The idea of wireless headphones is a dream come true for those of us that face a tangle of wires during our daily hour or 2 of commuter-based music listening, or those that require an unfettered connection in the gym. And the concept is even more compelling for those that use their mobile a lot when out and about, and have to switch between headphones and handset. This is where the Plantronics BackBeat 903+ stereo Bluetooth headphones come into play. But what do they actually bring to the table?
This model is an update to the BackBeat 903 stereo Bluetooth headphones that were previously branded under the Altec Lansing name. The re-vamped model boasts several new features including ruggedised and sweat-resistant materials, three levels of earpiece adjustment and a handy storage pouch. There's also a cool feature that hooks up with the iPhone to display the battery level.
The headphones sport in-ear canal silicon earpieces which are joined to curved plastic frames that hang over your ears. The two are joined together with a sturdy but flexible cable that fits neatly around the back of your head. The over-ear design is likely to divide opinion - you'll either find it refreshingly comfortable or it will feel extremely odd and cumbersome. If you wear glasses, or you simply want to rock some hipster shades then these probably aren't the headphones you're looking for.
The right-hand earpiece features a play and pause button that can be used to control your music, while the left-hand device sports a call button in the same spot. On the edge of the same earpiece you'll also find the power button, and dual-function buttons for volume up/skip track and volume down/skip back - you tap once for volume and use a 2-second button press for a track change. There's also a tiny Micro-USB port for charging that's hidden behind a tiny rubber cover that is a tad fiddly to open if you haven't got long fingernails.
You can adjust the height of the earpieces, so if you've got long Mr Spock-esque ears or "jug handles"(big ears that stick out), then you should find enough flexibility in the design to ensure that the earphones fit correctly. The ear buds also swivel slightly for easier fitting, while the actual silicone insert can be rotated as well. The headphones have a range of 10m, so you can feel free to pace briskly around the office like a terribly important executive, barking orders into your phone.
Tapping the call button once will begin or end a call, while tapping it twice will redial the last number that you called. Pressing the play/pause button in for 2 seconds will activate the bass boost mode. You also get voice alerts to fill you in on important bits of information such as how much talk time you've got left and when your battery is low. The 903+ also sports dual mics as well as Plantronics' proprietary digital signal processing (DSP) for making calls when in busy environments.
We hooked our review sample up to an iPhone to test it - the set-up was fast and thoroughly simple and we were ready to start making calls in no time at all. One particularly nice touch on the new model is the on-screen battery meter that appears when you're paired up to an iPhone. The tiny icon appears in the top right-hand corner, next to the handset's own battery indicator.
When listening to music, the headphones put in a strong audio performance, and switched seamlessly to speaking mode when we received a call. The person that we were speaking to did say that we sounded rather "echoey", as if we were trapped in a cupboard or something. However, that's not unusual with Bluetooth headsets, and the quality was certainly good enough to hold a coherent conversation.
We did find that the earphones had a tendency to slip off, but the comfort of the design inevitably comes down to personal taste and the size and shape of your ears.
The over-ear design may not be for everyone, but it does have the advantage of making you look like a Very Important Businessperson, or perhaps like a bodyguard or special agent of some kind. The wireless design and the sweat-resistant properties of the materials used make the 903+ ideal for using in the gym or when out jogging.
A few thoughtful touches, such as the iPhone battery meter and the storage pouch put the 903+ ahead of many of its competitors. The sonics sound great when listening to music and although the audio quality on calls isn't entirely spot on, it isn't bad either. The headphones may not be perfect, but they do enable you to ditch the wires and to consolidate two essential products (headphones, and a Bluetooth headset) into one handy device.