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Review: Plantronics Voyager PRO UC v2 Bluetooth Headset

The Plantronics Voyager Pro UC Bluetooth headset is one device that has certainly seen its value boosted by the boom in smartphones, a powerful accessory geared towards business folks on the move.

Sporting a subtle black and silver design along with a range of features including synchronisation with multiple devices and remote music playback controls, this headset is definitely more substance over extroverted style, also enabling users to quickly pair with two devices simultaneously.

The headset offers a behind-the-ear fit, with an adjustable arm extending forward with the microphone attached. Whilst the design might look subtle and basic, the headset doesn’t lack in functionality, offering designated call answer/end and volume buttons.

There is also the ability to start and stop the playback of music from the paired device, using dedicated volume buttons.

Weighing in at just 17 grams – as well as owing to the flexible rubber fit – this device sits very comfortably and securely on the ear over long periods of time, and although it might feel a little odd for new users at first, it’s easy to forget you’re wearing it after a while!

The fit is easily adjustable with the alternative inner-ear pieces included, to maximise comfort. One great feature of this headset is the ability of the microphone arm to rotate and allow it to fit onto either ear, a feature the cheaper headsets may lack.

The device claims to cut out up to 80% of background noise through dual-microphone technology, and while the sound is not as clear as using a phone by the traditional means, it’s almost as good, especially in noisy environments.

The ringer volume can come through rather quietly and be drowned out by environment noise, but conversations from either end are very clear with an ample range of volume. The only issue we picked up on was if you are wandering about with your phone in your pocket, this can seem to cause the headset to cut out occasionally every few seconds.

Whether this is a one off for our demo unit or it affects all headsets, it’s still a major flaw – especially for a product with a sizable recommended retail price of approximately £80 – you’d expect this to be one of the ideal scenarios for users.

By commanding this price tag it’s safe to say this is one for the business user rather than the casual. This is reflected in poor quality of the music playback, something which is possibly unfair to criticise it for, since it doesn’t really fit the purpose of the device.

Despite these points the device offers a lot of freedom to those who like to wander round the office while they chat, with a generous Bluetooth range, we found to be still usable at 10 metres away from the phone.

On the whole the gadget fits the bill excellently – with up to 6 hours talk time and 5 days standby, it offers almost an entire working day’s worth of chat, and up to a working week’s worth of power. If you’re an iPhone user, it’ll even display the battery life on screen for you too.

If you’re after a decent hands-free way to stay in touch on the go, the Voyager Pro UC is well worth a look. It’s quick and easy to pair over Bluetooth, packs in plenty of control for a modest 4 buttons, and – despite the sole flaw we found – is fantastically comfortable and reliable.

Plantronics Discovery 975 Bluetooth Headset Review: Simply Brilliant

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When comparing some of the best Bluetooth headsets around earlier this year, we had good things to say about the last high-profile Plantronics offering, the Voyager PRO.

Our sole strong reservation was that the form factor was a little too…utilitarian to get the pulse racing.

My goodness, have they fixed that with the new Discovery 975.

The Plantronics Discovery 975 Bluetooth headset simply oozes cool, with innovations in design and form that send this device into the stratosphere.

Forget the fact that they have managed to improve on market leading AudioIQ and Windsmart noise cancellation technology. Ignore the new weight of 8 grams (less than half that of the Voyager Pro). Even sidestep the fact that it comes in its own leather carry case that doubles as a charger.

It just looks good. Really good. From estate agent to secret agent with their latest Bluetooth headset, the transformation from the PRO to the Discovery 975 is incredible.

It is small, sleek, unimposing, and is now the subject of envious glances rather than snorts of derision. The instant we saw it, we knew that Plantronics had achieved the impossible and finally made Bluetooth headsets sexy.

The tech was always there, we knew that the Voyager Pro gave the best performance, but the issues of comfort and weight were the only factors holding us back from heaping more praise upon it. The 975 has it all.

