Thursday, 14 July 2011 13:21

Plantronics favours vocal flavour with new headset 'Savor'


With today's Bluetooth headsets A2DP, DSP, noise-cancelling and multi-pair enabled, you need to do something different to stand out, with Plantronics doing just that with its latest Savor M1100 Bluetooth headset!

Plantronics is well known for its audio technologies, having even had its headset technologies used on the moon during the US moon missions.

While future moon missions sadly seem some time off, with the US Shuttle program effective now over (despite the last shuttle still being in space as I type), Plantronics has done the opposite, and has grown tremendously instead.

From a range of business oriented communications solutions through to highly fashionable consumer Bluetooth headsets, Plantronics has, like its competitors, sought to bring new features and new designs to market on a regular basis.

However, once you've made your Bluetooth headset small and light, once you've added in DSP, noise-cancelling tech and more - what the heck do you do next?

Plantronics' answer is to try and make the hardware buttons on its headset even simpler and easier, to give a solid four hours of battery life without needing any additional battery packs or clips, to add a third microphone for additional noise-cancellation in particularly noisy or windy situations, to offer a design that continues moving away from some 'boxier' competitors, with more details on these features on page two.

However one of the big new features is a voice command cloud-based service called 'Vocalyst' that lets users send email, listen to text messages and reminders, listen to news, sport, finance updates, update your Facebook, Twitter and more - all by using your voice.

While the new 'Vocalyst' service is a major feature of the Plantronics Savor M1100 headset, the Savor operates perfectly normally without it, leaving the take-up of the service to the end-user should they wish to try it, with one-year of 'basic' Vocalyst service included free-of-charge, and with the opportunity to 'upgrade' to a Vocalyst Pro service offering even more voice commands and controls for US $35.00 per year or US $3.50 per month.

I've had the M1100 for less than 24 hours, having set up the Vocalyst service last night, and trying it again this morning. The service works as advertised, although as with any voice control or recognition system, sometimes the computer on the other end can struggle with understanding exactly what it is you're telling it, especially if there's noise about.

However, I definitely have not used the Vocalyst service enough, as yet, to say with any accuracy how accurate it is in a range of environments, but I have heard the 'electronic woman' who I've set to speak in a UK accent tell me that she didn't understand what I said and to try again a few times.

I have succeeded in getting the service to read me my emails from Gmail, to read out news headlines, sports updates and weather updates, and I have even just sent an email by voice, although I did need to say 'send an email' a few times before the system picked up that I wanted to 'send an email'.

I haven't tried the 'reminders' system yet, but am looking forward to doing so, and to trying out the 'Vocalyst Pro' features as well in the not-too-distant future.

Thus, the system has indeed worked for me, sometimes on the first go, other times after a few tries, but I do want to test it further before giving any final verdicts on Vocalyst one way or the other.

So, what does Plantronics say about its latest and greatest? Please read on to page two!

Peter Petrides, the National Retail Sales Manager of Plantronics said that: 'With a commitment to high quality product design and developing innovative technology, Plantronics' Vocalyst aims to make communication simpler and more convenient for customers. This product is a breakthrough in voice-driven simplicity and performance; it's like having your own personal assistant.'

Plantronics describes Vocalyst as a 'cloud-based service' that 'significantly enhances the Bluetooth user experience with convenient features and capabilities', letting users:

- Send and listen to emails and text-to-speech messages,
- Record and listen to reminders,
- Post messages to Twitter and listen to their streams,
- Update Evernote accounts to easily capture moments and ideas with their voice,
- Post a message to your Facebook page,
- Listen to the latest news, finance, sports and weather reports.

You can even get the service to automatically send out a text message through an 'autoresponder' for incoming text messages saying something like 'I'm currently driving and will return your message shortly'.

The Savor M1100 also lets you answer or ignore incoming calls by saying 'answer' or 'ignore' when calls come through.

When it comes to 'audio performance', Plantronics is talking up the fact that it has included three microphones in the M1100 that 'work collaboratively to ensure every word is heard clearly during conversations'.

The company says that two of the three mikes 'capture the user's voice and simultaneously cancel background noise', with the third mike automatically activating 'when in extremely noisy situations, helping to overcome the most challenging environments while maximising battery life.'

Plantronics' DSP (digital signal processing) technology is called AudioIQ, with the M1100 version called AudioIQ3 to signify the three microphones in use, with Plantronics saying this means 'users do not sound robotic and improves speech accuracy'.

There's also inbuilt 'WindSmart technology' to reduce wind noise when taking calls in the car or on a busy street, while incorporating 'premium speaker and automatic volume adjustments' so that 'users don't have to put a hand over their ear to hear inbound audio.'

On that front, audio coming through the M1100 has been nice and clear in my use of the headset thus far, and people seem to be able to hear me very clearly, while the headset is very light at 9 grams and sits effortlessly in your ear without falling out.

As you'd expect, there are soft ear gel tips in different sizes, and an optional ear hook clip if desired.

I've been using the M1100 thus far without the ear hook add-on in my ear, and even after vigorously shaking my head, I couldn't make it disengage and fly out, which is obviously a very good thing!

More specs and the conclusion on page three, please read on!

Additional specs include iPhone Bluetooth battery meter compatibility, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR and eSCO, A2DP streaming, multi-point technology that allows easy transfer to and from different paired devices, quick-pair technology and even apps for Android phones that can read out SMS messages to you, something that isn't yet possible on the iPhone.

A Bluetooth headset battery meter app is also coming to Android phones for those that want it.

Four hours of talk time and seven days of standby time is promised too, giving end-users more than enough time to suffer through long conference calls without needing to worry that their headset was going to run out of battery first.

Selling for AUD $129 through 'Telstra and other stockists', the M1100 is a great first step towards a locally available 'digital personal assistant' that sits in your ear and is powered by Vocalyst.

Clearly the technology will only improve further, but Vocalyst certainly does gives Plantronics an edge over its competitors and pushes Bluetooth headsets in a new direction.

The question is, is all this enough to push your Bluetooth buttons? That's something you'll have to decide for yourself, but if you do need a new Bluetooth headset, the list of headsets you decide to look at while deciding which one to buy has a strong new contender - even without the Vocalyst feature-set.


However, with Vocalyst being a feature that Plantronics clearly sees as a winning "USP" or "unique selling point", I'll continue testing the Vocalyst service over the next few days and will share an updated view of the utility and usability of Vocalyst then!



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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.



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