Hands-on with the Plantronics BackBeat GO 3 and Voyager 5200 headsets: Perfect for the new Apple iPhone

Apple will be revealing new iPhone models this week and all indications are that it will no longer include a 3.5mm headphone jack. Wireless headphones may become more popular and Plantronics offers a selection of options for different usage scenarios.

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For a few years, many thought people wearing Bluetooth headsets looked dorky or that they considered themselves more important than they really were. With today's advanced Bluetooth audio technology, combined with intelligent smartphone assistants and hands-free laws, a good quality headset is an essential business tool.

Last month Plantronics reached out to see if I wanted to evaluate the newest Voyager 5200 headset launched earlier this year, along with the BackBeat GO 3 since I enjoy podcasts and music on my two plus hour daily train commute. They are both great quality headsets with different target audiences. After a couple weeks of use, I favored one much more than the other.

Plantronics provides a number of Bluetooth headphone solutions with a different focus for each model. It also offers corded headsets, speakerphones, and more.

There is some crossover between lifestyle needs, but in general Plantronics Bluetooth headsets appear as the BackBeat FIT line for sports, the BackBeat GO for music, gaming, and entertainment, and the Voyager for mobile communications.

Plantronics BackBeat GO 3

The BackBeat GO 3 is the latest generation Bluetooth headset designed to provide a wireless music experience. While the two earbuds, a controller between the connecting wire, and Bluetooth integration are similar to the previous generation, the earbud system is entirely new and was developed after Plantronics further studied the anatomy of the ear.

The eartips are separated from the larger earbud piece so that you can install the proper sized tip and then seal in the sound to your ear. There is a single wing element on the earbud that is designed to hold the earbud in your ear better. Small, medium, and large silicone tips are included in the package. The medium tip worked well for my ear.

While the BackBeat GO 3 is not designed for running, that's what the FIT model is for, you can use the BackBeat GO 3 outside in light rain, humidity, and sweat since it has a P2i nano-coating. Since I am in an area with many overcast days, I appreciate this attention to detail.

The earbuds charge via standard microUSB by popping off the back of the right earbud. The battery is advertised to last for up to 6.5 hours of active listening and in my experience I was able to achieve about that time. Standby time is up to 14 days.

Plantronics also sells an optional portable charging case that you can use to carry around your earbuds. Inside you will find a microUSB cable with a charge status indicator on the outside. The charging case provides up to two full recharges for the BackBeat GO 3. It is available with the headset for an additional $30 in a bundle package in dark or light grey colors.

Bluetooth 3.0 is used in the BackBeat GO 3 with drivers for A2DP, AVRCP, wideband audo, and HSP. iPhone owners will see a headset battery meter on the display too.

The headset weighs only 19 grams so is very comfortable to use and also comfortable for long term wear. They are easy to pop right into your ear, without having to fumble around with anything. I wish the cables led down your neckline rather than leading forward towards your jawline, but they are still comfortable.

Smartphone assistants are getting better every year and with the BackBeat GO 3 you can initiate a response from Siri, Google Now, or Cortana.

Music sounded good from the BackBeat GO 3, but I personally would still like more volume. You need to make sure you have a good seal in order to have decent bass output.

There are iOS and Android apps with the focus in the app being on switching between devices. You really don't need an app for that so you can skip installing it if you want.

Phone calls sounded good through the earbuds, but the callers I talked to said that I sounded a bit removed. This headset works for calls, but is more focused on providing you with a wireless music experience so if calling is more important to you then you should look for another headset.

Plantronics Voyager 5200

My typical daily commute includes riding the Sounder commuter train with a walk from and to the train station in Seattle for about a mile along the Alaskan Way viaduct. This is a raised roadway that is packed with cars traveling at high speeds and thus my practice for the last several years has been to never make or accept calls during this period of walking. If I end up purchasing the new Plantronics Voyager 5200 I can add that time to my available calling hours.

The Voyager 5200 is the latest in the Voyager line of Bluetooth headsets and the four-mic noise cancelling with DSP and WindSmart technology is stunning. I walked adjacent to the viaduct in the loudest area I could find during a day when winds were blowing directly at me at about 10 knots as I walked into the wind and callers said I sounded nearly perfect. On their end, they could not hear the viaduct traffic at all and could just barely tell there was minor wind blowing on the mic. The ability to have this kind of performance in such tough conditions is a testament to the quality of the Voyage 5200.

The headset uses a wrap around design that can be placed on either your left or right ear. The boom rotates down to be closer to your mouth and a comfortable earbud tip fits into your ear. There is a microUSB port on the bottom of the headset with a physical on/off switch farther up the back. Volume control buttons are spaced well and positioned on the top of the main headset piece.

There are two buttons on the boom; one on the back side where the boom connects to the earbud and another a bit further forward that will be either on the top or bottom depending on what ear you wear the headset. The rear button is used to answer and hand up calls while the forward red button is used to activate your smartphone assistant. This works with Siri, Cortana, and Google Now.

The Voyager 5200 should last for up to seven hours of talk time. An optional charging case, available for $39.99, provides up to 14 hours of charging (2 full recharges). The charging case also serves as a carrying case and cool desktop dock where the headset fits into the top of the closed case and can charge while standing ready for you to grab it and put it on your ear. It's a great design and if you buy the headset I highly recommend the charging case/dock.

In addition to flawless calls, I also used the Voyager 5200 to listen to my podcasts during my commute. It works fine for audio, but the volume is not as high as I would like. You can use it for driving directions, streaming music, and more.

Bluetooth 4.1 is found in the Voyager 5200 with Class 1 Bluetooth providing a range of up to 30 meters (98 feet). I never had a dropped call or podcast while using the Voyager 5200.

The headset will also provide you with available talk time, announce incoming callers, and more through quiet voice alerts. The Voyager 5200 has P2i nano coating to provide sweat and moisture protection. It is available now for $119.99 and I highly recommend it.

After testing both of these headsets over the last few weeks, I enjoyed using the Voyager 5200 much more than the BackBeat GO 3. When I listen to music, it's tough to beat a set of wired headphones so I'm not willing to give up volume and clarity for music. For phone calls, nothing I've tried has been able to match the Voyager 5200 and as a heavy podcast listener it is perfect for calls and podcasts.

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