Plantronics BB903+ Bluetooth Headset

NASA Astronaut Neil Armstrong wearing
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few months ago, I bought a set of Plantronics Backbeat Go headphones. At the time, my rationale was that I wanted a set of bluetooth earbuds for cycling, in order to avoid cable snags and make my rides more comfortable. My secondary rationale was that the Backbeat’s in-ear design would be more comfortable than the over-ear design of those like the older BB903+.

I was quite pleased with the Backbeats, though their ability to cancel external noise was a bit disturbing on bike rides.

Their lightweight design meant that the battery didn’t last long though, so they needed to go on charge between rides. They were on charge, plugged into a floor socket, when my wife sucked them up with the vacuum cleaner, destroying them completely.

As upsetting as this was, I was also doubly upset because I couldn’t really afford them to start with, and definitely couldn’t afford to replace them.

But replace them I did. Because they were now unlucky in my mind, I went for the BB903+, which I was convinced would be more uncomfortable: a heavy weight around my ears that would get in the way of my glasses and cycle helmet.

I’ve been living with them now since early May and I find I was wrong on most counts. They’re actually more comfortable than the Backbeats. Although they look like they might be heavy, they’re barely detectable. So much so that I actually forget I’ve got them on sometimes. They also manage not to get in the way too much. I wear Oakley prescription glasses, with their patent straight arm, and I find them not too bad in combination. That said, I haven’t tried them on a much longer, much sweatier ride. Also, I haven’t tried them with my Ray Ban prescription sunglasses, which have a more conventional arm design.

The BB930+ are chunkier, which means they have a much longer-lasting battery: up to 7 hours, which is much better than the Backbeats. They also give you verbal feedback every time you switch them on. They also connect to my iPhone much more reliably.

They connect better, but they don’t stay connected so well. With my phone on the stem of my handlebars, they’re fine (unless I stand up on the pedals to climb, oddly), but they lose signal almost immediately if you are more than a couple of metres away, and they’re hopeless if you put your phone in a pocket. The pocket thing is probably because of the big sack of water that is the human body. The distance thing is just rubbish. Because I can’t have them in my pocket when mowing the lawn, I tried just putting them on a table in the garden, but you literally have to more or less carry your phone with you.

You can get an odd effect when you lose connection for a second or so. The data gets backed up and comes through all at once, which makes your music sound like an old cassette with stretched tape getting caught up in the mechanism or something.

So their use is restricted to on the bike, with the  Quad-Lock mount (which remains excellent). Most rides, I only lose sound for a fraction of a second, now and then, when I get out of the pedals. I’d prefer it if it didn’t happen, but I can live with it.

In terms of volume and sound quality, I think they’re fine. They don’t fit as snugly into my ear as the Backbeats, and there is wind interference with the music. This is fine with me, though, because I like to be able to hear vehicles approaching from behind, and I can still hear the music.

They have a lot of buttons to control phone calls and skip tracks etc., but I just switch them on and off and control things from my phone, which is right in front of me on the bike. If I could change anything, it would be to remove all but the on-off button. I don’t need the microphone and I don’t need to take a phone call when I’m out on my bike. I sometimes find I accidentally push a button when putting these on (because I still can’t quite get my head round putting them around and into my ears – I sometimes have to look in the mirror). Nothing is that important, and even if it is, I can stop and answer the phone. I don’t live in some fantasy world where I just touch my ear and talk into thin air like some busy and important person.  I’d rather look like I was on the phone with a, you know, phone in my hand, up to my ear. This isn’t The Apprentice.

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There’s a button on one side which is something to do with taking calls, and one on the other side which is something to do with stopping and starting the music. I don’t use either and would never remember which was which when I was out and about in any case. I don’t take enough calls to get used to where the call button is. Both of them are prone to accidental pushing when you’re adjusting the headset in your ear.

Anyway, nothing is perfect. I know I’m making them sound like they’re terrible, but they’re not really. Of course, they are terrible in the sense that all technology is a bit shit, lest we forget, but they’re adequate for the task of playing music that is being controlled from a touch screen before I set out on a bike ride and then switched off when I get back. I’d like a set of these specifically designed for cyclists (most of whom wear some kind of eye wear, even if it’s just to protect from wind/flies), with some kind of approaching engine warning cut off (there’s already an app that does something like that) and just an on-off-connect button. Maybe something you could actually attach to a pair of glasses (or a cycle helmet), as opposed to having to work around them.

Make it so, designer nerds.

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