Back at PAX East I met up with the guys at Plantronics, and they gave me a set of light and sporty Backbeat GO stereo Bluetooth headphones to try out. They adopt the ultra-light look that seems to be all the rage in stereo Bluetooth accessories. As if the form factor wasn't enough to entice music-loving busybodies, the Plantronics Bluetooth guy told me that there's a light oleophobic coating on the headphones to fend off sweat.
In terms of sheer looks, the Backbeat GO headphones are very classy. They're available in black and white, the thin tangle-free wire connecting each bud has a nice matte finish, and the two-tone look is very catching. Both buds have swappable gels (small, medium, and large are included) and clear rubber stabilizing braces, but most of the functional stuff is on the right side. There you'll find the in-line mic with power and media controls and the micro USB charging plug tucked behind a flap in the earbud. The front of the earbud also has an LED indicator, so folks know you aren't just a crazy person talking to yourself when taking a call. On the software side, battery life shows up as a separate indicator on iOS devices when paired.
Operation is pretty standard and what you'd expect. Holding up and down on the volume keys skips tracks, holding down the raised play button initiates Siri. Pairing mode is initiated by holding down the power button extra long when turning it on. Call control includes taking calls, hanging up, putting calls on hold, and redialing - provided you can remember which one is a two-second press which is a double-press of the play button.You get audio notifications when the Backbeat GO is turned on, makes a connection, and is running low on batteries. Listed battery life is around 4 hours, which lines up with my experience.
Now, I tend to be really picky about my in-ear headphones. The Bose in-ear headphones I (and Android Central's Phil Nickinson) use regularly are insanely comfortable, and I've yet to find anything better. You can seriously wear those things day-in and day-out without a problem, and they sound fantastic, buuuuuut you've gotta deal with a wire. That said, even with the smallest earbuds, I found it hard to wear the Backbeat GO headset for longer stretches. Though the old Backbeat 903 headphones didn't sit as closely in the ear canal as the Backbeat GO headset and the earpieces were a fair bit bigger, I found them generally more comfortable. On top of comfort, you've got to deal with the usual issue of in-ear headsets: earwax occasionally gunking up the gel. Insofar as portability and ease of use, the Backbeat GO headphones earn high marks. The cable has been specifically designed to be tangle-free, and I've yet to have any issues on that front.
As for sound quality, the Backbeat GO is on the tinny side. For phone calls and podcasts, that's okay, but I've found busy, bass-heavy music doesn't come through particularly well. On the upside, the earbuds are snug enough that there's ample noise cancellation.
The Plantronics Backbeat GO headphones are perfect for anyone looking for music that won't get in the way of their workout. There's enough battery life to get you through a lengthy run or bike ride, and it's very easy to store. Your m,ileage may vary for comfort, and the audio quality is distinctly tinny, which may grate on audiophiles looking for deep, true sound.