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Plantronics Backbeat Go 2 Review: Convenience with a Dash of Magic

on September 13, 2013 – 1:59 pmNo Comment

When the Plantronics Backbeat Go were announced, more than a year ago, they instantly piqued my interest. They were everything I wanted in a pair of earbuds: wireless, bluetooth-enabled, simple, and in-ear. And the idea that a pair of earphones could just be connected with one wire, no added main unit, no bulk, no connectors, nothing dangling from your head to your phone or clothes or pocket, seemed a little bit like magic. Countless times I found myself wandering off to Amazon and almost clicking that “Buy” button but I kept telling myself that I should just wait for the second generation.

So when the Plantronics Backbeat Go 2 came along, I was more than ecstatic. I had been using a Sony Ericsson MW-600 for a few months, and although it had been a great music and podcast companion, I was yearning for the convenience of the Backbeat Go 2 — and that added touch of magic! I finally received a Go 2 unit for review last week, and I have been using it ever since. Does it work as advertized? How does it compare to other bluetooth units? And what are its strengths and weaknesses? I’ll explain it all in my review below.

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First Impressions

From the moment you open the Backbeat Go 2’s box, you realize there’s a premium quality to the product. Everything is carefully packaged, with the earphones held in a thick carton layer and the additional accessories tucked neatly underneath.

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The Backbeat Go 2 comes with 3 interchangeable tips, ear fit stabilizers and a fantastic microUSB charging cable that doubles as another USB port, so you can fill the earphones up without losing a USB port on your computer or charger.

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The Go 2’s charging port can be unveiled by flipping open the back of the right earbud. Also of note is a small remote control unit with a main Play/Pause button, volume controls and a microphone.

Look Ma, No Cables!

Alright, to be perfectly honest, there is one cable, but it’s short, it’s tangle-free and it doesn’t plug anywhere. It just runs between the two earbuds and usually rests on the back of your neck, leaving you mostly cordless. That design is part of the charm and magic of the Backbeat Go 2 – I seriously saw many people checking out the back of my neck to see where that cord went – and also the reason behind all of its limitations.

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I have been using them daily for over 10 days for podcasts and music, in various situations: walking, running, working, at the pool… so how do they fare up in use? Let’s see.

Comfort and Fit

Despite their large size, the Backbeat Go 2 are quite surprisingly comfortable to wear. They sit nicely inside the ear, and even though a good part of them remains outside, the fit stabilizers help keep them in place. Using them for 2 or 3 hours straight won’t find you scratching your ears in pain – as a matter of fact, you won’t really notice they have been there so long.

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The Backbeat Go 2 are quite perfect for long walks where you simply want to enjoy your audio without being bothered by cables getting caught on your clothes. However, if you plan on running with them, you’ll need to readjust them every once in a while, because they will tend to move slightly out of your ears.

Sound

I am no audiophile by any stretch but I tend to know the difference between music sounding good and music sounding horrible. The Backbeat Go 2 fall into the really good category. My song repertoire, which ranges from country to pop to alternative rock to classic to hip hop all played nicely on them. I don’t suspect that these are audiophile-geared earbuds (given the price and form factor) but they should satisfy any regular average audio listener.

As for podcasts and phone calls, audio was crisp and there were no speech distortions. I never received any complaints while taking a phone call on them and people on the other side of the line always reported hearing me clearly.

Pairing, Controls and Charging

The Go 2 can pair with only one device. With the headset off, you press the main button long enough to power it on and keep it pressed to switch it into discoverable pairing mode. Then you search for it from your phone, tablet or computer, and click to pair, with no passcode required. Battery life is said to last 5 hours of talk time, 4.5 hours of music listening, and 10 days in standby. My tests so far seem to be in line with these numbers.

The included controls allow you to turn the headset on and off, play and pause, and raise and lower the volume. On Android, double clicking the main button lets you redial the last number, whereas clicking and holding it opens the voice dialer. There is no way to override these functions to control music playback (FF or RW or skip back or repeat), even with music apps that usually offer the option to change the headset button presets. I was not able to test the Go 2 on iOS, but from what I’ve read, it seems that you can control music playback.

