sometimes when I try to turn off my earbuds I don’t hold the button down long enough, and I get Siri instead. Not often, though.)
Also on the right earbud body, there are two tiny grey buttons that act as volume up and down. They are nice but don’t have much range — I usually have to control volume at my iPhone. Then there is a micro-USB jack for charging.
I read someplace that the right earbud body also contains the Bluetooth antenna. However, these things usually use the cord as an antenna (it’s a long wire, after all). Through trial and error, and experiments using tin foil wrapping, I’ve found the right side does get slightly better reception than the left. I guess there are some antenna bits in there.
This leads to my second problem with the thing, and what the company itself warns you about. Apparently the Bluetooth signal needs stuff to bounce off to get from your MP3 player to your earbuds. This is a problem when you are outside. That’s where I do all my running.
Inside, the earbuds can talk to my iPhone across the room. Outside, my hip is pretty much the extent of their range. I keep my iPhone in a holster on my left hip. Normally this is fine. However, when I’m running or cycling it sometimes cuts out. I could get an armband holster, I suppose, but I don’t like them. Switching to the right hip helps a little, maybe.
The kit comes with a sturdy case, which is kind of useless unless you plan to carry the case around. It also comes with three sizes of eartips, and three sizes of this hook shaped rubber mesh thing that fits in your ear to lock the buds in place. With that getup I’ve never lost an earbud.
As for the cord, so far it has never caught on anything. I wear it in front of my neck most of the time, where I barely notice its light touch. When I’m at the gym, I string it behind my neck just to be safe, but it tends to stick to my skin back there.
Battery life is good, 4 hours I’d guess. This leads to my third problem with these earbuds: you don’t get much warning when the battery is about to die, and there is no visual indication. You get a few minutes of annoying beeps, then silence.
The weakest link in earbuds is where the cord connects to the buds. Jaybird has reinforced this point with a thick metal collar. After eight months of daily use, they are still going strong. I would have replaced my Skullcandies four times by now. If you look at it that way, the steep $100 price for these things is not such a bad deal.
Overall I’m very pleased with these things. They are useless for phone calls, worse in fact than regular earbuds because you get that crappy mic whether you want it or not. They have good high and low frequency response, as earbuds go. For music and audiobooks, they are my best earbuds yet.
Postscript: I see Jaybird just released a new model, the JF4 Sprint. It’s a little smaller but the battery life is also a little shorter. Does anyone have experience with these? Does it fix my 3 problems?