Bluetooth Headphones – The Second Review


It’s been almost exactly two years since I last posted about Bluetooth headsets. As of my last writing I had settled on the Motorola S11-HD for running and the Plantronics Backbeat Go2 for general use. Since then, my S11s died and, typical for my luck, because I liked them, Motorola quit making them. I’ve no idea why. So I picked up a pair of Jaybird Bluebuds for running and continued to use the Backbeat Go2 for general use. They worked well for the last two years.

HOWEVER – and this is why I recommend getting them at Best Buy (or somewhere that offers a replacement policy) – the battery life on them started to decline. What was advertised as five hours for the Jaybirds had declined to about three, and the restraints that hold them in the ear had worn to the point that they were coming off at the slightest tug. It was a matter of time before I lost them. For the Backbeat Go2, the five hours of battery life was never realized. They started out at three, sometimes four, but as of this morning I got forty minutes before the ‘low battery’ first warning, and another thirty before they shut down. Time to get them replaced.

I went back to Best Buy. I know, Amazon probably has the better price, and probably by a lot. However, I find the service at Best Buy to be great, and there’s one four miles from my house. That’s one thing to consider. If you travel for a race or an event and your headphones die, any Best Buy will replace them as long as you have the two-year Geek Squad protection. And you DO get that on your Bluetooth headphones, right? Of all the things you could buy a two-year replacement policy on, Bluetooth headphones are far and away the most worth it. You’re going to wear them, sweat on them (even though they say they’re sweat proof, nothing is sweat proof over a long enough timeline), toss them into backpacks and briefcases, tug them out of backpacks and briefcases, leave them cars that get over 150 degrees inside…you get the idea. You’re going to beat them up. Or, even if you treat them well, you’re going to experience battery die-off over time. Enough of the sales pitch. If price matters and convenience of replacement isn’t an issue, Amazon will be fine. For me, I’m a Best Buy guy for products like this.

Anyway, today I went in with my re-boxed headphones (yes I keep the boxes) and the one receipt I could find. The other one they looked up on the computer, no problem. I of course re-upped the GS protection, so for my original $30 I walked out with $200 worth of new headphones. I also bought a third pair for an additional $130 because I’ve been driving on the side for Uber and have money to spend, and I like to have options.

Here are the models I got:

  • Plantronics Backbeat Go3
  • Plantronics Backbeat Fit
  • JBL Reflect Mini BT

There are several features that are the same on all three models so I won’t discuss these in the individual reviews:

  • Sweat/waterproof
  • Can answer calls
  • All charge in about an hour

And a disclaimer – I’ve not had any of these long enough to gauge their playback time or durability. I’ll have to use them for a while and come back and update you with any pertinent information in those two areas.

Plantronics Backbeat Go3 – 4.1 rating

The design is very similar to the Backbeat Go2 (BBG2), which if you read the first article, I loved. I’m not as happy with the fit of the BBG3. The ear restraint, while flexible, is fixed. My ear felt a little raw after about thirty minutes of wear. I haven’t used them enough to gauge whether they get BBG3the as-advertised 6.5 hours of playback time, but that’s a bigger claim than the BBG2 had, so I am assuming they last longer. Maybe they’ll get the 5 hours that the BBG2 advertised. Aside from the fixed ear restraint, they are light weight, paired easily with my phone (an iPhone 6S) and have the familiar on-wire multifunction power/play/pause volume up/down track forward/backward controls as the BBG2.

When it connected to my phone, I got a message that I didn’t have their application installed, so I installed and ran it. It took me through a quick tutorial and demonstrated how to swap the ear buds. You should definitely try them all, because the smallest ones were installed out of the box and the largest size worked best for me.

My first impression is that they have made some design changes on the fit from the BBG2, and not for the better, but left the overall function alone. Priced at $100, these are probably still best used as general purpose headphones as they seal tightly in the ear and block ambient noise (like traffic). Note, you can get a $129 model that comes with a carrying case that includes a battery you can recharge the BBG3 with, but I never used the one I got with the BBG2. Since I carry a power pack for charging my iPad or iPhone on the go, I don’t need a portable power pack for my headphones, and for the $30 extra you can get a much better portable battery than the one they have in that carrying case.  I can see using them at the office, listening to my morning podcasts, music and taking conference calls on them. Based on the fixed ear restraint and lower advertised playback time than the other models, I’m rating the Backbeat Go3 a 4.1 out of 5.

