Sunday, May 6, 2012

Review of Plantronics BackBeat® GO

A happy face: Bluetooth to earbuds

I have gone through a bit of a progression with my headsets for my mobile phones. Years ago, I used one of those over-the-head style headsets that was wired and plugged into the phone. I actually still have it and was surprised to see that the jack is too small for my current phone.

For my previous phone I used a Motorola Bluetooth headset that fit over one ear. It worked fairly well with that phone and Bluetooth was the only option—there was no place to plug in anything. However, it never really fit my ear and tended to move around thus causing some background noise when the boom would touch my cheek.

I have also used that headset with my new smart phone, but I was pleased that this phone has a place to plug in earbuds. After all, the 4.5” screen of this phone feels a little like holding a small TV up to my face. A set of earbuds came with my phone and they work well, but all that wire can tend to get tangled and it’s hard to take it with me like the Bluetooth headset.

I recently learned that Plantronics has a possible solution—Bluetooth earbuds. In other words, there are no wires other than being connected to each other via a very flat wire that does not get tangled. Plantronics sent me the BackBeat® GO to review.

Plantronics BackBeat® GO with a smart phone *
  • Bluetooth® v2.1 + EDR
  • A2DP for audio streaming
  • AVRCP for music controls
  • Digital noise reduction
  • Full duplex echo canceling
  • 6mm neodymium speakers
  • Up to 4.5 hours listening
  • Up to 10 days standby
  • 13 grams weight

The earbuds were charged right out of the box. If you’re like me, you’re anxious to start using new gadgets, and it’s hard to wait when you have to stop and charge something.

But I must say that I had a hard time getting into the package. I felt it was a little overpackaged, and I’m sure Plantronics is just trying to protect the product, but I think they could redesign it a bit.

Pairing it with my phone was super easy—did not even have to enter a code. But overall the directions in the Get Started guide leave a little to be desired. I think most users would appreciate a few more drawings and explanations, especially when new to Bluetooth.

For example, there was no drawing for where to plug in the charger—only an almost unnoticeable letter pointing at the earbud, and in the list it said “Micro USB charging port (right earbud).” It’s up to you to figure out that it’s hidden behind a “door.”

Even some of the terminology like “standby” could use a little explanation. Is that powered on or not?

Power vs Call
My old Bluetooth headset is turned on when the boom is unfolded and the call will be automatically answered, so getting used to two buttons is different. The Power button makes the BackBeat® GO talk to the phone, and the Call button answers and hangs up calls, plus other functions such as call waiting and turning music on/off.

Also, my old Bluetooth headset has a constantly burning blue light when it’s on and the BackBeat® GO does not. It’s very easy to forget that it’s powered on and running down the battery.

The documentation says that it gets 4.5 hours talk time and that’s about what I was able to get. The standby time is listed as 10 days, but I assume that means without talking at all. I was not able to test that since I was constantly using it to test the sound quality. (Please see update at the end of this article.)

The included charger can only be used as a wall charger. It would have been nice if the micro USB part would separate in order to charge, for example, from a laptop.
Plantronics BackBeat® GO and accessories *
It came with S, M, L rubber tips for the earbuds to assist with adjusting the fit. The size difference is almost imperceptible until lined up next to each other (they aren't labeled or any different in color). Apparently, the one on the unit is S and that was big enough for me, however, the right earbud that contains the charging unit is obviously slightly heavier and would pull out of my ear until I added one of the stabilizer clips.

I tested the call sound quality of the BackBeat® GO against the phone and against my wired earbuds. Obviously, I couldn’t hear what the other parties were hearing, but each was almost equal in quality from my end. The other parties found the sound quality to be almost equal between the three and said that the BackBeat® GO delivers very good sound quality.

Plantronics BackBeat® GO controls on unit *
I have never been one to listen to music through earbuds, but I have tested that on my smart phone with the wired earbuds and it works flawlessly. But there is no volume control on my wired earbuds, so I’m limited to using the controls on the phone.

Listening to music is one of the advertised features of the Backbeat® GO. The volume can be turned up and down, music can be turned on and off, and tracks can be skipped forward and backward all from the controls on the unit—very convenient.

Listening to music through the earbuds has very beautiful sound, but the music will cut in and out periodically—usually less than a second each time. I have only tested this while holding the phone in my hand or placing it in my pocket. It can’t be losing the signal due to being too far apart—after all it says it works up to 33’ and with phone calls it does. It does not do this every time, and it’s possible that it works better when the phone isn't using wifi.

I also noticed that when multi-tasking on my smart phone, by surfing the internet while listening to music that is stored on my phone, almost every press of my finger to select something or return to a previous page or to the home screen also causes that same interruption in the music.

I contacted Plantronics about this and they sent me another unit—it did the exact same thing. I then did a little online research and found that this is a known issue with many different models of phones and models of Bluetooth headsets.

The sound quality was about the same as the wired earbuds. But what I like about being wireless is that I can charge my phone in one location of a room, and I can sit comfortably on the other side of the room without being tethered to the wall. Also, while driving in my car, not being tethered to the phone means I don’t have to worry about wires getting in the way. And this wire does not get tangled when you stuff it in your pocket or purse.

It really is a great product and I recommend it for phone conversations, but I feel unsure about recommending it for listening to music—the sound quality is great when it’s not cutting out, so you may just want to try it with your phone to be sure.

