The new generation of Plantronics wireless PC headsets has arrived, with the modestly-priced Plantronics W440 representing the first DECT wireless headset with a focus on portability. Does this portability compromise usability and voice quality?
DECT technology has been around for years, most commonly found in household cordless phones, offering clear voice quality and long wireless range.
DECT PC headsets are also nothing new; the previous generation of headsets from Plantronics (the iconic CS-60) used the same technology. However, although wireless, these headsets were never portable. The DECT connection was between the headset and its base, which was chunky and required connection to the electrical mains.
In contrast, the new W440 has a DECT connection to a small USB dongle, much like many Bluetooth headsets, including Plantronics’ own Voyager line. Bluetooth headsets are handy and have their place, but crystal clear audio, as required by speech recognition, is not their forte.
When I first laid eyes upon the Plantronics W440 retail box, I was stunned at its size. From what I had known about the headset, I was expecting a compact unit, but the box was huge.
Upon opening the box, all was revealed. It was filled, not with filler, but with accessories.
The contents are listed below:
– Plantronics W440 headset and hot-swappable battery
– DECT USB dongle
– Base station and AC adapter (for charging)
– USB cradle (for charging)
– “Fit kit” including ear gels, ear loops, headband and neck band
– Carry case
– Manuals, warranty card, etc.
This is a very complete bundle. About the only thing missing that might be of interest is a spare battery (available separately) for those wishing to use the headset for extended periods without access to a charge point.
This non-inclusion is no deal-breaker, however, since Plantronics have supplied both AC and USB charging options. With a claimed battery life of 7 hours talk time, most will struggle to justify a second battery.
Headsets can be worn for hours at a time, so comfort is a critical consideration. One of the big ticks for the Plantronics CS-60 was its comfort, so how does the new Plantronics W440 fare?
I’m pleased to report that, for me at least, the Plantronics W440 is more comfortable than the CS-60. This is due to the inclusion of more fitting options, as well as the less common back-of-the-head/upper-neck band, which is my personal wearing style of choice.
The headset itself is also extremely light. Weightier headsets never really bothered me, but some users may gain additional comfort from this.
Okay, so the idea is good, the kit is impressive and the headset is lightweight and comfortable. Now for the burning question – how does this thing actually perform?
PC headsets are typically used for two primary purposes – softphones and speech recognition (such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking) – of which, Speech Recognition is by far the more picky when it comes to audio quality. Speech recognition software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking require clear, clean audio to product the best results.
To test the audio quality, I created a new Dragon profile and completed the initial training. While performing this training, you can get a feel for how well Dragon understands your speech by how it responds. This was promising…
I’ve now been testing the headset with my new profile for nearly a month and the recognition accuracy is excellent – certainly an improvement over the already great Plantronics CS-60USB. This is hardly an objective comment, but the noise cancelling (more correctly, noise isolation) also seems very good, making this headset a suitable option for use in somewhat (within reason) noisy environments.
IMPORTANT: The audio quality was poor out of the box. Plantronics recommend downloading their software, but they don’t supply an installation disc. DO IT! The driver update noticeably improves the microphone’s audio quality.
– Comfortable, lightweight and portable – the first of its kind
– Excellent accessory bundle, including a surprisingly good quality carry case
– Very high quality microphone with ample noise isolation
– The microphone boom feels a little delicate, so use the carry case when out and about
– While the microphone quality is high, the speaker quality isn’t – good enough for a conversation, but you wouldn’t use it to listen to music
– No installation disc included, but the driver update is a must
The Plantronics Savi WW440 is available in Australia from;
VoiceX Communications : 1300 551 778