I've reviewed several sets of Bluetooth earbuds. With each one, there are things I would change about the design. On some, the buds are huge. Others forgo the massive bud size in exchange for a remote/receiver that needs to be "worn." Why can't someone just build a set of BT earbuds that look and feel like wired buds? is the question I find myself asking with each new headset.
Then I got my hands (and ears) on the Plantronics BackBeat GO. Without giving too much away up front, this headset is a breath of fresh air in a market filled with "I guess I can make these work" solutions.
What makes it so good?
First off, the form factor. It's basically like a set of wired earbuds without the wire leading into your device, and it's amazing. The buds themselves are only a bit bigger than a regular, wired set, but they're still crazy-compact compared to the competition.
In fact, considering how small these buds are, I immediately assumed they would produce equally small sound. I was wrong. The sound is very well balanced - the highs are crisp and noticeable, and lows provide enough depth without becoming muddy. As I've stated before, though, I'm not an audiophile, so take that for what it's worth. Of course, I don't see any self-proclaimed audiophile buying a $99 set of wireless earbuds, either. I'm happy with the sound and volume produced by these buds, and I'm sure the majority of "normal" users will be, too.
As small as it is, Plantronics still managed to shove a full-size microUSB charging port into the right bud, so no annoying proprietary chargers are necessary, which is a huge benefit.
Cool. What about functionality, fit, and feel?
Continuing down the cable about two and a half inches (still on the right side) is an inline remote where you'll find the power, volume up/down and call answer/end/pause buttons, as well as the built-in mic. This is probably the only "meh" thing about this headset - the controls are slightly cumbersome, as it's difficult to tell which button you're pressing. Maybe it's volume up, or maybe it's pause. Maybe you'll just turn the thing off altogether. You get used to this after using the headset for a while, so that's really only an issue during the first couple of weeks.
Left: in-line controls; Right: stabilizers
Where fit and feel are concerned, these babies are quite comfortable. The entire headset is ultra light - only 13 grams - and, like most other buds, ships with multiple tips of various sizes. it also comes with Plantronics "stabilizers" that fit behind the tip to better hold the buds in place during vigorous activities, like running or cycling. The stabilizers didn't actually make as big of a difference as I'd hoped they would, but they do help the buds stay in place. Still, even with them on, I found myself having to push the buds back in place fairly often, especially while working out. That's not a deal breaker for me, but if get annoyed by having to adjust your earbuds, then this set may not work for you.
Lastly, I want to touch on connectivity. It's becoming more and more common for people to have multiple Bluetooth devices, so it's natural to want to use the same headset between them all. Unfortunately, the BackBeat GO can only be paired with one device at a time, so you'll have to re-pair each time you switch devices. Deal breaker? No. Annoying? You better believe it.
Does it work for calls, too?
Indeed it does, and the call quality is pretty good. While on calls, though, I had to remove the left bud (the right side is where the mic is); otherwise, there was just too much of a seal created and I was left listening to my voice bounce around inside my head. Past that, this is probably the best stereo Bluetooth headset that I've used for making calls, which is exactly what I would expect from a company known for making high-quality, reliable headsets.
OK, how's the battery life?
This is where the BackBeat GO falls short compared to other BT headsets that I've used. Plantronics says the headset is good for about 4 hours of music playback and 4.5 hours of talk time, with a standby time of 10 hours. In my tests, however, the music playback time was closer to about 3-3.5 hours; I didn't take the time to babble on the phone for half my day, but given my use of it, I would say that 4(ish) hours of talk time is probably pretty accurate. Because of its miniscule size, though, I think less battery life is a worthy trade off. If, however, you use a headset for more than four hours a day, you may need to look elsewhere.
Plantronics also has a very, very, very basic companion app. When I say very basic, I mean very basic. As soon as you connect the headset, a notification shows up in the tray with the remaining battery percentage and approximate play time. There's no app tray entry. No options. Nothing. However, when you tap the notification, it takes you to Plantronics website, which makes absolutely no sense to me. Still, I think this is a useful tool, so long as you don't touch it. Ever.
Should you buy it?
Honestly, this is probably the best stereo Bluetooth headset I've ever used. Sure, it has its quirks - poor battery life and subpar fit, namely - but in my opinion those tradeoffs are worth it for the excellent form factor and light weight. Combine those things with good quality sound, and you've got yourself a winning headset for only $100.