The Discovery 975 retains the dual-mic AudioIQ² technology, which uses an outward-facing microphone to process cancel out background noise, instead enhancing whatever the inward facing microphone picks up and regulating the voice on the other end of the line to remain clear.

Compatible with the lion’s share of mobiles (our bevy of test subjects had no issues hooking up), the Plantronics 975 is an exercise in minimal design, with maximal performance.

The comforting soft white light informs that the 975 is powered and ready for action, and the single key on the earpiece offers full control over almost every facet of the device. Pairing, answering and ending calls, transferring from handset to headset, all at the press of a button. A selection of contoured ear pieces are included and ensure comfort when wearing the Discovery, regardless of size or shape.

The vocal cues we loved from the Voyager Pro are present again in the 975, with the dulcet tones of a lady informing when the headset is connected, muted and even if the power is low, instantly and effectively.

We have never been so happy for a product to run out of juice, as the carry case / charger is nothing short of ingenious.

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This tiny pouch poses not only as a handy place to store the Discovery 975 when in transit, it also acts as a portable charging unit, complete with LCD display that informs of charging levels and remaining power stored in it! Considering the 975 can go for about four hours on a charge, this additional connectivity means it will never let you down. There’s even a handy eject lever to pop the headset from its snug resting place whenever you need it.

A brilliant touch, and one that is sure to be aped by the competition soon enough.

Coupling the peerless call quality from a Plantronics headset to such a gorgeous design is a no-brainer. The extra mile that they have gone to take the Discovery 975 from novelty to necessity is why we think so highly of it.

The carry case is portable and practical in equal measure, and the ultra-slim and simple form factor of the Discovery 975 finally puts to rest those demons of Bluetooth headsets being uncool. We recommend it without reservation.

The Plantronics Discovery 975 is available now, at a price of £74.99.

Omio Round Up: Best Bluetooth Headsets

Despite the passage of many years and many leaps forward in technology, listening to music still requires us to be physically tethered to our players with headphones.

Phones have managed it, as have game controllers, but the allure of wired headphones has not seems to diminish one bit. Some manufacturers are even embracing this state of affairs, with companies Apple showing off their iconic white earphones in their cool promotional material.

Well, other manufacturers believe the future is already here, and with the power of Bluetooth connectivity are offering to free us of our aural shackles with wireless headphones. We compare two of the most popular Bluetooth headsets to see if we are ready to groove to the wireless beat.

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Sony Ericsson HBH-IS800 Bluetooth stereo headphones - £70

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The tiny, unassuming ear-canal fillers are close enough to traditional earphones not to scare Bluetooth virgins away. The two earphones jut out a little and feel a little heavy on first wear – hardly surprising given the amount of tech bundled in there.

The weight is due to the housing of the battery within the ear piece itself, removing a cover on the right earbud reveals a charging port. This enables the proprietary Sony Ericsson charger to be used, albeit in a slightly odd fashion with only half of the pins…

Nevertheless, a few hours on the mains and the IS800 is ready to rock. The subtle light on the earpiece glows green brightly to reassure you, with the only accompanying indication from an LED on the microphone placed halfway down the wire.

Holding down this central button sparks the IS800 into life, the light alternating red and green as it searches for a Bluetooth buddy to pair with. This takes fairly little time, and the auto-connecting with a compatible phone is even quicker as it eschews the need for a pairing passcode.

Once hooked up, the first big surprise is the audio! It genuinely manages to play stereo in almost lossless quality, but it admittedly dips with a fair amount of hiss when moving away from the source.

The wires are far more comfortable when worn behind the head, although it makes the speaker when using the IS800 as a headset for calls a bit far away from the mouth to remain clear.

Fellow commuters were convinced I had a serious crick in my neck as I craned to the left in order to make calls, but when connected the quality was clear as a bell.

All in all, the IS800 headphones are perfect for situations where wires leave one in a tangled mess on the floor, from the daily commute to a workout in the gym.

