When I joined Microsoft nearly five years ago (wow, that’s gone quick) I was presented with a technology survival kit on my first day. A Lenovo laptop, a Windows Phone, and a set of Jabra wired headphones. The headphones were necessary (they still are) because there’s almost no desk phones in Microsoft – your PC is your phone, courtesy of Lync… sorry, Skype for Business.
The laptop has been replaced (Dell XPS 12, and a Surface Pro 3), and the original HTC phone has long since been replaced several times (Nokia Lumia 900, 920, 830, and now a Microsoft Lumia 950 XL). But those ol’ Jabra headphones kept on going, and I was happy with them… until I visited the Plantronics stand at Future Decoded late last year.
I should also mention that my technology kit was supplemented by the excellent Plantronics Voyager Legend UC Bluetooth headset, right up until the point I opened the carrying case a few months ago and discovered it was missing – after much fruitless searching I concluded I’d left it on a train seat.
Anyway, back to the Plantronics stand. Front and centre was the subject of this blog post, the Voyager Focus UC. There’s a photo here, so you can see what it looks like (click on the image to see a larger version)… more like a set of headphones for listening to music rather than being part of your unified communications solution. But let’s jump forward a week…
The courier found our house (a minor miracle) and I excitedly opened the box. Yes, I still get excited by opening a box of new technology. The Voyager Focus UC (I’ll just say ‘Focus’ from here on) box contained the headphones, a USB charging cradle, a rather smart carrying pouch, and a little USB / Bluetooth dongle. You don’t always need the dongle, but it allows you to connect the Focus to any PC or Mac without the need for Bluetooth pairing, so a good use of a USB port. A microphone swings down from one of the ears, so you know this is a headset for communication as well as entertainment.
The Focus is extremely light and very comfortable – I’ve used them for a two hour conference call with no irritation. The sound is excellent – you don’t fully appreciate that on phone calls when someone is droning on (not aimed at anyone in particular), but you do notice that sound quality when listening to music from a phone, iPod or PC. There’s active noise cancellation – switched on it won’t completely drown out someone talking near you, but it’s very good at taking away the general office hubbub and the constant hum of the air conditioning. For the benefit of the people near you, there’s no sound leakage. One of my colleagues was trying the Focus in the office earlier this week, I started playing some music but had to ask him if he was hearing it – I couldn’t hear any sound leaking out (which is nice for people next to you on a train).
The ‘ears’ feature call controls and music controls, although I have noticed that play / pause / next track don’t work with Spotify on a PC (no big deal). But they do work with the Spotify app on Windows Phone, which means that you don’t have to get your phone out of your pocket.
Like other Plantronics devices, the Focus has intelligence built in. If you’re on a call and you take the headphones off, you’ll be muted. If you’re listening to music, taking them off will pause the track and putting them back on will resume the play (not Spotify on a PC, but again, that does work for the Spotify app). When a call comes in, swinging the microphone down will answer. The Focus will alert you if you’re muted on a call but start speaking, and there’s also an ‘OpenMic’ button for you to hear your surroundings without having to take the headphones off. One of the ears provides a volume adjustment control.
Like many other Plantronics devices, you can connect a mobile phone and an iPod while also being connected to the PC (or Mac). So if you’re listening to music and a call comes into the mobile phone, the music will pause when you answer the mobile call.
The battery life is, supposedly, eleven hours for calls and longer for just music, and I only say “supposedly” because I haven’t measured it… but I have gone for a long period before re-charging. When the Focus is switched on it tells you the battery level and the remaining talk-time.
Yes, I do recommend the Voyager Focus UC unreservedly.