Jabra Step Wireless review

This Bluetooth headset offers great – but inconsistent – sound delivery

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Our Verdict

Unacceptable connectivity issues mar an otherwise stellar Bluetooth headset, making it difficult to wholeheartedly recommend.

For

  • Good build quality
  • Exceptional sound performance
  • Helpful voice guidance

Against

  • Dreadful connectivity issues
  • Drab line-of-sight distance

Full of twists, not long enough and always caught on something — my headphone wires mirror life too closely. With the Jabra Step Wireless, I finally had the opportunity to go wireless and meander about with a new, freeing sense of mobility.

To say that I was excited is an understatement. On top of the meager hopes of an easy, hands-free commute, I also set out to improve my health and become more adventurous.

The Jabra Step Wireless is a halfway decent Bluetooth option with impressive stereo sound and good battery life. I use the term "halfway", because most attempts to incorporate it into my life were futile, met with frustration and harsh setbacks with connectivity and range.

Design

The Jabra Step Wireless's design aims at those on-the-go. Solid build quality and accommodating customization options help to align the appeal.

Jabra Step Wireless review

As a whole, the Step Wireless is comprised of two square, black plastic bases attached to protruding earbuds and leashed together by a thick, rubber-coated wire. The wire comes equipped with in-line controls and a microphone. The battery and bluetooth receiver are housed within the base of the right earbud.

I had initial concerns that these rubbery buds would have a hard time keeping a secure grip inside of my ear and, at first, they did. Thankfully, the three included sizes of EarGels, as they're called in Jabra-land, accommodate to different inner-ear sizes.

This helped offset the extra weight of these wireless earbuds and keep a tight lock. These earbuds, while as compact as possible, do pack in a little extra weight, due to the internals, and hang out of the ear a bit more than your average pair of wired alternatives.

Jabra Step Wireless review

For an additional measure of support, Jabra's GelHooks, rubber cradles for your ears, are included. These played their biggest role in keeping the earbuds from popping out while doing some more rigorous physical activity. During more leisurely work, though, they grew irritating and painful after about 45 minutes of use.

The rubber-coated wire hooking the earbuds together is a little longer than it needs to be. Wearing the Jabra Step Wireless as it's intended with the wire behind your neck tightens the slack a bit and is most unobtrusive this way, but the in-line controls were a pain to reach for.

The Jabra Step Wireless won't win any awards for its design, but it does the job. If only I could say as much about how it works.

Performance

At $79 (about £63, AU$91), the Jabra Step Wireless pumps out impressive sound for a Bluetooth headset. Meanwhile, the buds last around four hours of constant music listening, right on par with their advertised battery life.

Bass-heavy hip hop tracks and layered instrumental jazz jams weren't reduced to tin-can reproductions of my favorite songs, which is certainly saying something. By cutting the cord, I didn't have to sacrifice sound quality. But all is not well with this headset.

Incessant connectivity issues ruined my experience with the Step Wireless. Initial attempts at connecting were as simple. That said, every attempt at reconnecting to a familiar device after some time apart would render the experience choppy, if I was lucky.

Jabra Step Wireless review

Other times, I couldn't connect at all. The result was a dreadfully tedious process of having to "forget" the device and wipe its handshake from my devices each time I wanted to reconnect. Sometimes, that didn't even work. This thing has a mind of its own.

I mostly wear headphones during my morning and evening subway commutes, and at the gym, where I did most of my testing. On the train, I failed to connect the headset with direct line of sight numerous times, often finally kicking in with just a few minutes of my commute left. During a workout, I had to rough the silence for ten minutes – when I needed musical encouragement the most – until the headset finally agreed to work.

I tested out syncing and re-syncing with numerous devices, all yielding similar results. Eventually, I grew numb to the process, just doing what needed to be done to get it to work properly, which is a shame. It should just work.

We liked

The admirable build quality and understated design work in favor of the Jabra Step Wireless's purpose. This is a device to take with you on the go, to places unfit for wires.

You'll find little in the way of sacrificed audio quality coming through these deceptively great earbuds. Decent battery life is always a plus, too, especially if you're taking these on a long bike ride or doing anything in which your phone isn't accessible.

We disliked

Terrible connectivity issues too commonly intruded in my experience with the Jabra Step Wireless. I wanted to tell myself that it was because of user-error on my part, because of how rich the audio is otherwise.

But after experiencing the same issues across multiple devices, I knew that the blame is rightfully placed on the headset. What good is solid output if the connection is barely stable?

Final verdict

While the sound is impressive and the battery life is good enough for most people, these qualities do little to redeem the Jabra Step Wireless. It's simply too tough to look past these constant connectivity issues.

To tempt me with the fruits of a hands-free lifestyle and to deny me of that is a sour thing to do. The Step Wireless doesn't measure up to my standards as to how seamless of an experience a Bluetooth headset should provide in 2014. While they're no earbuds, the JBL Synchros E40BT Bluetooth headphones meet those demands just fine.