Touches like the carry case and ergonomic design make them a perfect fashion accessory to any Bluetooth-enabled device. The only setback is that the earbuds themselves feel somewhat heavy for long term use, and the slightly awkward location of the microphone.

Nevertheless, the HBH-IS800 gets a glowing recommendation from us, a perfect combination of stylish form and Bluetooth practicality!

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Altec Lansing BackBeat 906 wireless stereo headphones – £80

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With the power of wireless communications professionals Plantronics behind them, Altec Lansing seems set to cut a swathe through the wireless headset market, marrying bleeding-edge tech to slick designs.

Whilst a confident effort, the Altec Lansing Backbeat 906 may indeed be too utilitarian to appeal to culture vultures.

The Backbeat is similar to the IS800 in that it consists of two earphones with a connector that rests behind the head.

However, the BackBeat is a far more rigid construction, with each resting on the ear in a fashion not entirely dissimilar to wearing two tethered hearing aids, whilst the tips nestle gently, yet securely inside the canal.

This might sound uncomfortable, and in comparison to traditional earphones the additional weight may prove alien, but before long the value of the noise cancelling technology presents itself, tuning out background chatter and the sounds of the Underground effectively.

The only issue is that the connection between them is a tad too short, making them feel secure on the head but at the same time a little constricting.

The upside to these very visible aural accouterments is that a wealth of music control is at your fingertips on the outside of the BackBeat.

The left earpiece is home to a ‘call’ button as well as the power switch, whilst the right can play/pause, skip through tracks and adjust volume thanks to a multi-functional jog switch. The degree of rotation and adjustment of the earpieces themselves make them very comfortable to use as remote controls, but they still look a little too unwieldy to impress.

Stereo Bluetooth supported devices can sync happily with the 906, and if not there is a little black box supplied which provides connection to any gadgets with a 3.5mm port, iPod included. The range is ample, with the ability to stray at these the width of Omio Towers (10/15 metres) before a signal was lost.

The good news for the legions of iPhone owners is that the new update finally brings headphone support to wireless headsets like this, and the 906 is very impressive. When hooked to a mobile and the phone rings, the music cuts out and a beep notifies of the call.

The call quality was pretty impressive, but it seemed we could hear better than be heard, particularly outdoors… The AudioIQ volume-boosting feature came into its own in situations like this, making chatting away clear as a bell.

Nevertheless, even the more fancy features such as voice activated dialing and iPod control went off without a hitch on the BackBeat 906.

The seven hour battery life was pretty spot on, but we found it retained a charge when playing music far more than making a couple of wireless calls throughout the day. Either way, it shouldn’t let you down.

Whilst getting full marks for function, the BackBeat makes a few missteps in the style stakes to not be the definitive choice. The lack of an adjustable strap, the absence of a carry case and the slightly self-conscious design make it the perfect Bluetooth headset for use at the office, rather than one to show off with.

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Verdict

Each have their pluses and minuses when enjoying the world of music without wires, but the sheer range of features, Bluetooth dongle and almost pitch-perfect phone reception make the BackBeat stand out in our minds. The price difference is borne out with Altec Lansing offer in a rare case of substance over style, and it serves as a perfect accompaniment to the new 3GS, provided you aren’t a fashion victim.

Omio Round Up: The Best Bluetooth Headsets

Bluetooth headsets are great, no doubt. Allowing easy hands-free calls, wirelessly, whilst maintaining access to much of your phone’s functionality is brilliant, making a Bluetooth device a must-have accessory for those always on the move.

So why is it that they have had such a bad reputation?

Are they too difficult to set up, with pairing and handset compatibility issues resulting in many a wasted afternoon and acute frustration? Is it the quality of the early devices, making it sound as though people are speaking through a tin can telephone in a wind tunnel, gargling muesli?

Or is it just because people feel a bit like a twerp wearing them?

