As smartphones get bigger and bigger, it becomes ever less desirable to hold the device to your head to make a phone call. Bluetooth headsets have been around for years now, and every new product generation brings better design, more features and enhanced performance. They're also a common enough sight out and about that the self-consciousness of using one is beginning to ebb away.
Plantronics is a prominent maker of audio comms products for business and home use, and the latest model in its premium Voyager range, the £89.99 (inc. VAT) Voyager Legend, takes functionality to new levels. It's still a sizeable device though, and many people may prefer to be seen in public with something more discreet clamped to their ear (such as Plantronics' own recently announced M55).
The Legend is a chunky 18g over-the-ear Bluetooth 3.0 device with a 6cm boom containing three microphones that, combined with enhanced digital signal processing, deliver improved voice optimisation and noise reduction. There are two control buttons on the boom section: a Call button at the hinge end and a Voice button on the underside of the boom itself, towards the 'ear' end; a 2-second press on the latter also pauses or resumes (mono) streaming audio playback. You get gel eartips in three sizes, plus a couple of felt covers.
The over-ear portion of the Legend, which is undeniably bulky, carries, from the bottom, a magnetic snap-fit battery charging connector, a power switch and a volume up/down rocker. You'll take a little while to familiarise yourself with the feel of these controls, but it doesn't take too long and despite its size, the Legend is comfortable to wear — even when wearing spectacles.
Pairing with a Bluetooth smartphone is straightforward: we connected to an ageing work phone running Android 2.2, and so didn't benefit from the on-screen headset battery meter in the notification bar for version 3.0 phones or later. You can pair the Voyager Legend with up to two handsets and, once you've given permission, it will access your contact details and announce a caller, allowing you to command it to 'answer' or 'ignore' as required.
A key feature of the Voyager Legend is its Smart Sensor technology, which will automatically answer an incoming call when you don the headset, or transfer an active call from phone to headset; taking off the headset transfers an active call to the phone, pauses any streaming audio and locks the Call button to prevent accidental redialling.
In use around ZDNet UK's open-plan office, and around the streets of London, we found the Voyager Legend's audio quality and general usability to be excellent. Battery life is claimed at 7 hours talk time and 11 days on standby, but we haven't formally tested this.
A trio of apps are available to go with the Voyager Legend: InstantMeeting identifies conference calls in your calendar and sets up a one-touch connection; FindMyHeadset lets you search for a misplaced headset by sending it a tone or, if it's out of Bluetooth range, bring up a map that tracks where it has been used; and Vocalyst (an online service for which you get one year free) will read your text messages, update settings, download contacts, select newsfeeds and deliver an audible alert when newsfeeds are updated.
Accessories include a battery-equipped carrying/charging case ($39.99) and a USB desktop charging stand ($29.95). In January 2013, Plantronics will release a Unified Communications (UC) version of the Voyager Legend including the case, desktop stand and a mini-Bluetooth dongle for linking to PC-based softphones.
The Plantronics Voyager Legend is a surprisingly comfortable and ergonomic boom-mic Bluetooth headset. It delivers excellent audio quality and has some clever features, but some may still find it too bulky and too expensive.