This is a tough Bluetooth headset, as that Steel name suggests, placing this among the very best Bluetooth headsets (opens in new tab) you can buy. For outdoor calls or even workout use, this is the headset that stands out from the rest. This is thanks to shock, water and dust resistance, which all add up to make this a very tough bit of kit.
The body is rubberized but remains compact and features buttons you can control even with gloves on. Included ear hooks mean this can grip to your ear so even when running you'll have it sat comfortably in place. There's also a windsock over the boom mic to make sure you get the best audio quality possible. Voice commands are a useful feature for answering or rejecting calls, allowing you to be truly hands-free.
Jabra Steel: 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 catalog, 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: 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 a 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: 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 for 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 rugged to resist damage and is refined to work outdoors while keeping audio quality to a high level and controls as simple and effective as possible. It’s the ideal outdoors Bluetooth headset as it's rugged, weather-resistant, and noise-canceling.
If this product isn't for you
Synonymous with audio quality, Sennheiser has done it again with the Sennheiser Presence (opens in new tab) headset which offers superb in-ear audio as well as excellent microphones for clear voice transmission. The look is great, fit is comfy and the battery life is one of the best out there. The catch? It's not cheap.
The other really big name in the Bluetooth headset world is Plantronics and the Plantronics Voyager 5200 (opens in new tab) model is one of the best it has to offer. The four-mic system makes for very clear calls with active noise cancellation, the reversible design is good for either ear and call volume is well balanced. This may be a bit bulky for some but with features like moisture resistance, dynamic mute alert and smart sensors this certainly offers a lot for the price.
If you want the full headphone experience as well as that Bluetooth headset functionality then a dual earbud setup could be ideal. The Razer Hammerhead True Wireless (opens in new tab)is designed for gaming meaning it's built with a focus on clear and high-quality microphones for calls. They're also made to be comfy for long periods of time and feature a good-looking minimal design.