Plantronics Explorer 390 Bluetooth headset

The Plantronics Explorer 390 is advertised as "quality sound for in-car use" and there's absolutely no denying that that's what this Bluetooth headset delivers, but take it out of the auto-environment and you'll begin to see what separates this type of device from a top notch model.

On opening the near impenetrable hermetically sealed packaging, you'll be pleased to find a 2-inch, 11g earpiece; a wall charger with two or three pin adapter and the bonus of a 12v car charger too - all of which connects by Micro-USB. So, if you're lucky enough to have the same port on your mobile phone or even your MP3 player, you can even use the kit to top-up the juice on other gadgets while driving along.

The 12v adaptor is about the size of a Monte Cristo No.4 with a curious but very sturdy articulation in the middle, presumably to bring the charging headset/phone slightly nearer to the driver whether the steering wheel happens to be on the right or the left in your particular part of the world. If you're at work or anywhere without the wall plug then there's also a USB to Micro-USB cable to power up from your computer as well.

As for the headset itself, it's as small as one can reasonably hope for at the moment, which is small but still not quite small enough not to feel like a bit of a plonker when out and about with one permanently attached to your ear. It has a Micro-USB port well placed on the top edge and two buttons - the large one to do most of the on/off, answer/hang up work and the smaller side one for the volume. Finally, of course, there's a highly bendable, memory plastic ear loop which is seemingly impossible to break.

The rubber bud fits in your ear fairly easily once you've negotiated the loop and, although it looks like a fairly blunt instrument, it has the kind of comfort that leads one to forget that the headset is still attached and subsequently to feel like the aforementioned plonker when you realise you've had it on all day.

The sound quality on calls is excellent at both ends indoors, but the only real trouble comes when on the streets. There's no issues with wind but the microphone is a little too clear and the Explorer 390 doesn't appear to differentiate between your voice and ambient noises which it seems to pass on with the same clarity. There's no mention of a double microphone system which usually prevents these kinds of problems and therein could lie the problem.

That aside, the battery life is excellent. It's advertised at 7 hours of talk time and 8 on standby and, in practice, it's your phone that'll run out of charge first - particularly if it's been beaming out Bluetooth signals all that time. Thankfully, the pairing system is also excellent with no fiddly processes on the headset required. It's just a matter of scanning for it with your mobile and, instantly, you're hooked up.

The range of the device is as strong as the rest of this write up and perhaps the only other niggle is over the system of flashing lights to tell you when the headset is on, in standby, connected, on a call, etc. It's not a lot of use when all of that's happening up by your head where you can't see it. Perhaps a status voice message in your ear would have been a better option.

Verdict

If you want a top of the line Jawbone headset or a stereo Bluetooth device then, by all means, go and pick yourself up an £80 unit. You'll get what you pay for. What Plantronics offers with the Explorer 390 is something for the car or if you've got your hands full at work. It's not an all-environment 24/7 headset and it's not pushed as one. For that reason, it only costs around the £30 mark.

If you stick to the parameters of the device, then you'll be perfectly happy with what you've bought. It's not much of a looker but it's very functional; perfectly comfortable and certainly very clear. The extra charging options are an underrated bonus you'll grow to appreciate and the standardised connection is a real blessing.

It's not a lot of money to spend on what you get and it makes a reasonable entry-level gadget. You can always upgrade at a later date, although another £10 more or so could well get you a headset that will work in noisy environments too.