Whatever it is that has made them so uncool, many of the big headset makers have taken great pains to shift away from this negaitve press. With the highest spec materials, amazing call quality and sporting designs that would make an architect weep in wonder, these three headsets scream ‘business-chic’ as opposed to ‘boy band reject’.

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Aliph Jawbone Prime – £89.99

jawbone-primeThe first brand to position the Bluetooth headset as a luxury item and succeed, the Jawbone series of headsets offered exceptional call quality, a gorgeous design and a nice line in noise reduction.

The Prime continues this lineage effectively with an elegant and compact form factor, subtly placed buttons, wind-cancelling technology and a hefty price tag.

The Jawbone derives its name from the unique way that it picks up what you are saying, resting gingerly on the face and using sensors to detect movement in the jaw.
The Prime’s ‘NoiseAssassin’ technology uses this jaw vibration to sense when you are talking and filters out external noise automatically.

In addition, the volume of the caller on the other end is raised and lowered in
line with surrounding noise, picked up by a built-in external microphone.

Actually pairing the device is simple, holding down the ‘talk’ and volume buttons on the side for a couple of seconds is enough to alert any handset to the Jawbone Prime’s presence, and syncing is quick. An LED light gives a visual indication of what is going on.

In terms of comfort, the Prime comes with four different sizes of ear loops, as well as differently sized ear buds for the perfect fit. The loops aren’t required as the Prime nestles pretty well without them, but it adds an extra level of comfort. When on your head, the Prime barely reaches past the sideburns, resting at the top of the lower jaw and ready for vibro-action.

Weighing only 11 grams, the Prime causes little discomfort after extended usage, and the noise-aliph-jawbone-prime-bluetooth-headset-1cancelling feature is surprisingly effective, even walking around the bustling streets of Camden could not dampen the caller on the other end. Neither did we find ourselves shouting over traffic to be heard.

A stylish device, the Prime also comes in a vast array of colours in addition to its dimpled finish, matching any handset or mood. A nice touch, and a step towards courting the casual phone user as well as the businessman.

Battery life as well as voice quality was also tested on a marathon Playstation 3 session, a good place to get an idea of audio reception quality. The main thing it highlighted was just how bad the headsets other people use, with plenty of horrible echoing and background noise. Syncing with the PS3 was the usual Bluetooth cakewalk.

The Prime was done in around three and a half hours, which is not too bad considering the fact that it can be easily set to standby when not in use, and the constant activity when used as a gaming headset tends to drain a battery faster than normal. A quick recharge on the supplied USB charging cable (there is also a USB mains adapter) meant we were back in the game.

As an all-rounder, there is little to fault the Jawbone Prime. That bit of extra cash gets you a sleek, stylish Bluetooth device that is equally functional thanks to first-class NoiseAssassin technology, well worth it.

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Plantronics Voyager PRO – £79.99

Definitely a case of placing form before function, the Voyager Pro strays little from the lineage, plantronics_voyager_pro_01acting as a successor to the immensely popular Voyager 510 still riding high in sales charts years after release.

With a overwhelming sense of ‘if it ain’t broke,’ the Voyager Pro looks much like a last-gen Bluetooth headset, but it is rammed to the gills with bleeding-edge AudioIQ noise-cancelling functionality, as well as being made of the highest grade materials.

Pairing is a simple exercise, a clearly marked power button is depressed, and the accompanying LED gives a little flash of awareness.  Input the code in your phone, and you’re ready to go! The Pro is not ashamed of requiring buttons to work, and as such places them in plain sight. The volume up/down keys are placed on the top of the ear loop, whilst the ‘talk’ button is squarely on the side of the earpiece.
Vocal cues are also offered, with the dulcet tones of a lady informing of muting status, as well as of low remaining battery life.

It might not be a voice you’ll hear too often, given that the battery life for the Voyager Pro is a whopping 6 hours talk time, with 5 days of standby.  Arguably it ought to last all week given the size of the ear loop, but running out of juice at an inopportune moment is a good thing to never have to worry about.

