Design and features
The stereotype of the technology lover is far from flattering. The World of Warcraft player in South Park sums up this cruel image best, as an overweight loner catching corn chip crumbs on his paunch, wearing a wrist guard to protect himself from carpal tunnel during day-long sessions of online gaming. In reality, technology lovers come in all shapes and sizes, and one of the key groups grabbing attention from tech vendors are gym junkies. Smartphone accessory departments are filling up with armbands to hold your phone while you run, and the various app stores each have dozens of exercise routine monitors and GPS cycling trackers.
The Plantronics BackBeat complements these workout-focused accessories a treat. Weighing only 35g, the 903 is a lightweight wireless headset using the Bluetooth A2DP profile to stream your music from your phone (or Bluetooth-enabled MP3 player) to its earbud speakers. It also makes use of the AVRCP Bluetooth profile, allowing you to use its external controls to skip music tracks and to adjust the volume of playback.
The design of this unit is perfect for its function, although it doesn't have the most appealing appearance. Accommodating the headset's internal battery means that the 903 looks similar to two black over-the-ear hearing aids connected by a short black cable. It's important to remember, though, that most of these units are concealed behind your ears when you wear it.
We found setting up the BackBeat headset to be extremely easy. After pressing and holding the power button until the headset's single LED flashed blue and red, indicating pairing mode, we hit the Bluetooth settings on our phone and selected the headset. Easy-peasy. Fitting the BackBeat was a little trickier, though. The hearing aid-like design doesn't slip onto your ears as easily as you might expect. We found that we had to push each ear under the loop, and then gently push the earbud into the entrance of the ear. This is far more work than slipping a pair of over-the-ear headphones on.
Once in place, the BackBeat 903 does a great job of pumping out music. The 903 delivers a fairly even sound, with the addition of a Bass Boost feature handy in case you want a little more oomph. These headphones are not noise cancelling or noise reducing, though, so your music will mix with a fair bit of outside noise. Plantronics says that this is intentional, as it believes that users running with the 903 will want to hear their surroundings so as to keep out of the way of traffic, etc, and while this logic is sound to us, it might still bother some people who will use the 903 in safe, stationary situations.
While we were happy using the BackBeat unit as headphones for music, we weren't as happy with it as a hands-free option for phone use. The 903 has a microphone located in the left ear bud, making it technically possible to use this unit for taking calls, but the location of the mic and its distance from your mouth delivers less-than-desirable results. Everyone we spoke to while connected with the 903 complained about the volume and clarity of our voice during calls. We could hear them fine, but, when it comes to phone calls, you do need both elements to work really well.
With this in mind, we focused most of our tests on using the 903 for music exclusively, and we found that we could get about a week's worth of use between charges. Plantronics estimates seven hours of music playback and a week of standby. If you're unsure about how much battery life is remaining, you can single press the power button to have the unit tell you. Plantronics chooses a standard micro USB charging port for the 903, so you can use the same charger for your headphones as you do for your phone, unless you have an iPhone.