It has an MSRP of $99.99 and that price makes more sense if it replaces two products—bluetooth headset and wired earbuds. But if cost is not an issue and you like the idea, like I do, of not having to be tethered to the phone, I believe you will find it a great unit to own.

Update June 10th: I finally had the opportunity to test the standby battery life. I was only able to get a maximum of nine days—it's rated for ten—standby time. To test this, I fully charged the unit, powered it on, and did not used it at all during the testing period. I was able to do this twice and both times was nine days. Personally, I don't see this as an issue because I would not have a unit like this sitting around without using it, but I did want to let you know my findings. I do feel that the battery life is excellent for talking on the phone.

Questions: Do you think you will buy this unit? Does it matter to you that the music experience may not be perfect? If you already own this unit, what has been your experience?
Let me know by leaving a comment below.

* Photos courtesy of Plantronics Press Room.


  1. I cannot tell you how many times I've gotten tangled up in the wires to my ear buds while working out.

    Would love to go wireless.

    Will do some research on how BackBeat behaves with an iPhone. Thanks for posting this.

    1. Mary, I will be interested to know what your research finds. It may be worth it to you to try this device just to see how it performs with your particular model and usage. Let me know what you end up doing.

  2. I bought a set of these last night and will be my 3rd set of "Wireless" or Bluetooth headphones. The other 2 were way to big and bulky for me and my needs. I am a cyclist and a gym rat so I will be putting these through a LOT!! So far my listening tests from yesterday and today have been very good. While sound quality is a little bit less than a good wired pair, they are VERY good for what they are. There is actually a little bit of bass to the music but as expected the mids and highs are a bit out of balance. Call quality was really good, the noise suppression worked like a charm to keep wind noise out of the mix. My only worry right now is how long will they last? They need to be built solid to take the punishment that going "Wireless" will allow!

    1. Brett, thanks for sharing your experience so far. I do hope the earbuds will be durable and long lasting. Please touch base later and let me know if they are continuing to work well for you and also what device(s) you use it with.

  3. There seems to be an issue with these earphones. I'm suffering from the Blue Light of Death syndrome. For some reason, they just stopped working, stopped taking a charge. When you plug them into the charger, the blue light comes on (which is suppose to indicate a full charge), but yet the device remains unresponsive.

  4. I have had a pair of these for over a year. I originally bought them so I could listen to music on my motorbike. never skipped a beat, even when multitasking. I had these originally paired with an iphone 4 and now have it connected to the samsung galaxy note 2, still no issues, I have recently bought a bluetooth set for my motorbike helmet, fitted unit that stays on the helmet, so I retired the headphones from the bike. I do play ice hockey though as a goalie, and i've recently started to listen to music with these headphones while playing in net, only had 1 issue in about 5 games, where i turned my head and i think my chest pad clicked a button and the headset dialed my last called number. So here i was, standing on the ice getting pucks shot at me, trying to explain to my mate why i called him, not to mention the weird looks i was getting from my defenders thinking im talking to myself.
    but overall, these headsets are pretty good. give them a solid 8/10. Build wise, pretty good, the rubber / silicone finish on the buttons have a mechanical click behind them, so you can tell you've pushed the button or not, Sound quality really is brilliant, no sub bass, but what do you expect from earbuds? the length of the cable is plenty to wrap around even the biggest of necks and still sit comfortable in your ears, they only downfall, is that you can hear the vibration or the rustling of the cable on your clothes in your ears, the same if you put your ear on a table and scratch your finger nail on the table from arms length away. only really notice that if the music is down really low. It doesn't have to be up stupid loud to be heard, from 1 click above off you can hear it, i normally have them set to about 50% (set my phone to 80% volume) so maybe around 40%.
    From Memory i think i paid about AUD $110 and I'm pretty pleased with the result. Plantronics have always made cheap good gear. My old computer headphones where plantronics, I paid $30 for them and they worked great for about 5 years, until I retired them, then I gave them to a mate, and they're still using them till today, maybe 8 years since i bought them.
    When I got the backbeats, bluetooth connected from my laptop and watched a movie, sound quality was great.

    Great "Wireless" Headphones for the price
    Comfortable for about 45mins - hour.
    Respectable sound quality
    Good battery life (considering it's bluetooth and the units size)
    Distance of about 20 meters line of sight (before crackling)
    Weather resistant design, seems pretty water tight (except for the bud speakers of course - dont try to swim with them)
    Actually really hard to get tangled

    After about an hour of wear, start to get an ear ache from compression, and sometimes if they've been rubbing.
    Can very easily be put down and forgotten(even if you have them wrapped around your neck and not in your ears, they could slip off your from around your neck and you wouldn't even know)
    Buttons can be fidgety if you're wearing gloves.
    Tend to stick out a bit, so if wearing a helmet, need to take some care when putting helmet on and off.

    I would of been happy to pay $150 for these headsets. You can use them for almost any occasion, driving, motorbike, public transport, watching movies on pc, training. They've lasted longer than I have expected them to and have shown no sign of giving up. They have a few cosmetic scratches from being dropped or rolling around in my hockey bag.
    Great for anything really. Cycling, running, training at the gym, hockey, probably not so good for football, since you would get tackled and your head thrown to the ground, but your call...

    Build quality 8/10
    Sound quality 8/10
    Comfort 7/10
    Battery 5/10
    Connectivity 9/10
    Overall 8/10

    If they made a new version with smaller earbuds, i would pay $150-$180, these truly are value for money earbuds