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1/26/2011
01:18 AM
Fritz Nelson
Fritz Nelson
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Plantronics Voyager UC: Next Gen Bluetooth Headset

Our hands-on testing revealed one of the more innovative evolutions in Bluetooth headsets; a device that communicates with your mobile phone and soft phones, and can receive voice alerts from Outlook and instant message systems. But that's not all . . .

Plantronics is turning the Bluetooth headset market on its ear. Its Voyager Pro UC takes a dynamic new leap that isn't just a better headset, but a smarter one; not just a vessel for mobile phone calls, but a convenient appendage for every manner of voice communication or audio queue. I've been testing a beta version for a couple of weeks. This version has its limitations, a few bugs to work out, and it introduces some questionable cultural intrusions, but the Voyager Pro is also fun, inventive and practical.

Two capacitive-touch sensors tell the Voyager Pro UC when it's on your ear, automatically answering a mobile call or switching between handset and headset mode. Unlike the Savor M1100 (another Plantronics Bluetooth headset), the Voyager Pro didn't let me voice-activate an incoming call. Plantronics says the migration of those features will come, but isn't trivial.

(For a video demonstration of the Voyager Pro, along with other new Plantronics technology, watch the video directly below.)

Nevertheless, a quick press of the easily-accessible call control button answers (and ends) a call. The Voyager Pro does support voice-activated dialing, but only through phones and with carriers that provide that feature.

The sensors go further. Coupled with the Plantronics mini USB adapter, the Voyager Pro works with Skype and Microsoft OCS (or Lync). In other words, I was able to make and accept Skype and OCS calls through the headset; I could also use the headset controls on the call--to hang up, or mute, for example. I was unable to get the Voyager Pro to work completely with OCS running on Windows XP: I could hear those I called, but they couldn't hear me. It worked fine with Skype. Plantronics said they'd only seen this in one other instance, and we never fully resolved the issue after some brief troubleshooting.

What's more, Skype and OCS presence work with Voyager Pro, so when I was on a mobile call, both communication systems automatically provided a busy indicator. If I was making a call with Skype, OCS indicated it was busy, and vice versa (although, because of my problems with OCS, this didn't always work).

The USB adapter supports wideband audio for heightened audio clarity; it also supports sending some of the sensor data between the earpiece and the PC. There isn't a ratified standard in the BlueTooth stack for wideband codecs, Plantronics told me. Certainly when the system supports tablets, the extra USB adapter will be an unwelcome addition; for now, it's so small that the biggest issue might be losing it.

The Voyager Pro is a pretty sexy device as these things go (let's be honest: this is geek bling). It's light (17.6 grams), unobtrusive and includes a lengthy boom mic. That's actually dual, noise-cancelling microphones with windscreens made from special venting cloth. I got between five and six hours of talk time, and the quality of calls was outstanding, even outdoors, even in a crowded bar watching a football game.

It includes indicator lights, showing when you're talking, not connected, not powered on, and charge status. The call control button, power button and volume buttons all let you perform various tasks, like redialing the last number, activating voice calling, and my favorite, rejecting a call. There are many other features, and as with any headset, best of luck remembering how long you have to hold down a button, or whether you have to tap it once or twice. One day I'll get used to it and stop hanging up on people by mistake. (Except that one annoying telemarketing person; that was on purpose.)

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