Plantronics’ Voyager 510 is an over-the-ear Bluetooth headset that’s been around for 18 months or so, selling quite well given that there are cheaper headsets around. In general, Plantronics has always had a good rep for sound quality but tended to fall down on ergonomics – some models didn’t fit the ear too well, either too tight or too loose, and the on-set controls tended to be too small or imprecise. The Voyager 510 largely sorted both issues, with a comfortable fit and usable controls – and the sound quality was excellent.
So what justifies the new model? It’s that USB bit. The headset comes with a Bluetooth dongle, so it can communicate with a mobile phone and a computer; and the accompanying CD contains the software that means you can use it for VoIP calls and for handsfree cell phone calls.
What’s more, you don’t have to physically switch between Bluetooth connections; Plantronics’ Multipoint Technology does it all automatically, removing the need to deregister one connection and then register another. It works for a range of about 10m from the device, and in fact we were getting good performance even further than that.
The CD contains an application called PerSonoCall which hooks into VoIP software from Skype and a number of big-name enterprise softphone companies like Cisco and Nortel. With these it offers call notification and remote call answering through the headset. The Voyager can also be used with popular consumer VoIP services – MSN, AOL, Google – though it doesn’t have the ability to answer incoming calls remotely. With Skype you can answer a call simply by pressing a button on the headset; with MSN you can to accept the call via your PC’s keyboard.
The headset can figure out which Bluetooth device you are using — and more important which one is calling you. So you Can take calls from any device simply by hitting the button.
The noise-cancelling microphone is on a short stubby boom that swivels to position on either ear. Sound was impressively clear, which hasn’t always been the case when we’ve tested Bluetooth VoIP headsets; apparently the 510 features ‘adaptive frequency hopping’ which helps to minimise interference from low-radiation sources like WiFi networks, which probably accounts for the excellent performance in our gismo-laden office.
The headset itself is pretty comfortable. Certainly you can forget you have it on, though inevitably you will look like bit of a prat if you go out in public while wearing it. It is thoughtfully provided with a choice of earbud sizes, too, and there’s a neat deskstand charger unit that can run off a USB cable. Fully charged, the 510 gave us somewhere very near the claimed six hours’ talk time (standby is quoted at up to 100 hours).
Here’s a nice trick: placing the headset into the charging base automatically turns off the thing off while it charges – and when you take out the Voyager 510 to start using it, the headset turns itself back on.
As with most function-heavy headsets, it takes a while to get used to all the operating options. There are only three buttons – a small but really fiddly on/off switch, a volume up/down rocker, and a call control button on the mic boom. This is the brain-teasing one; it answers and ends a call, toggles between Bluetooth connections, activates last number redial, sets up voice dialling … Amazingly, you can get your head around all this. Sometimes though we were wishing for a pop-up aide-memoire that could appear on the PC screen to tell you what’s going on and remind you what to do.
If we were being really picky, we might quibble with the overall look of the thing (a bit medical prosthetic) and the on/off switch is not easy to use. Loading all those functions on to a single button overcomplicates things; one more button would lighten the load and easy the brainstrain. And if the Bluetooth dongle came with a keying you could carry it around with you to slip into another PC or your laptop when you were away from the office.
But over all the Voyager 510 USB is one of the most useful Bluetooth headsets on the market – the software and the multipoint connectivity make sure of that – as well as one of the best performers.
• A single product for two markets, VoIP and hands-free – and it works really well for both
Connectivity: Bluetooth 1.2, USB
Battery: Standby up to 100h, Talk time up to 6h
Features: Wind shield, noise cancelling circuit, mute button, answer/end button, volume control, multipoint connections