At Engadget, we're used to playing with premium Bluetooth headsets like the Jabra Stone and Jawbone Icon, so it's only natural this $49.95 Plantronics headset would lower our expectations, but turns out it's not bad for the money. For starters, the actual earpiece looks much better than the renders we saw, with a retro look that we quite liked. We're also promised easy operation with few buttons -- the silver paddle-like button (with LEDs underneath) for phone calls and Bluetooth pairing; the black volume button on one side with five incremental volume steps; and the ridged power slide switch on the other side. You'll find a micro-USB port at the end of the silver button, followed by the ear plug underneath and the mic on the other end. Enough with the list of features -- read on to find out how well this headset performs.
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Plantronics Explorer 395 Bluetooth headset review

Plantronics

Explorer 395

Pros

  • Good build quality
  • Stylish design
  • Affordable

Cons

  • No noise cancellation
  • Fixed earbud and ear loop
  • Cheap packaging
Summary


Packaging and build quality

Mommy always said the first impression is the most important, and in this case we're talking about the unboxing experience. While we understand the Explorer 395 is aimed at the lower-end market, the glued-up plastic box means there's no way to open it without simply destroying it -- we would've preferred a two-part box snapped together with a few notches, so that it'd be reusable. Furthermore, we were surprised to see a small blob of rubber cement holding the headset in place -- we'd never seen that on other headsets -- but thankfully it required little effort to clean up.

Once you look past the packaging, you'll be greeted with the headset, wall charger, a couple of booklets and not much else. Unlike premium headsets, you're stuck with just one fixed ear plug (not a tight noise-isolation fit) for the Explorer 395, but we've had no problem with it. The overall build quality of the headset is pretty satisfactory -- the body feels solid, the edges are well-finished, and the ear loop clicks well into its three swivel positions. The only issue we've found is that the volume button's tactility isn't consistent across its length, but it's obviously not the end of the world here.

Comfort and performance

While the ear plug fitted in our ear nicely, the stylish transparent ear hook did get in the way of our glasses' arms; this wouldn't have been a problem had the Explorer 395 come with free-hanging ear plug options (as offered by Jawbone and Spracht headsets), but you get what you pay for. On a more positive note, the headset's 0.39-ounce weight makes this a tolerable discomfort, plus the volume and call buttons are all easily accessible regardless of the headset's orientation. Pairing with other Bluetooth devices was simple enough -- upon first boot the headset automatically goes into pairing mode indicated by a red-blue flash, otherwise you'd just need to hold down the call button for a few seconds to get to pairing mode. Once you're all set, you should be getting about five hours of talk time or seven days of standby time on one battery charge -- almost standard for headsets of this form factor.

Due to the lack of A2DP, you wouldn't be able to listen to music or podcasts with the Explorer 395 -- we actually think the headset's good enough for the latter, so this is a shame. As for the mic performance, it's obviously no match to Jawbone's or Motorola's noise-cancellation technology -- our voice sounded slightly tinny in comparison, and obviously the noise level is higher -- but for this budget we think the 395's done a pretty good job. You can be the judge as well:


Wrap-up

The Explorer 395 may not be the most exciting product coming out of Plantronics, but it's always nice to have a more affordable option for those who are happy with "good enough" performance. Also, this headset's appearance doesn't really reflect its budget price, and combined with the decent build quality we think this it's got good potential. Of course, if you're stuck in a noisy environment most of the day, you'd want to spend more money on headsets equipped with noise cancellation technology, so pick wisely.

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Plantronics Explorer 395 Bluetooth headset review