Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Plantronics M100 Bluetooth Headset


This is the first bluetooth headset I'm reviewing on this site that is not a Jawbone branded headset. Why? Because Jawbone rocks. The only downside to Jawbone is that they're more expensive than other headsets. This headset, however, fits into the lower side of the middle price range. Ringing up at $60 plus whatever Uncle Sam decides to take, it's a bargain.

Plantronics has been around a long time. They're the makers of some of the first bluetooth headsets I ever owned and, I'm going to be honest here, they used to suck. Refer to the beginning of this article for a full explanation of why they sucked. So, I guess the question is, "Have they changed enough in five years for me to acknowledge them as a serious game player?" Find out by reading the full article.
Pros:
-Slim and lightweight
-Inexpensive ($69 or $60 at AT&T corporate stores)
-Better-than-average sound quality
-Includes multiple wearing options

Cons:
-Talk button is a little difficult to press


The wearing options for the Plantronics 100, including the
clear loop (above) and the clear earbuds (to the right).
The first thing I look for in any bluetooth headset is how many options for wearing it there are. The reason for that is because only recently bluetooth headset companies have realized that not everyone's ears are shaped the same and have started including multiple sizes/styles of earbuds and ear hooks in the box with their precious headsets. In opening the box for the Plantronics M100, I found three different sized clear earbud, all with the little loop on the backside (see picture on left) so that you don't have to use the hook with it. This is my favorite style of earbud so I was pleased but other people I know don't like this so it would have been nice if there was at least one option that didn't include the little loop on the back. Now, I have large ear holes (the better to listen to my wife with) and so I went straight for the biggest earbud. Didn't fit. Too big. When I moved down to the middle, it hurt my ear to wear it for longer than 5 minutes at a time and any longer than 10 I started to get a headache. Yikes! I tried the smallest one, and strange enough, it worked for me. The clear rubber on these headsets is actually quite sticky so it stayed in my ear just fine. For review sake, I tried the big loop that goes over the top of your ear in addition to this smallest earbud and it was shaped in such a way that it pulled the headset away from your face, sticking out at an awkward looking angle. I'm all about how things look (says the guy who wears a bluetooth headset most of the time) so the loop didn't do it for me. Gone.

The M100 connected to the shirt clip, also showing the
volume button on the side
Another interesting thing that was included in the box was something I haven't seen with a bluetooth headset before... a clip that can clip to your shirt. "Interesting," I thought. It is not for use while talking because you wouldn't be able to hear the other person, but it's a nice option for storage on your person. I pictured myself using it on the inside pocket of a suit jacket. I would never clip it to my t-shirt collar because I think doing so may win me as many friends as a pocket protector.

The style of this headset it on par with the companies slogan for it, "The smartest way to talk and surf." It is meant to be slim like a surf board. It most definitely is. Next to my Jawbone Era or even my Jawbone Icon, this thing looks tiny and when worn it flushes nicely with the side of your face. I think the design looks like something someone in the movie, "Tron," may adorn. Not that that's a bad thing.

The M100 in front of the Jawbone Era
There are two physical buttons and one switch on this headset as well as an LED indicator light on the backside that sits against your face when worn. The on/off switch shows red when off and blends with the rest of the headset when on. There is a button on one side of it for the volume. The volume can be adjusted by tapping this button and it progressively gets louder until it is at the right volume or until it cycles through to the lowest volume again. The LED flashes blue when it is first paired or when it is looking for a phone it has previously paired with and flashes red/blue when it is in pairing mode. It flashes red when the battery is low. The "talk" button eluded me for the first half-an-hour (until I read the instructions) because it is neatly situated on the outside of the headset and blends in with the overall design. The charger is on the backside of the headset. One frustrating thing about the talk button: it is hard to press in a hurry and if you only use one finger to press it, it pushes the headset uncomfortably back into the ear canal. I found myself having to grab it with my thumb on the side and press the talk button with my index finger in order to comfortably answer an incoming call or make an outgoing call.

The backside of the M100 showing the charging port, and
the on/off switch.
So how did it perform in the field!? I use a bluetooth headset daily for what I do at AT&T. On those longer calls to customer service, it is a life-saver to have both my hands free and to not have to bend my neck in awkward ways in order to hold a phone to my head. So, I put my Jawbone Era away in its pouch and wore this around for a week.

The first thing I missed was the ability to play music through my headset. But, keeping in mind that this is a middle-of-the-road headset and not meant for fancy things like that, I couldn't hold that against it. You get what you pay for, after all. It was nice to see that Plantronics is conforming to the Micro-USB charger just like almost *ehem Apple ehem* every other communications company out there. That way, I could charge my M100 on my phone charger and wasn't bothered with bringing an extra charger just for my headset everywhere I went.

The underbelly of the M100 (the side that touches your
face) showing the speakers and the LED indicator circle.
While talking in a busy AT&T store, I was able to hear the person on the other end of the line and I was able to be heard clearly with minimal amounts of background noise. While talking in the car, it was slightly static-y. My mom described it as a tin-can like sound as if I were talking into a soup can. My wife described it as hollow. But as soon as I pulled up and shut the car off it went away. It wasn't enough to be a problem and I was still heard clearly, it just wasn't as clear as other headsets I've used. Again, you get what you pay for.

The battery life on it was great. I rarely had to charge it, and when I did the battery charged very quickly. I did have recurring problems with having to switch it back and forth between ears because they would get sore even with the smallest earbud in. This was annoying but I chalked it up to wearing a headset much longer than anyone else I know would ever wear one.

Tron. Ermmm, I mean, the front of the M100 showing the talk button.
When making outgoing calls, the talk button didn't merely have to be pressed, it had to be pressed and held until it beeped at me three times (about 4-5 seconds). I thought it may be a slow voice activation on my HTC Inspire but then it did the same thing on the HTC Status, an iPhone, and the Samsung Infuse. It's definitely a problem with the headset especially considering the instructions (this was the second time I consulted them) describe voice dialing as a short press and hold of the talk button. Incoming calls can be answered by a simple tap of the talk button. Neither the caller's name nor the number of the caller is announced in the headset when an incoming call is recognized by the phone, but a ringing does notify you of the event. This mean, for me anyway, that I need to pull the phone out of my pocket to see who's called before I answer it. Just another example of getting what you pay for as the Jawbone Era and Icon both do at least one of these, but for $70 and $40 more, respectively.

Over-all, I was satisfied with the M100. It did what a bluetooth headset is supposed to do. It is free of extra little features and frills that I am used to and that I appreciate from my bluetooth headsets, but for someone who wants to be able to talk on the phone hands-free and still be able to be heard well, this is the headset for them. Especially for the price.

Size comparison #2 with the Jawbone Era

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