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Plantronics Backbeat Pro 5100 True Wireless Earbuds, hands on: Comfortable and great for calls

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Written by Sandra Vogel, Contributor on
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Plantronics Backbeat Pro 5100 True Wireless Earbuds

  • Editors' Review
  • Specs

At £159.99 (inc. VAT; $169.99) the Plantronics Backbeat Pro 5100 True Wireless Earbuds compete with Apple's entry-level £159/$159 AirPods and are considerably cheaper than the new £249/$249 AirPods Pro. So on price alone the Backbeat Pro 5100 earbuds are certainly worth considering.

The Backbeat Pro 5100 earbuds major on the clarity of sound when making voice calls, with four noise-cancelling microphones and WindSmart technology that eliminates noise from wind and other background sources. Plantronics also pushes audio quality, thanks to a snug in-ear fit and 5.8mm drivers.

These are Plantronics' smallest and lightest earbuds yet, weighing just 5.8g each. There's no protrusion towards the bottom of the buds (as with AirPods), and they are black and silver in colour, so they're quite discreet. They come with three sizes of eartips, with the medium-sized ones fitted out of the box. I found them very comfortable to wear and was happy to keep them in for hours at a stretch. They are IPX4 water resistant, and so should withstand a bit of light rain if you wear them out and about. 

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The Backbeat Pro 5100 earbuds weigh 5.8g each and last for 6.5 hours (listen) or 4 hours (talk). The charging case, which has a Micro-USB connection, can deliver a further 13h, or 1h in a 10-minute quick-charge burst.

Images: Plantronics

The black carry case is small and solid. Its lid pops open when you depress a catch, and the buds are held in place by magnets and charged via connectors in their in-case housing. The charge port for the case's battery is on the underside. The earbuds themselves are good for 6.5 hours of use, and a fully charged carry case can deliver another 13 hours of life.

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It takes a full three hours to charge both the buds and the case from zero, but you can get an hour of power from a ten-minute charge. What this means in practice is if you leave the buds on charge when you go for a work meeting, or add a charge boost to the morning routine, then battery life shouldn't be a problem in the normal scheme of things. Still, rather annoyingly, when you want to take the buds away on a work or leisure trip, you'll need to carry a legacy Micro-USB charge cable.

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You can trigger specific actions by tapping the earbuds or control volume, but not both.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

I like that you can pair the buds independently of each other, so if you just want to use one of them for calls that's OK, and you can specify which one. The BackBeat app adds a range of features to headset control, including allowing you to specify what single- and double-taps on the face of the earbuds do, including starting a playlist, starting a timer or stopwatch, or hearing the time. If you disable the tap feature you can control volume via the buds with a tap to raise volume and a touch-and-hold to lower it. It's a bit of a Hobson's choice, that: I'd like to have both features available at the same time. The app also reports the battery life of each of the earbuds, which will vary if you use one on its own for calls.

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I made a number of person-to-person calls while wearing the Backbeat Pro 5100 buds, and the audio was clear every time -- the other parties said they could hear me clearly, too. I made successful calls while on a busy railway station and in a supermarket, as well as in the office. 

The Backbeat Pro 5100 buds were fine for listening to podcasts and spoken-word radio, but music was a little more hit-and-miss. Understandably, the sound quality is nothing like what you get with a good set of cans, and if you're a fan of deep, rich bass or full immersion in orchestral or rock music, then you'll be disappointed. On the other hand, audio quality stands up well to the true wireless competition, and for music while you work or travel it more than passes muster.

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