 

Plantronics Backbeat Fit – 4.6 rating

The Backbeat Fit is the headphone I bought rather than replaced under the GS protection. I will tell you up front, I love these headphones. I’m listening to them right now, in fact. They’re not without a couple of drawbacks though.

First, price. They’re $130, and they come with an armband for your phone, which is worthless to me because I don’t use one. I have BBFita hydration belt with a phone pouch I wear when running, so I’ll never use an armband. Also, the power on and volume buttons are teeny-tiny things that I didn’t think were buttons at all. In fact, I took a pair back to the store and exchanged them under the mistaken assumption that they would not power on.

The Fit also has an app you can get for your phone. It detected the Fit as soon as it connected, and it brought up a schematic of the headphones that was much clearer to me than the one in the manual. If I had seen THAT image first, I would have had no problem powering them on and getting them connected. The app also has the capability to upgrade the firmware in the Fit (no such option on the Go3). That’s pretty slick.

The Fit is an over-the-ear set up, like the Motorola S11’s that I liked so much. The buds don’t seal super tight so you can hear ambient noise. This is critical for running when you NEED to hear traffic. They are swappable for a smaller size (included) and you can pivot them so the ear restraint is in the right spot for your ear. The cable connecting them, unlike the S11, is completely flexible, which is nice. That makes it much easier to pack in a bag to take to the gym, on a trip, et cetera, without worrying about breaking anything. It’s also got a reflective stripe to aid visibility in low light conditions, which is important if you live in an area where the winter months have you running in the dark in the morning or the evening.

The controls are on-ear, not on-wire, which again, for running, I find to be way better. They’re a little heavier than the BBG2s, but nothing that makes them uncomfortable. They’re 24 grams, which if memory serves is four grams shy of one ounce. I could look that up, but that’s what you guys are for – keeping me straight on my units of measure. That hardly makes them unwieldy.  I marked them down a bit because of the price point and the extraneous armband, as well as being heavier than the others I bought. However, they fit beautifully and have an advertised 8-hour playback time. I’ll tell you about 7 hours from now if that’s accurate. I rate them a 4.6 out of 5.

JBL Reflect Mini BT – 4.7 rating

The Reflect Mini BT a little bit of column A and a little bit of column B. They’re an in-ear design with a little fingery-thing that locks them into your ear, and it’s swappable for smaller size (included). You insert the thing into your ear and twist it forward to lock it in place. Once it’s in, man, it doesn’t feel like you’re wearing anything. It feels a lot more natural than the Backbeat Go3. Also, these suckers are LIGHT. Like I said, it doesn’t feel like you’re wearing anything. The cable that connects them (also JBLReflectMIniBTreflecting, like the Backbeat Fit, and hence the REFLECT in the name) is incredibly thin. I felt like I was going to damage it getting it out of the box.

The controls are on-wire, and on the left side vs. the right like every other on-wire control I’ve ever had. That will take some getting used to. They function essentially like the controls on the BBG3. One unique thing about the Reflect MIni BT is that the charging port is on the control bar rather than the earpiece.  That’s nice, that way you’re not tugging and pulling at the trap door on the earbud to charge them, which sometimes feels like you’re going to rip the thing off. Also, that means the portal to the electrical connections is a little farther away from the worst of your sweatiness.

So on the plus side, they’re incredibly light, fit like a dream, have an 8-hour advertised playback time (same as the Backbeat Fit), are reflective for low light visibility (same as the Backbeat Fit), and at $100 are priced competitively (same as the Backbeat Go3). The drawback for running is that they seal tight in the ear and make hearing ambient noise difficult, and as you know by now, I’m not a fan of that when it comes to running outdoors. Overall, I think they’re probably better for general use than the Backbeat Go3, but not as good for running as the Backbeat Fit. I rate them 4.7 out of 5, beating the Fit on price and tying it on playback time (but beating the Backbeat Go3 on playback.)

Also Rans

There were several other models to choose from. Skull Candy has a few models ranging from $60 to over $100. Sony has a pair for $100. Jabra has a few pairs priced from $100 to $180. These come with an app that does coaching based on feedback from (I think) an accelerometer in the headphones. This seems gimmicky to me, especially since I already have apps for that. None of the other models I looked at appealed to me. The $100 Jabra were probably the next model I would have picked but three pairs is enough for now.

Zedprep says: if you can only afford one pair of headphones, go with the Backbeat Fit. I feel it’s safer for running outdoors and offers longer playback than the Backbeat Go3. If you can afford TWO pairs, get the Fit for running and the JBL Reflect Mini BT for everything else.

 

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