Bluetooth headsets

Hands-on: Plantronics Voyager Edge -- a headset that means business

It must be because I grew up in New York City: When I go out walking, or have a long subway ride, I feel uneasy wearing a pair of earbuds. What if there's an announcement I don't hear? What if somebody shouts "Look out!" behind me and I don't, well, look out?

So when I want to listen to something besides the traffic or the kid whining at the other end of the subway car, I use a single-ear headset. Not long ago, I reviewed Jawbone's new Era; another company that is known for its audio devices is Plantronics, which will be introducing the Voyager Edge, a reasonably priced ($130) Bluetooth headset in April. It is a lightweight, well-designed device with some very nice features.

Voyager Edge

Unlike Jawbone's Era, which is very much a consumer item and which looks as if it has been designed to be as unnoticeable as possible, the Edge is more business-like in its aspect. It has a visible boom arm, although that arm is slimmer and shorter than I've seen in similar headsets. It's about 2.75 in. long and about 0.75 in. wide and weighs 0.3 oz. The headset, which is water resistant, comes in black, gray or white, although according to Plantronics, other, more interesting colors and patterns will be coming in future.

Like the Era, the Edge also has its own matching charging case that, according to Plantronics, adds up to 10 hours of talk time to the 6 hours that the headset itself contains. The headset clicks neatly into the case; two rows of three LEDs show you the case's battery levels.

The Edge itself offers more hardware controls than the Era -- which is sometimes an advantage, and sometimes not. The Era only has a power switch and a single control button, which means you have to memorize the various patterns necessary to, say, change the volume. On the other hand, the Edge offers, besides the power switch, a large Call button on its back (which lets you take and discontinue calls), a volume rocker on the side of the earpiece (a welcome addition, and one which the Era could have used), and a small button on the boom itself.

This last offers a variety of functions -- it mutes and unmutes during calls, lets you play or pause streaming audio, and let you issue a voice command (such as "Check battery" or "Redial"). It's handy, although because it's on the boom arm, I was occasionally nervous that I might dislodge the headset.

Unlike the Era, which doesn't offer the motion sensors that Jawbone's previous models did, the Voyager Edge has the ability to automatically put through a call when you put on the headset and end it when you take it off; it will also pause streaming media when you take it off and restart it when you put it back on. This is a feature that somebody like me, who isn't wearing a headset constantly, would find very useful -- for example, the ability to just pick up the Edge if a call comes in while I'm driving and take the call immediately, even if I wasn't using the headset before.

Fit and sound

The Voyager Edge fit is extremely lightweight and fit quite comfortably into my ear; it comes with three ear tips and an over-the-ear loop for those who want one. (The package also contains a USB charging cable and a car charger.)

It uses a voice alert system, so that calls are announced (along with the name of the caller, when available) by a neutral female voice; at that point, you can tell it you want to answer or ignore the call. As mentioned before, you can also use the voice system (which is available in a variety of languages) to get information by tapping the multifunction button and asking one of several very specific commands.

I never had any trouble making myself understood, either to the Edge or to my callers. The quality of the audio was truly impressive; according to the company, the Edge uses three microphones to minimize environmental noise, and it worked quite well on noisy streets. If for that alone, the Edge is an excellent choice.

Currently, the Edge doesn't have a corresponding mobile app -- when I first got the review unit, Plantronics offered a reasonably useful, if not extraordinarily impressive, Android app called Plantronics MyHeadset. However, that app was replaced by one called Plantronics Hub, which at the time of this review didn't handle the Edge. (According to Plantronics, an upgraded app is in the works.) I found no current iOS app that works with the Edge, either.

Bottom line

The Voyager Edge by Plantronics is a nicely designed, businesslike headset with fine audio quality and a number of good features, including a comfortable fit, a simple and clear audio alert system, excellent sound quality, motion sensors, and a case that adds an impressive number of hours to its battery life.

It doesn't have the programmability or the consumery sense of fun of the similarly priced Jawbone Era. But when the Edge ships next month, it could be an excellent choice.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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