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Plantronics M55 Bluetooth Headset review: Plantronics M55 Bluetooth Headset

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Even with the rising popularity of smartphones that boast impressive stereo audio and complex data-intensive functions, sometimes you just want to make a simple call. For those who chat on the go often, not having to clutch a handset while talking is even more of a boon. Paying through the nose for a decent Bluetooth earpiece, though, isn't a good option for anyone. Enter the $49 Plantronics M55. This stylish device brings hands-free dialing capabilities to the table for not much cash. Though not as fancy as higher-priced headsets, it's ultracompact, lightweight, and certainly worth a look.

Samsung PN60E6500
6.3

Plantronics M55 Bluetooth Headset

Pricing Not Available

The Good

The <b>Plantronics M55</b> Bluetooth earpiece is compact, attractively styled, and affordable. It offers basic voice prompts and vocal commands. A DeepSleep function promises to preserve battery life when shelved.

The Bad

Call quality suffers when outdoors. The M55 also only comes with one earbud size.

The Bottom Line

Low-priced and extremely small, the $49 Plantronics M55 is a discreet and stylish budget earpiece, but there are better options for noisy outdoor environments.

The compact and affordable Plantronics M55 (pictures)

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Design
Bluetooth headsets are certainly convenient gadgets, but they can often be large, bulky, or just plain unsightly. Plantronics designed the M55 so as not to commit the same fashion faux pas. Weighing just 8 grams (0.28 ounce) and crafted to fit inside the ear, the M55 is about as inconspicuous as hands-free headsets get. It's lighter than other minute Bluetooth competitors such as the 0.32-ounce Motorola Elite Sliver and the 0.29-ounce Jawbone Icon. Still, Plantronics' own featherweight Marque M155 is even more microscopic and tips the scales at a mere 5.7 grams, or 0.2 ounce.

The Plantronics M55 is thin, svelte, and rectangular in shape. Sarah Tew/CNET

The M55 sports a similarly thin and svelte rectangular design to the Marque. With a glossy black surface trimmed by metallic silver edges, this headset too has an elegant and premium look. Unlike the Marque M155's iPhone-like key, however, the new M55 uses a nondescript call button that's etched in gray and blends into its front face. On top is a wide volume key that you tap to cycle through the M55's loudness levels. Underneath, placed along the bottom edge, is the headset's sturdy power switch. I particularly like the M55's standard Micro-USB port, located on the edge closest to your ear, which is more convenient than a proprietary power connection.

The headset has a secure fit, thanks in part to the silicone sheath and stabilizer. Sarah Tew/CNET

Made to sit inside the ear, the M55 has an earbud covered by a clear silicone sheath. While the sheath has a looped stabilizer that helps the earpiece fit more securely, it doesn't come with alternate sizes of earbuds. If the earbud is too large or too small for your specific ear, there's not much you can do to remedy the situation. That said, once I pushed the device in place it remained firmly lodged. The M55 is also light enough that I'd forget I was wearing it after a few minutes.

Features
Despite its small footprint, the Plantronic M55 is quite a capable little headset. It handles the typical Bluetooth hands-free functions such as answering and making calls over a wireless Bluetooth connection. In addition, the M55 provides helpful alerts in a friendly female voice stating remaining talk time when it's switched on or when a call is incoming. It's able to carry out some native vocal commands too. For example, you can say "Ignore" or "Answer" to expedite calls without lifting a finger.

Like other Plantronics headsets, the M55 comes with a year of the company's basic Vocalyst service. It allows users to send e-mails, listen to news, sports, and weather information, and post social media updates (Facebook and Twitter) just by speaking. Be advised though that Vocalyst requires a payment of $2.49 monthly or $24.99 annually. Vocalyst Pro (which also lets you to send text messages via voice) costs $5.99 a month or $59.99 a year.

Of course, you can also use the M55's call button to control the headset's operation. You can tap once to answer calls, and hitting the key will also tell the device to reconnect to paired phones if you lose Bluetooth connection. Holding down the button for 2 seconds kicks the M55 into voice-dialing mode, while pressing it for 1 second will dismiss calls as they occur.

The Plantronics M55 supports the A2DP profile, so it can stream music, podcasts, or other audio from your smartphone. This sound won't be in stereo but it'll serve if regular headphones aren't handy. Thanks to multipoint technology, the M55 can also link to two Bluetooth devices at once.

Performance
On my test calls, the Plantronics M55 held up well. Pairing with an HTC One S (T-Mobile) phone was a simple and quick process. I just switched the headset on, navigated over to the phone's Bluetooth settings, and paired and connected the two devices. The M55 announced that I was "Connected to phone 1" and I was off to the races.

The bottom edge houses a long power switch that's easy to manipulate. Sarah Tew/CNET

As you'd expect, calls made in the office or quiet conference rooms sounded best; callers couldn't immediately tell I was dialing from a cellular phone. Voices on my end under these conditions came through loud and clear as well. That said, call quality improved when I switched over to using the handset.

Though Plantronics claims the M55 is designed to reduce wind and other background noise during calls, callers reported there was a faint but noticeable hiss when I used the headset outdoors. To be fair, I placed calls from busy New York streets bustling with traffic, construction, and other ambient din. I suspect that if the M55 came with dual microphones like the Jawbone Era has, its noise-cancellation performance would be much better.

One of the most interesting features of the M55 is what Plantronics calls DeepSleep mode, which is designed to hold a charge for as long as five months. Essentially, the device will enter a kind of hibernation when the headset is away from your phone for more than 90 minutes. Otherwise the M55 is rated to offer up to 11 hours of talk time and 16 days of standby time.

Conclusion
If you're looking for a compact, capable Bluetooth headset, the $49 Plantronics M55 should be on your short list. Though it doesn't provide the level of noise reduction and sophistication of the more premium $129.99 Jawbone Era, the M55 does have basic voice prompts and vocal commands plus an elegant look that helps it stands out from the budget headset pack.

Samsung PN60E6500
6.3

Plantronics M55 Bluetooth Headset

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 6