Plantronics BackBeat FIT

Usually if I’m discussing a product from Plantronics it’ll be associated with unified communications (these days more likely to be Lync or Skype than Sametime). I’m the proud owner of a Calisto 620 speakerphone and, probably one of the best tech products I’ve ever owned, a Voyager Legend headset. Today, however, I shall be writing about a rather different Plantronics product…

In a recent blog post I talked about losing weight and going to the gym, but therein was a small problem. Pounding the treadmill, working the cross-trainer, rowing the English Channel and pumping iron is boring without some musical accompaniment. I’d pulled some old over-the-ear headphones out of a drawer and they were okay… just okay. Most of the time they stayed in my ears, but on a number of occasions a movement pulled on the cable and they came off my head. The most common cause was my watch strap catching the cable when rowing. These old headphones also didn’t provide much volume and let in a lot of outside noise – outside noise being the absolutely awful loud music they play out of the speakers in the gym*, and sometimes women having a natter next to me.

* Why they bother to play music is beyond me, everyone has their own headphones.

Last week I attended Microsoft’s Future Decoded event, and I bumped into my friend Declan who was manning the Plantronics stand. Alongside the familiar corporate black and grey products was something rather different, an eye-catching lime-green colour (also available in electric blue). Plantronics bringing some funk to the office environment? No, this was Plantronics’ foray into the sports headphones market. And they looked like they were just the thing I needed… no cable (they connect via Bluetooth) and designed to stay on your ears.

Plantronics BackBeat FITA week later my BackBeat FIT arrived. The box contained the headphones, a pouch which turns inside-out to become an armband, and a USB charging cable (I have several hundred of these but you can never have enough). They charge through a hidden USB port, and once charged I paired the FIT with my old iPod Touch (which was a quick and easy task). The headphones hang over your ear-flaps, but also have an ear-piece designed to twist and lock into your lug-holes. It took a couple of tries to get the knack, but now it’s easy… and I can tell you that Declan was right, these things do not come out by accident. Thanks tp the fairly soft rubber the fit is very comfortable. The connecting band goes around the back of the head, and the rubberised flexible design means that you can scrunch up the FIT and stuff it in a pocket.

The ear-pieces offer a play / pause control and a volume button on one side, and a call button on the other side (haven’t tried connecting a phone yet). The play / pause button can also be used to move one track backwards or forwards, and the volume button can be used to increase or decrease the volume (which sounds obvious – a tap increases the volume and a longer press decreases the volume). Having these controls on the ear-pieces means that you can keep your music device in your bag or pocket. What’s really good is this… you don’t even have to take the iPod out of your bag or pocket… simply switching the FIT on and hitting ‘play’ brings the iPod to life, connects over Bluetooth and starts playing where you left off.

Plantronics BackBeat FITWhen you turn the headphones on, or tap the power button, a voice will report the battery status (full, high, medium, low and recharge now). Plantronics claim eight hours playing time and fourteen days of standby – I estimate that I’ve used them for well over five hours this week and they’re still reporting ‘high’. Quite amazing really when you look at them and think “where’s the battery?”

The important question, what’s the experience of using the FIT? On the first evening I went to the gym and ran 10km (which took 1 hour 5 minutes 15 seconds). The headphones are designed to allow ambient noise (a safety feature so that you can be aware of your surroundings and traffic while out jogging) but turned up loud they did a great job of drowning out the awful gym music. The sound is rich and full, you get a lot of volume, and basically it made me realise how bad my other headphones were. After 90 minutes in the gym the headphones hadn’t budged and were still really comfortable.

During this week I’ve used them on the train to and from London, and on the underground, and walking to an appointment. I have often used my Apple-supplied earbuds on these scenarios, but the wireless arrangement and the zero chance of the ear-pieces falling out make using an iPod (or other music device) a much better experience.

So, my summary is plain and simple… I love these headphones, and I would recommend them to anyone without hesitation (even if you’re not a gym dweller or jogger). Hey, don’t forget it’s Christmas soon.


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