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Rich Tehrani

[August 5, 2003]

Plantronics M3000 Bluetooth Headset

BY RICH TEHRANI

Editors' Choice Award


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Plantronics has done an admirable job with their new M3000 bluetooth headset. It is far superior to their older M1000 in virtually every way possible. Let’s start with range. I was heard clearly from 20 feet away from the phone while being separated by two computer monitors, a fax machine and four cubicle partitions while standing next to a Wi-Fi access point. This is incredible for a bluetooth headset. The M3000 far exceeds the range of the previous bluetooth headset range champion -- the M1000 -- as well as the SonyEricsson HBH-60. Although the Jabra FreeSpeak BT200 is a great device, its effective range is far less than all other bluetooth headsets I have tested in the past.

Although the HBH-60 was the best bluetooth headset I have reviewed to date, the M3000 is better in many ways but not all. All told, there is a lot to like about Plantronics M3000this new technological wonder. For example, one of the most frustrating issues with using a bluetooth headset is the battery life, which is often a fraction of what today’s cell phones offer. This leaves you in a bind if you like using your headset, but suddenly find that it is unusable. I always carry a spare wired headset, which is pretty ridiculous to have to do when your primary headset costs more that $100! The SonyEricsson HBH-60 has insufficient talk time for people who use the phone often. I get about 90-100 minutes of use before it dies abruptly. In order to live with this headset, I found that I needed to charge it every two days when I work in the office, and every day if I am traveling -- when I tend to use my cell phone more frequently.

Plantronics claims that the M3000 has eight hours of talk time and a whopping 200 hours of standby time. Always take manufacturer numbers with a grain of salt. Even if you discount these numbers by 30 percent, you are still doing great with 5.6 hours of talk time and 140 hours of standby. I have been using the headset for less than a week and I feel comfortable with my “grain of salt” numbers above. Many cell phones can’t boast battery life numbers like this, which means you shouldn’t ever have to worry about your headset dying as long as you charge it every time you charge your phone. Recharge time for the battery is about an hour and a half, which puts it in line with the other bluetooth headsets mentioned above, save the SonyEricsson -- which takes considerably longer. I must say that this fast recharge time is incredible considering the battery life Plantronics claims is four to five times greater than other comparable bluetooth headsets!

One thing that annoyed me about the M1000 was that when you paired the headset to your phone you had to use a special four-digit code supplied by Plantronics. Most every other vendor that supports bluetooth just uses “0000.” It seems others must have been annoyed by the code as well because the M3000 sports “0000” as its code just like all other bluetooth devices you may be familiar with. One word of caution, if Lucy Liu wants to hack your bluetooth cell phone bad enough, you won’t be able to stop her.

Other great features you are sure to appreciate are the ability to redial a phone number by pressing the talk button twice. This is especially true if you use T-Mobile, since their service quality can rival that of carrier pigeons in most parts of the country -- meaning you’ll get cut off more than your toddler playing bumper cars at Six Flags. You also get a call reject feature, allowing you to let a call go into voice mail by just pressing and holding the talk button. The single problem with the auto redial feature is that the headset can accidentally initiate a call if you leave it on and place it in your pocket. In fact the documentation suggests you turn the phone off before you place it in your pocket. This feature should be able to be user-selectable to avoid having to turn the device on and off repeatedly.

I like this headset’s ability to mute a call with the press of a single button. Some other headsets force you to hit multiple buttons to achieve this effect. I am always scared that my caller can hear me when I think they are muted. At the opposite end of the spectrum the volume level of this headset is the best of any other I have tested to date. This is great if you find yourself talking in a loud car or noisy environment.

Not all bluetooth headsets have a battery that can be replaced and that means that they will become useless in 12-24 months as they didn’t hold a charge that well when they are new. Not so with the M3000, which like the M1000 has a removable battery that can be replaced repeatedly meaning the headset will last a good amount of time.