It is a tad difficult to get over the retro styling of the Voyager Pro, as the bulky design and extended microphone boom are not pretty. Admittedly, the microphone is there primarily to perform a function and placing it as close to the mouth as possible just makes sense.

Those who aren’t fans of having equipment constantly plastered to their face will find a boom a better audio/noise cancelling solution than the Prime’s reliance on jaw vibration.

For that matter, the noise reduction is exemplary. The boom actually has two microphones, the usual inside mic for speaking into, and an outside mic for picking up ambient noise levels. The audio algorithms between the two pieces of audio allow the Voyager Pro to separate the ambient chatter from your voice, with stunning results.

The rubber earpiece supplied is fairly comfortable, but the weight in comparison to the Prime, particularly behind the ear, takes some getting used to.  Coming in at 17 grams, the weight of the Pro is noticeable, yet well balanced on the ear.

plantronics_voyager_pro_02Calls are crystal clear, and the difference between a device that has been manufactured for quality above all else is palpable, in terms of both use and feel. The specially chosen acoustic fabrics and steel microphone screens provide crisp, distortion-free output, so far as to get compliments on audio quality from other team members during a particularly heated battle in Call of Duty!

Whilst everything from washing machines to babies and annoying brothers can be heard in the background chatter of other players’ mics, the Pro managed to mix out practically all of the ambient noise, despite residing with others in a busy living room.

The ample choices of charging via USB, three and two-pin mains and even a car charger in the box was a nice perk, but a hectic afternoon of defending checkpoints and calling in artillery strikes resulted in the Pro losing only a third of battery life.

This is definitely the handset to go for if you are serious about having a sturdy, dependable Bluetooth headset with exemplary performance. The slightly unattractive styling, steep price and also the relatively unknown nature of Plantronics as a brand will make the Voyager Pro a tough sell to the average consumer.

However, the Voyager Pro is admittedly not an average Bluetooth headset for your average consumer, despite their protestations. The high-grade construction, peerless call quality and almost perfect noise reduction places the Voyager Pro firmly as a frontrunner in the premium Bluetooth headset market, making it a great choice for professionals constantly on the move.

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BlueAnt Q1 - £79.99

picture-235Whilst the Jawbone Prime and Voyager Pro are evolutions on long-established technology, the BlueAnt shakes up the Bluetooth market with brand new voice recognition technology.

With no prompting or learning, the Q1 enables almost complete phone functionality using just voice commands.

A definite selling point, the Q1 recognises your voice immediately without any training and has a myriad of commands that allow you to answer calls, check battery status, redial numbers and even discover some handy tricks for how to use it by saying “Teach Me”.

Even the entire pairing process is conducted via a series of voice commands piped into your ear, making the Q1 tremendously easy to set up. All you need to say is ‘Pair Me’, and you’re away!

The Q1’s styling as sleek and futuristic as the technology inside it, a curved and minimalist design of dark-grey plastic with a main ‘talk’ button emblazoned with the BlueAnt logo, and two smaller volume keys on the top of the device.

Placing it near your mouth is paramount for getting it to work, as the voice prompting is super sensitive to various commands. A blustery day or travelling in a car can make the Q1 a tad difficult to use, so the best chance of it working is by positioning the microphone portion in the right direction.

The noise cancelling is quite some ways off the pace set by the Voyager Pro, and is even a couple of steps behind the Prime in the call quality stakes. Calls are still very  much audible and the ‘voice isolation sensor’ which forgoes audio fidelity to increase audibility in busy locations (in Max mode) works well.

It is just a matter of being spoilt by the wind-cancelling tech in other devices that made the Q1 in arguably the most important department…

Nevertheless, the Q1 has the cool factor in spades, with call mute and call waiting support, automatic volume modulation according to the surroundings and a decent battery life of 4 hours talk time.

If any device existed to make Bluetooth headsets cool, then the Q1 is it.  The mean form factor, the cool voice interface, even the ‘edgy’ logo, everything about the Q1 sets it apart, in a good way.