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Lifewire / Erika Rawes
Includes backup ear gels and hooks
Good noise cancellation
Speaker is a bit large
No color customization
No physical volume buttons
The Jabra Steel thrives in many areas, especially in terms of durability, but its mediocre audio quality for music and large speaker size take it from an excellent to a just good headset.
Jabra has become well known in the world of headphones and headsets. One of Jabra’s headset offerings, the Jabra Steel, is known for its rugged durability—it’s a dust, water, and shock-resistant headset targeted towards outdoorsy types or workers on the go. The front of the package even features a construction worker.
At a retail price of $100, the Jabra Steel isn’t the most expensive Bluetooth headset on the market by any means, but it’s not exactly affordable either, especially considering you can buy other well-rated headsets for less than 20 bucks. So, is the Jabra Steel worth its mid-range price tag? I tested it for a week to find out.
You can feel the durability and build quality when you hold the Jabra Steel headset in your hand. The main body is made of a black rubberized material that completely encloses internal parts. The three buttons—a power button, voice button, and answer/end call button—are recessed and covered by the casing for protection. The USB charging port is also covered by a port cover, and it has a tab you use to open it when you need to charge the Jabra Steel. There are no physical volume buttons on the headset whatsoever.
The Jabra’s main body is on the larger side, measuring about two and a half inches long without the ear cushion. With the ear cushion, the 10 gram Jabra Steel clocks in at about three inches tall, 0.6 inches wide, and one inch at its thickest point. It has two microphones on the rear side of the body, which you can leave open or cover with one of the two included windsocks.
Because it is large and a bit thick, the Jabra Steel is noticeable when you’re wearing it. When someone looks at you head-on, they’ll be able to see the Jabra clearly, though surprisingly, the bright yellow ear gels are barely visible when you’re wearing the headset.
In spite of its larger size, the headset felt comfortable to wear, even for long time periods. However, because the speaker is on the larger side, some people with smaller ears may feel as though the device and some of the accessories are too big for their ears.
The Jabra Steel is noticeable when you’re wearing it.
The package includes three ear gel cushions. All of the included ear gels are bright yellow in color, but each gel has a different design — one is a more basic design, and the other two have extension hooks that help them stay in the ear (one of the ear gels has a right-facing extension, and the other has a left-facing extension). The ergonomic ear cushions are comfortable, but they’re also quite large, so someone with a narrow ear canal may feel like the ear cushions are not a good fit.
The Jabra Steel package also includes two optional ear hooks. They wrap around the outside of the ear and help secure the headset in place. Using the Jabra with the ear hook is not as comfortable, especially if you wear glasses. While the ear hook does have a softer finish on the internal portion, which helps promote some level of comfort (the finish almost feels like suede), I preferred the Jabra without the ear hook.
The call quality on the Jabra is adequate, but the speaker is a little too quiet even on full volume. I found myself asking the person on the other end of the line to repeat themselves a few times. There’s no audible interference, it’s just not the loudest speaker. However, the person with whom I was speaking understood me clearly on every call through the Jabra’s dual microphones. The noise-canceling on the Jabra was better than I expected. The two-microphones do well at cancelling out background noise, so your voice comes through clearly.
Music doesn’t sound the best on the Jabra. Like with phone calls, there’s no distortion, but the volume on the 11mm speaker doesn’t get very loud. The sound is clear, and you can hear a decent amount of distinction between the high, low, and mid tones. The sound isn’t too tinny or sharp, it’s just not loud enough.
The Jabra charges fairly quickly, reaching a full charge in about two hours. A full battery lasts for up to six hours of talk time or up to 10 full days of standby time. I was able to get five hours of continuous use out of the Jabra before it needed a charge. The Bluetooth range was impressive (up to 98 feet depending on your phone). When I used the Jabra at home, I let my phone sit on the kitchen counter and the Jabra never lost its connection as I roamed all around my property.
On the actual headset, you can check the battery status by tapping the answer/end button while you’re not on a call. You can also use the answer/end button to answer calls, reject a call, put a caller on hold, switch between callers, or redial your last call. The Jabra’s voice button activates the voice assistant on your phone, be it Siri, Google Now, or Cortana. When you’re on a call, you can use the voice button to mute yourself. Considering how many different functions you can control with the buttons on the headset, I was surprised to see the Jabra lacked physical volume controls.
The two-microphones do well at canceling out background noise.
The Jabra Steel includes a companion app called Jabra Assist. The app has a few neat features, but it’s pretty basic for the most part. In the app, you can register your headset, access the manual, and give the unit a rating. You can also enable and disable features like message readout, which lets you hear new calendar and email notifications through your Jabra Steel headset. There’s also a “find my Jabra” feature in the app, which helps you locate your headset.
The Jabra Steel retails for $100, but you can find it on sale for significantly less—usually between $60 and $70, depending on the retailer. The retail price is a bit high when you compare it to a budget Bluetooth headset, but the Jabra does offer a durable design and a five-year limited warranty, which adds a lot of value.
The New Bee LC-B41 comes with a variety of accessories, and it costs significantly less than the Jabra Steel. Offering 24 hours talk time, up to two months of standby time, and clear call quality, the New Bee LC-B41 Headset beats the Jabra in some areas, especially in terms of its affordability and battery life. However, the New Bee doesn’t offer even close to the durability of the Jabra.
Although it’s a tough headset with powerful noise cancellation, the Jabra Steel will be a better option for some than others.
For someone who needs a headset that can withstand the outdoors, the Jabra Steel is worth a look.