Plantronics dipped its toes in the true wireless earbuds market last year — with mitigated results. While it nailed the product's design and features, connectivity was an issue that you only noticed if you spent a lot of time out in the open. Now the company is back with a new range of true wireless buds and is hoping to fix that problem thanks to Bluetooth 5.0 and a new chip from Qualcomm.
The Pro 5100 are Plantronics' new premium offering, though in the true wireless earbuds space, they fall in the mid to high-end. And if you manage to forgive their MicroUSB charging port and slightly high price tag, they're quasi-perfect.
|Battery life||Up to 6.5 hours listen time, 13 extra with the charging case|
|Battery capacity||60 mAh (earbuds), 440 mAh (charging case)|
|Charge time||Up to 2 hours for full charge, Up to 1 hour of listening with a 10-minute quick charge|
|Audio||20 – 20,000 Hz frequency response, 5.8mm drivers|
|Weight||5.8g (each earbud), 38.6g (charging case without earbuds)|
|Other||IPX4 water-resistant, four microphones for noise-canceling on calls|
|Comfort||They're light, fit very well, and can be worn for hours without discomfort.|
|Volume controls||Many true wireless earbuds skip these, so it's nice to have them here.|
|Sound quality||Plantronics continues to deliver good sound with every product it releases.|
|Still MicroUSB||It's unjustifiable at this point.|
|Price||$170 is too much, considering the lack of USB-C, wireless charging, or active noise cancellation.|
Hardware, design, what's in the box
If you're a fan of minimalism and inconspicuous design, the BackBeat Pro 5100 will appeal to you. The buds are small and only come in black, but feature various materials: a shiny smooth exterior with the PLT brand, a metal-like finish around the microphone grill, rubber for the eartip, and matte plastic for everything else.
Due to their size, weight, and design, the buds are super comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. Their fit is perfect for my ears and they don't budge no matter how much I move. I can easily spend a few hours listening to music and podcasts on them, and I don't feel a building pressure inside my ears.
The buds are both sensitive to touches and presses, but by default, the right one controls media playback and voice calls with presses, while the left one controls volume with touches. You can switch the functionality between them if you prefer, and if you only take the left bud out of the case, it automatically becomes the main bud and controls playback without any setting change on your end.
Both buds have proximity sensors. When you take one out of your ear, audio stops, and when you put it back in, it resumes. For phone calls, you can choose whether that mutes your mic or transfers the call to your phone.
The charging/carry case is easily pocketable, made of sturdy plastic, and opens with a push on its latch. There's no magnetism here like many earbud cases I've tested before, but that's for the better. You don't need to fiddle to open or close the case and it won't pop open if you drop it. The one drawback is that it uses MicroUSB for charging. It's 2019 and Plantronics should get with the times and use USB-C already.
The Pro 5100 comes with two extra eartip pairs, a short MicroUSB charging cable, and manuals. I'm concerned that the tips' design isn't universal. They fit specifically on the Pro 5100, so if something goes wrong with the ones you're using, you can't buy any generic replacement.
Features, sound quality, battery life
Plantronics says the BackBeat Pro 5100 last up to 6.5 hours on a single charge. I never used them that long, but a two-hour session drops them to about 65-70% of battery, which falls in line with the promised number. As always, having extra charges in the carry case is one of the best features of true wireless buds, and here, you should be able to fill them up twice more before they die on you.
The Pro 5100 barely protrude from the ear when worn — they're that tiny.
The Pro 5100 don't skimp on features. Besides the sensors and interchangeable primary bud option, the BackBeat app offers several customization options. You can choose whether the left bud controls volume or launches specific functions under My Tap. Available options include a timer, stopwatch, Google Assistant, a Spotify playlist, etc... You can also pick what the sensor does when in a phone call, enable HD voice calls, check the last place your headset was connected in case you lose it, and more. They're a bunch of little perks that make the experience just a little bit more personal.
Plantronics continues to deliver great sound quality in its products. Thanks to a good fit and seal, I can enjoy my music and podcasts regardless of environment. I've used these in the airport, on a plane, and in a mall, and even at 60-70% volume, I would have to really focus and try hard to hear any outside noise. I didn't experience any connectivity issues with them either, even in wide-open environments.
Despite their small size, they pack a bit of a punch. Vocals in music and podcasts sound great, and that's where the Pro 5100 shine most. Bass is never going to be heart-thumpingly good in such a small form factor, but it's decent. Highs are surprisingly distinct and clear. The lack of an equalizer or multiple audio profiles inside the BackBeat app is disappointing, considering everything else the app provides.
Should you buy it?
Maybe. Throughout my time with the Pro 5100, I kept wondering who this headset is for and I couldn't find a clear-cut answer. It's for no one in particular but also for everyone. Unlike some competing products, it's not geared for the audiophile, the gym rat, the premium user, or the techie. Its price also prohibits it from appealing to the general consumer.
Plantronics' biggest concern is competition in this space. The Samsung Galaxy Buds are almost identical, charge over USB-C or wirelessly, but they offer less battery life overall. They're way cheaper though, with a $130 MSRP, and some discounts can drop them to a no-brainer $80. On the other end of the scale, Sony's WF-1000XM3 cost $230, only $50 more, and offer active noise cancellation. It's hard to find a reason to recommend the BackBeat Pro 5100 when it's stuck between these two excellent choices.
That's not to say the Pro 5100 does anything necessarily wrong — well, beside the MicroUSB charging port, and even that might not be a dealbreaker for some. It has a tiny profile, superb fit and comfort, good sound, and some quality of life improvements like the interchangeable primary bud or sensors. It can be perfect for the everyday commuter, the coffee shop freelancer, and anyone who wants decent sound quality and convenience on the go... provided they did their research and prefer it over the Galaxy Buds or Sony WF-1000XM3.
Buy it if
- You want a small pair of wireless buds with great sound and some handy features
- You value good battery life over USB-C or wireless charging
- You find them discounted at a $100-120 price.
Don't buy it if
- USB-C is mandatory
- Your budget is smaller — get the Galaxy Buds
- You can spend a little bit more — get the Sony WF-1000XM3