The Jabra Steel isn’t the prettiest Bluetooth headset we've seen but it has a lot going for it to make it stand out from the crowd. For those who work outside and want something that is genuinely rugged and durable, this is a sensible option. Boasting Jabra's quality in audio and portable devices, seamlessly blends all that's great about a top performing headset with one that could survive a fall, a near-drowning or a dirty or dusty environment. That's a lot to ask of one small device, but the Jabra Steel gives it a hell of a go, earning it a place among our best bluetooth headsets.
Jabra Steel review: Design
The Jabra Steel's design is led by a striking and contrasting color scheme of yellow and black, with a bumpy and contoured body. It looks like it's straight out of a John Deere or Caterpillar catalogue, and there's something quite pleasing about it. Its purpose is immediately obvious, so is a success in design in that respect - function and form seamlessly and clearly melded together. It isn't as sleek as the likes of the Razer Hammerhead True Wireless, but it is designed to be tough, not fancy.
It comes with three ear gels and two ear hooks, so you can mix and match to find the best fit. This offers a slightly wider variety of options than most headsets and is a welcome element of flexibility. The Jabra Steel feels a little strange to begin with but stays in very well without the ear hooks - though adding these really increases the stability and it feels like it will never fall out. The buttons (described below) all have loads of space in between them and fit into the design seamlessly, while the charging port is covered by a sturdy flap to ensure it retains resistance to dust, water and shock.
Jabra Steel review: Features
We really like the way the design incorporates the buttons and controls. First of all there is no button directly over the ear, which means it is less likely to be accidentally pushed thus starting or ending a call when adjusting the headset. More broadly, on board are an NFC area, a designated Siri/Google Now button, power button and multi-use call button. Straightforward and uncomplicated. This array of controls also allows each one to be larger than on other headsets enabling them to be easily manipulated even with gloved hands. If you can’t spare a hand, you can also use voice commands to accept and reject incoming calls.
It doesn't feature a dedicated volume control or wind protection feature, but given everything else it offers against the elements, that's a fair trade off in our eyes. There is, however, a dual microphone setup that works to effectively cancel noise. Team this with the headset's HD voice audio and you have a fine setup for both incoming and outgoing audio during calls.
Jabra Steel review: Performance
There is a great - and clear - duality to the Steel's performance: when outside and in busier environments it excels; while in quieter, internal spaces it does less well. To elaborate, first, when we tested the Steel outside with traffic and other environmental noises, it managed to cancel out ambient sound very well for both ends of the call. (While it doesn't have the feature in a technological manner, for particularly windy days, the Stealth comes with a windsock you can fit over the boom mic to help control noise.)
However, at the other end of the spectrum, when we tested the headset in quieter, internal office spaces, its audio reveals itself as decent but much shallower-sounding than other competitors. At high volumes the Steel also put out less sound than others can, which we found surprising since it’s specifically marketed towards use in loud environments. However, this encapsulates the way it executes its best performance and how comfortable it is in who and what it is designed for. If you want superior sound quality, and are willing to pay a little more, the Sennheiser Presence is a better bet.
On battery life, the Steel is marketed as having a battery life of ten days on standby and up to six hours of talk time. In reality, when we tested it over five consecutive days, using the Steel for at least an hour each day, it managed that comfortably - and a little more - on a single charge. This is not monstrous but is certainly a solid battery performance, particularly for a product that is specifically designed with certain usages in mind and prioritizes other features.
Should you buy the Jabra Steel?
The Jabra Steel is a great choice if you find yourself making and taking calls in the middle of a hectic, outdoor or labor-centric environment. Its rugged, weather-resistant exterior and noise-cancelling make it ideal for use in loud areas. Being one of the few Bluetooth headsets that is water and dust-resistant, and shock resistant, too, means you can genuinely be confident using it however and wherever. Its design will put off some users as its not as sleek and business-like as others, but its rubberized black body and sound cancellation add to its overwhelmingly positive factors, making this a great tool for staying connected on the job. It's stablemate, the Jabra Stealth remains our top pick, however.