Bluetooth-enabled travel speakers can make hitting the road a much more pleasant affair. Jawbone's Jambox is a nifty implementation of such a system, but the price is still enough to make your jaw drop.
For the frequent traveller, a music playback device (let's face it, most likely an iPod) and a pair of headphones are an essential for whiling away time on planes and during commutes. They can also be useful if you want to watch DVDs or listen to music in your hotel room in the evening, but it's at that point that feeling chained to your PC can seem like more than a benefit than a curse. More than once I've nearly yanked my laptop off the desk by standing up to answer the door for room service and forgetting I was plugged in.
One solution to that problem is to use Bluetooth headphones. The other is to play your music through actual speakers. Modern laptops can have pretty good speaker systems built-in, but that's less often the case on the compact machines that I favour. When you want to save space, it seems high-quality sound is the first thing to go.
The other alternative is to plug in external speakers, or travel with an external speaker/dock combo. That can be either a cabled or cable-free solution, but going cable-free means you could (for instance) have music playing in the bathroom while you shave and shower, but leave your PC in the main room. You can also stage an impromptu party, at least untuil the other guests complain.
It's into this market that Jawbone has launched the Jambox, a compact battery powered speaker which can connect via Bluetooth to your phone or PC. (There's also a cable slot if you've got an iPod or other Bluetooth-free device.) It's a striking rubberised design available in four colours (red, blue, black or grey), with a single speaker grill. It also has upgradable software on board, and informs you of its remaining battery life and other vital statistics by speaking to you, rather than relying on a display. Even if you carried a separate charger for it (I could get away with using my BlackBerry charger), it takes up very little space in your carry-on bag, measuring just 15cm by 6cm by 4cm.
Given the size, the audio quality is pretty impressive. I did notice some distortion when playing back music from my PC and using a cabled connection, but performance when connected via Bluetooth to my BlackBerry torch was much better. Bluetooth connectivity also worked flawlessly, which is something that we really should be able to take for granted at this stage but which still seems to pose a challenge for many device manufacturers. It also worked pretty well over long distances (Jawbone claims a maximum transmission range of 10 metres).
The only real issue with the Jambox is the price: $249. For that money, you could buy a lot of headphones, a basic iPhone dock or even a low-spec netbook. I like the idea of travel speakers, but for now the Jambox is sitting in my "I'd really enjoy it, but I can't justify it" price category.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman once bought a cheap iPod dock just so he could enjoy some music during a slightly dubious winter beach holiday. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.