We imagine the Bluetooth headset space is a tough one to compete in. Your customers mostly want your products to be invisible and yet the designers are still expected to pack new features into these increasingly smaller devices. Plantronics has found an interesting way to add value to its latest unit without adding to its footprint.
Last year's Plantronics Discovery 975 stands out as our favourite headset in the Plantronics stable, with its unique boom-like microphone design. The Savor is a little more conservative in its aesthetic, though the geometric triangle mic design is cooler looking than many of the other models from competing manufacturers. Its 9-gram weight is as light as you'd like for a device that will be supported entirely by your ear, and it's definitely small enough to toss in your pocket or purse when not in use.
In keeping with wanting our headsets to be invisible, Plantronics maintains a low profile with the M1100 with a subdued two-tone colour palette of greys over its plastic body. This minimalism extends to the physical controls, with an on/off switch and a single volume button. While we like this simple approach, the single volume button is problematic, making the user scan through volume settings ranging from lowest to highest in that direction only — from the loudest setting it jumps back to the lowest.
The audio from the M1100 is excellent, up there with Plantronics' best units. People we spoke to were impressed with how clear we sounded through the microphone of the M1100, though they also told us that it was still obvious that we weren't using the microphone on our mobile handset. The M1100 is capable of streaming stereo music to its single speaker, too, but it is a poor substitute for headphones dedicated to the purpose.
The headset supports a great range of voice commands and offers good voice feedback as well, capable of reporting on the state of the battery and the pairing status of the headset, amongst other things.
Where this headset proposition gets interesting is with the introduction of a service called Vocalyst, a news and information service that Plantronics has partnered with for the launch of the M1100 and for future release as well. Vocalyst is a subscription-based service offering the latest news headlines, weather, sports updates, etc, plus the capability to post status updates to a user's Facebook and Twitter, listen to and compose personal email, as well as create new notes in Evernote. Plantronics offers a free 12-month basic subscription with the M1100 and the opportunity to upgrade to the Pro service for AU$35 per year.
In theory, Vocalyst is a game-changing concept, especially for road warriors who are constantly on the move. In practice there are some major limitations. With a basic account anything you create using the service, like Facebook status updates or Evernote entries, are posted as audio clips. A quick glance at your Facebook wall will show you how much people love audio clips on Facebook. The Pro subscription includes a speech-to-text function, but you'll have to decide for yourself whether you think the service as a whole is worth the extra money.
The other curious point to consider is how Vocalyst works in general. The service is a dial-in service, controlled entirely by voice. When you activate Vocalyst using the headset you are directing your phone to dial a number in Melbourne (for Australian readers). The time you spend connected to Vocalyst is billed as any phone call to Melbourne would be for wherever you happen to be. For Aussies on a generous contract plan this shouldn't be a problem, but prepaid customers would be wise to watch their credit.
We applaud Plantronics for thinking outside the square and offering something genuinely different, even if we don't think Vocalyst is a compelling service in its current form. Luckily, the Savor M1100 is an excellent Bluetooth headset regardless. We wish it had an actual volume rocker rather than its single volume key, but this isn't a design quirk that will upset too many Bluetoothers, we think.