Plantronics focuses on function over form and succeeds. (January 24th, 2010)
Most Bluetooth headsets aim towards discreetness and style over sheer functionality. Plantronics has often followed suit, but with the Voyager Pro the company is taking a very different route: it revels in its conspicuous size and utility. We test that in our review of the Pro and Pro UC to see whether this translates to reality.
Product Manufacturer: Plantronics
Price: $100 (Voyager Pro), $200 (Voyager Pro UC)
- Good call quality.
- Above average battery life.
- Comfortable for long periods.
- Simple pairing.
- Low price for the base Pro unit.
- Not speedy to put on.
- Minor button layout quibbles.
- Pro UC twice as expensive for little gain.
- Pairs with two devices at most.
design and pairing
The Voyager Pro is conspicuously tailored towards the all-day user: the stock trader or sales agent who spends enough time on calls that the headset never leaves the ear. Here, sheer bulk is actually an advantage, and Plantronics makes a point to use it. Rather than try to pack everything into a single stick, the earpiece, microphone and electronics are each separated by the use of an ear hook and a mic boom. There's no subtlety to the design -- any social stigmas associated with Bluetooth headsets will remain here -- but the upshot is a shape that is surprisingly comfortable and flexible, even for hours at a stretch. It was easy to put on the Voyager Pro but still get a good fit, and the boom both puts the microphone closer and lets you adjust it to keep it in the right spot.
Our only concern is speed: since the design needs to sit over your ear, it's not as simple as slipping the headset into your ear.
The extra room also makes for a fairly capable control layout. A volume rocker at the top is surprisingly smart, being easy enough to adjust in mid-call but not placed in such a way to be triggered by accident. We do have some misgivings about the call button, though: it's placed just at the junction of the boom and earpiece, and there were a pair of moments (thankfully outside of calls) where we inadvertently tapped the button while trying to adjust the mic's position.
Setup is now a virtual non-event for most Bluetooth devices, and that's true here as well; it simply involves holding the power button down to enter discoverable mode and then choosing it as an audio device on the host. We tried pairing with an iPhone and an iMac without trouble. The Voyager Pro can remember two devices at a given time; that's convenient enough, although we'd note the MoGo Talk can remember five.
With the UC model, Plantronics bundles in a USB Bluetooth adapter to give Windows PCs a headset connection (it's not necessary for most Macs). We tried this as well and appreciated that it pairs in hardware, using a button on the adapter instead of depending on software. There's also software from PerSono to give Windows users integration of the headset with other phone software, but it's not absolutely necessary unless you're in a work environment where suites like Microsoft Office Communicator are a frequent part of the experience.
call quality and battery life
With such a large microphone and a noise-cancelling engine that specializes in wind, you'd expect the Voyager Pro to sound good, and for the most part it does. Calls come through loudly and clearly, and those we called say they had a similar experience, even with a moderate amount of background sounds. Noise reduction isn't as brutally efficient as on Aliph's Jawbone but certainly has a noticeable effect.
About the only dispute we have is with the tone of the sound. Inbound audio sounded slightly less neutral than on the MoGo Talk we tested just last week, with a slight hint of the compression coming through. Recipients fared better, and one participant suggested it sounded better than the MoGo Talk he heard just days earlier. That comes as no surprise given the microphone size and position; all the same, it's good to know the technology works in practice.
Since there's an ample amount of room on the back section, it's equally expected that the Voyager Pro lasts for a longer time than smaller headsets. It's possible to achieve roughly six hours of continuous talk; this is disappointingly not enough to last a full workday on its own, but even very frequent users won't talk through the entire span of a typical eight- to nine-hour shift, and many smartphones won't last for that amount of calling either. We can't quite claim the same for the standby mode, however. At five days of standby, the headset is going to need recharging at least once a week if it's to be always ready.
Many companies these days are trying to at least make some level of unique statement through their hardware, especially in visually conspicuous headsets. But in our testing, it became evident that Plantronics is virtually thriving on the workmanlike nature of the Voyager Pro. It may not be invisible, but it does exactly what one would hope for in a wireless headset. It takes calls well, sends calls well and lasts for a fairly long time on a single charge. We would tweak the design slightly for ideal button placement and ease of setup, but not much else.
At $100, the base Voyager Pro is also something of a minor bargain. Most premium headsets cost $130, so the core headset represents a genuinely good value. We're not so certain about the Pro UC. Home users, of course, won't usually have a need for the USB adapter or the pack-in software, but we think workers will feel like they're being charged an arbitrary $200, especially if their cellphones or computers already have Bluetooth built-in.
Given that customers do have the choice, though, it's easy to recommend the base Voyager Pro as a go-to headset. It won't win a style competition, but it will provide the good call performance you'd expect.