Review: Plantronics Voyager PRO UC Bluetooth headset

Touch sensors auto-answer calls when you place the headset on your ear

The scoop: Voyager Pro UC Bluetooth headset, by Plantronics, about $200.

What it is: The latest professional Bluetooth headset from Plantronics includes sensors that can detect whether you're wearing the headset or not, and then integrate with applications (both on your phone and PC software) to help enhance the headset experience. The headset also includes a tiny mini-USB Bluetooth adapter that connects the headset to your PC, as well as software that integrates between the PC and a mobile phone.

Photo of Voyager Pro

The headset includes noise-cancellation (via Plantronics AudioIQ2 technology), digital signal processors and its WindSmart technology to help reduce wind distortion. Inbound audio quality is enhanced through a 20-band equalizer and Plantronics' AudioIQ2 functions to automatically adjust sound based on the noise level around the user.

Why it's cool: The headset has two capacitive touch sensors that can detect when the headset is being worn – when you put the headset on, the headset will then auto-answer an incoming phone call. The same sensors will also automatically connect the headset to the phone when you put it on your ear (after the initial pairing). This automatic pairing and auto-answer feature eliminates the need for a user to press a button on the headset to make or answer a phone call, or otherwise check to see if their headset is paired – it just happens when you put the headset on.

The headset also supports Bluetooth audio streaming (A2DP profile), letting you listen to music from your phone when you're not on a call. The sensors also work with this profile – if you take the headset off, the system will automatically pause your audio stream. Putting the headset on again starts up the music.

The headset seems geared more to the user who wants to take off their headset during the day, rather than the user who just wears it all day long. For example, users who may store their headset in a purse will appreciate not having to find the headset and then figure out which button to press to answer the call when a call comes in – they just need to put it on their ear and the call will be connected.

Another nice feature of the sensor – it can prevent accidental dialing (aka pocket dialing) – if you're not wearing the headset, the phone won’t accidentally dial (as long as the headset is still paired).

The UC version also comes with a USB Bluetooth dongle, which then can integrate with several different UC/VoIP software platforms (including Avaya, Cisco, IBM Sametime, Microsoft Lync and Office Communicator, Shortel and Skype V5.0). The same automatic calling features apply when using the VoIP software – if a call comes in, the headset will answer when you put it on.

Like earlier versions of the Voyager headset, this one comes with a boom microphone and the giant earloop, which improves comfort and guarantees that the headset won't fall off your ear. That comes with a bit of a tradeoff, though, as people will definitely notice that you’re wearing a Bluetooth headset. The smaller Savor M1100 model still has a boom mic, but it's small enough that you don’t feel as much like a Borg.

Speaking of the M1100, it has one big feature that the B320 doesn’t – the sliding on/off switch. In order for the automatic answer feature to work, the B320 has to remain powered on, which can drain battery life of the headset. With the on/off switch on the M1100, my headset has lasted way longer than other Bluetooth headsets that don't have the switch.

On the software side, the Voyager Pro UC uniquely integrates with PC softphone clients to create a "smart presence" – for example, if you're on a mobile phone call, the headset informs the Skype or Microsoft Lync client that you’re busy, and changes the presence status to busy. In addition, the sensors can switch you from an IM chat to a voice conversation by putting the headset on your ear.

Bottom line: At $200, this headset can be expensive if you’re just going to use it for your mobile phone calls – the value increases if you’re a heavy user of UC or VoIP applications (Skype, Lync, etc.) and you want the benefit of having the headset inform those apps that you’re on a phone call. The sensor technology that auto-answers the incoming phone calls is very cool, but only useful if you’re one of those people who store their headset somewhere else (in a purse, on your dashboard, etc.).

Grade: 4 stars (out of five).

Shaw can be reached at kshaw@nww.com. Follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/shawkeith.

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