The design of the M3000 is far superior to the M1000. It looks like the Nokia HDW-2, a device I have yet to test but I hear is comparable to the new Plantronics unit. It is similar to the SonyEricsson HBH-60 in length but 1.5 times wider and 1.5 times deeper. It feels just slightly heavier than the HBH-60, which is impressive given its battery life -- which is far greater. This is not a sleek device nor is it huge. Sliding the earpiece toward the headset allows it to slip into your pocket with ease, and for all practical purposes it will feel like a 10-piece pack of gum if such a thing exists.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
For all the praise I want to heap on Plantronics for finally making a bluetooth headset that blows the competition away, I have a complaint that the company must be aware of. In the documentation, it clearly states that callers may have problems hearing you outdoors due to excessive wind. This is an understatement. If you walk even slowly and there is a breeze, your caller is not able to hear you at all. Plantronics suggests finding a sheltered location, which is a big drawback, but taken as a whole -- the headset is much better than the M1000 and sets a high standard in virtually all other areas of bluetooth headset design.

Another complaint I have about the M1000 is that its tones aren’t intuitive enough. The M3000 continues this trend. When the headset is turned on it should have an ascending series of tones, and descending when it is turned off. The M3000 is the same as the M1000 in having a single tone for both functions.

The earloop provided with this device is simple plastic and I thought that this would make the headset very uncomfortable. I am happily mistaken as the M3000 comfortably slips over the ear and causes little fatigue after extended wearing. I would have expected a more flexible rubber like loop because the headset is a little loose when you turn your head to look over your shoulder while driving. I should emphasize that the device is just slightly loose, and is not nearly as loose as the Jabra headset, which hangs freely below the ear.

If you have a big or small ear, Plantronics can supply you with an earloop specifically designed for your ear size. Other unique options are the ability to convert the headset to an over-the-head design with the addition of a headband that will make you feel like a directory assistance operator. There is also a behind-the-neck neckband for discreet and comfortable use. These features are incredible. Plantronics has done a great job by offering so many accessories designed for convenience and comfort. This headset gains 10 points in the chart below under “Additional Wearability Options.”

One nagging issue with many Bluetooth headsets is that they don’t always connect seamlessly with the phone. Such is the case with this Plantronics headset. Occasionally sound ends up in the phone and not the headset. Interestingly, SonyEricsson, which makes their own headset and the t68i test phone I used, has problems getting the phone and headset to connect seamlessly together. The Jabra FreeSpeak is the best headset in terms of connecting to the SonyEricsson phone, as ironic as that seems. See the chart below to compare the headsets on this attribute.

The price of the M3000 is excellent at around $110. It is loaded with features and it has the longest battery life of any Bluetooth headset on the market. I feel confident recommending this headset to anyone who does not plan on using the headset extensively outside. While this single drawback can be a deal breaker for some, the trade-off is absolutely incredible battery life, range and features in an ergonomic package from the worldwide leader in headsets. I must finish this review by telling every person that drives a car and talks on the phone that a bluetooth headset makes your driving experience infinitely safer due to its lack of a cord and is worth the investment.
 

 

Jabra

SonyEricsson

Plantronics M3000

Plantronics M1000

Volume Level*

5

8

10

3

Seamless Phone Connectivity (t68i)

10

7

2

8

Secure Fit on Ear (When Turning Head)

2

10

7.5

10

Range From Phone

3

8

10

9

Ease of Use

10

8

9

7

Audible Feedback

10

10

6

5

Resistance to Wind Noise

5

5

0

3

Replaceable Battery

0

0

10

10

Look of Headset**

8

10

6

4

Battery Life

5

5

10

7

Recharge time

10

5

10

10

Value

10

8

8

5

Comfort

10

7

8

10

Tech Support***

10

0

10

10

Compactness

6

10

6

2

Additional Wearability Options

0

0

10

0

Total

104

101

122.5

103

*A volume level of 5 or below means the headset is not loud enough to hear in all but near silent environments.

**Look of headset is my interpretation of how good the headset looks. Much credit goes to fellow TMC team members, my wife and the many people in the malls and grocery stores that help me determine how I look while wearing these devices on my ears. Headsets causing the reviewer to be ridiculed receive substantially lower scores.

*** SonyEricsson has dismal support based on my experience with their numerous telephones. Customers were kept waiting for up to two months before they received replacements for defective phones in Spring 2003. I did not get a chance to test the support of Jabra or Plantronics for this review but I have known and used Plantronics devices for over 20 years and Jabra devices for over 10 years. I am not aware of any similar support problems with these other companies.

Rich Tehrani is TMC's president. He welcomes your comments. Participate in our forums.







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