Wayne Thorp will speak at the 2015 AAII Investor Conference this fall; go to www.aaii.com/conference for more details.
Updated Bluetooth hands-free headset with improved voice recognition, battery life.
In this column I have reviewed several Bluetooth hands-free headsets, including two from Plantronics: the Voyager PRO+ and Voyager PRO HD. Both are two of the highest-rated headsets I’ve tested, so I was intrigued when I was at CES this past January and saw that Plantronics had come out with yet another Voyager model, the Legend. The Voyager Legend looks very much like the PRO HD model I reviewed in June of last year and, according to Plantronics, sports such upgrades as an added third mic to improve sound quality and noise isolation as well as improved battery life.
If you have seen any of the other Plantronics Voyager headsets, the Legend will look very familiar. For some, this won’t be a good thing. The over-the-ear design may be a bit outdated, but I think it makes the headset much more functional. While it does take a little getting used to, you never have to worry about the Legend falling off. Like the Voyager PRO HD, the Legend fits both the right and left ear, which is a step up from many of its competitors, which will only fit in the right ear.
Along with the headset, Plantronics provides a USB charging cable, AC charger, foam eartip covers and additional silicone eartips to help you get the best fit within the ear. One change from the Voyager PRO HD is the charger connector. Instead of a micro-USB charger, Plantronics now uses a proprietary snap-fit magnetic connector. This is both a positive and a negative. The Voyager PRO+ I reviewed a few years ago stopped working and I always suspected that the micro-USB port had failed, which meant I couldn’t charge it anymore. The new magnetic connector means less wear-and-tear, and less of a likelihood that the connector will fail, but it also means you need to keep an eye on the special USB charger cable, or you will be out of luck.
The Voyager weighs 18 grams (0.63 ounces), which is one gram heavier than the Voyager PRO HD. This is probably due to the improved battery life and the additional mic (more on these enhancements later on). On the back of the earpiece, which is slimmer than the Voyager HD PRO, is the magnetic charge connector, on/off switch and volume rocker. I like to have the volume controls away from the call answer/button because it makes it impossible to accidentally end a call while trying to adjust the volume. I also appreciate the dedicated on/off switch, as it allows the user to know with certainty whether the headset is on or off. On the back of the boom mic is the call answer/end button, making it easy to find. Lastly, on the top of the boom is the mute/voice command button.
I have been using the Legend during Chicago’s hottest stretch of the summer, so I have come to appreciate the P2i nano-coating on the Legend that protects it from sweat and moisture.
The boom mic of the Legend now has three mics, up from two on the Voyager PRO HD. It is also longer and has more wind-screening, which should make it less susceptible to outdoor conditions.
The Legend uses Bluetooth 3.0 technology, which isn’t the latest generation (v4.0 has been around since 2010). Pairing the Legend with my iPhone 5 was very easy. To make sure the headset is on and that your phone’s Bluetooth is activated, press the call answer/end button until the red and blue lights on the back of the earpiece start flashing. On your phone under available Bluetooth devices, select PLT_Legend and the pairing process will finish. The Legend also supports multipoint technology, which allows you to pair it with two phones and answer calls from either one.
Since the Voyager HD PRO had already impressed me with its sound quality, I was interested to see how Plantronics was able to improve upon things with the Legend. Unsurprisingly, they were able to pull it off. They did this by adding a third mic with active DSP (digital signal processing). The Legend also has an internal 20-band equalizer and acoustic echo cancellation. What does all this mean? It means that even when walking down busy Michigan Avenue in Chicago or on an Amtrak train, I was able to carry on conversations that were loud and clear.
As with the Voyager PRO HD, the Legend has Smart Sensor technology, which means the headset can sense if you are wearing it. Therefore, it knows whether to send calls to the headset or your mobile phone, will lock the call button to avoid accidental redialing and will pause streaming audio when you take the headset off your ear.
According to Plantronics, the Legend now offers up to seven hours of talk time (up from six with the Voyager PRO HD) and up to 11 days standby (more than twice the five days delivered by the Voyager PRO HD). With a completely drained battery, it takes roughly 90 minutes to fully charge the Legend. With the Apple iPhone or Android phones, there is an onscreen battery indicator icon. With the Legend’s voice commands, the headset will also tell you how much talk time you have remaining and will give a “battery low” voice prompt when the battery needs charging.
The Legend offers a variety of voice commands and prompts. If you are wearing the headset when a call comes in, you can tap the voice command button and say “answer” to accept the call or “ignore” to reject it. You can also use voice commands to verify the headset is paired with your phone and to check the battery.
Holding down the call button also activated the voice command feature on my iPhone, which allowed me to place calls to people in my directory.
Plantronics has neared perfection with the Voyager PRO HD, and yet they were able to make improvements for the Legend. The added mic makes call-clarity even better, and they managed to add an additional hour of talk time and six more days of standby time. I am a bit surprised at how much criticism the Voyager line of Bluetooth headsets gets because of their design. Some call them clunky and even outdated. Frankly, I think the over-the-ear design is one of its strongest features. This allows you to wear it snugly, without the risk of it falling off; something I have experienced with most in-ear Bluetooth headsets. If you are looking to make a fashion statement, the Plantronics Legend isn’t for you. However, if you are looking for a hands-free headset that is comfortable to wear and offers excellent sound quality, the Plantronics Legend should be at the top of your list.
Best of all, Plantronics was able to build upon a superior product without raising the price. At $99, the Plantronics Legend is a tremendous value.
$99 (currently $80.27 from Amazon.com)