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And even though there is a small LED light on the right earbud, you almost never see it unless you’re charging the Go 2. That’s why the unit comes with a nifty little feature in terms of audio feedback. A nice female voice keeps you updated on the Go 2’s status with notifications like: “Power On”, “Power Off”, “Headset Connected”, “Battery Level High” and more.

Convenience

The main attraction of the Backbeat Go 2 is their convenience, and that is no easy or dismissible feat. Keeping your phone in your pocket while you walk, work, run, or go out-and-about is not only safer for your device but also less cumbersome. You could also keep your phone on your desk or somewhere near you and do your work without worrying about cable length or dangling wires.

But that is all due to the Bluetooth nature of the Go 2. What is it that makes them special compared to other headsets? It’s the lack of a main unit. Everything is in the earbuds and the remote, so nothing has to be clipped on your clothes or hung from your neck, or anything of the sorts. Simply wrap them around your neck, pop them in your ears and you’re good to go. You can also take them out, and leave them dangling around your neck without any substantial risk of them falling or getting lost. The tangle-free cable is rugged and non-slippery, so it will exert a lot of (good) friction against your clothes or skin, preventing them from tumbling down every time you move your head. I have gotten accustomed to carrying them like this all day, and simply putting them in my ear whenever I have some time to listen to music or podcasts.

Build Quality

The most impressive aspect of the Backbeat Go 2’s build quality is that amazing cable. Not only is it tangle-free and rugged, it also feels superior to almost every other earphone cable I have seen. The controller is also well designed and the earbuds and gels are all very well made. I have worn the Backbeat Go 2 while sweating for a power walk or a run, as well as with slightly damp hair and ears after a long swim. In all occasions, they performed well and didn’t seem to mind the added humidity.

The only downside I can see to the Go 2 is the charging cap. So far, it still pops in and out firmly and doesn’t seem to mind being opened frequently for charging, but it still feels rather flimsy and I fear it is going to give up at one point down the line.

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Downsides (compared to the regular clip-on headsets)
As I mentioned earlier, I had been using the Sony Ericsson MW-600 for several months before the Go 2 came along, that’s why it’s impossible for me to not compare the two. Here are the main downsides to the Go 2:

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  • Size: the Go 2 really stick out of my ears and if my hair wasn’t down on the side of my face, I’m pretty sure they would look quite odd. They are also almost impossible to use to listen to music in bed, because if you lay sideways, you’ll feel like you’re being stabbed in the ears.
  • Battery: given the small size (compared to a larger clip Bluetooth unit), the Backbeat Go 2 carry a small battery and only run for 4 to 4.5 hours of music listening. They’re great if you only use them for 1-2 hours per day, but if you want to use them for several hours everyday, you’ll quickly get annoyed of the “Battery Level Low” notification and having to charge them daily – and even twice per day sometimes.
  • Given the one-button nature of the Go 2, they don’t come with dedicated FF and RW buttons, which makes controlling music playback with anything but Play/Pause on Android almost impossible on several of the apps I’ve tried so far.
  • The Go 2 pair with only one device, so you can’t use them to connect to your phone and computer simultaneously. You will have to pair each one every time you need to switch between them. Clip-on units usually support 2 or 3 devices.
  • Given the design of the Backbeat Go 2, any problem that occurs with them will force you to buy another unit, whereas with clip-on bluetooth headsets, you can potentially just replace the earbuds that plug into the main unit and keep on using them as usual.

Verdict
There is a lot to love about the Plantronics Backbeat Go 2. Not only is the product well designed and executed, not only does it double the convenience of regular bluetooth headsets, it also doesn’t compromise on sound quality or durability. The few downsides can be easily overlooked once you try a pair on and see how liberating it is to simply grab them, hold them on the back of your neck and pop them in your ears.

But should you buy these? If you have the first generation Backbeat Go, I’d argue that there are little advantages to justify an upgrade, but if you were on the fence about getting the first generation, then the Go 2 are definitely worth a higher consideration. As for getting these or a pair of regular clip-on bluetooth earbuds, it all boils down to battery life vs convenience.

Personally, I chose convenience in the Go 2 and I usually wear them around my neck all day long and barely notice them, then put them on whenever I have some free time for a podcast or a few songs. After all, this is what great technology is supposed to be about: well-thought products that simply disappear to let you enjoy the experience.

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