Review: Plantronics Backbeat FIT 350 Wireless Sports Earbuds
- Light, comfortable fit
- Sweat proof
- Good sound
- Controls hard to locate by feel
- Can’t tell if they’re on or off
The Backbeat FIT series are Plantronics‘ sports line of headphones/earbuds for people who need a bit more durability in their gear. And the Backbeat FIT 350 are no exception – they are wireless Bluetooth earbuds that are sweat and water resistant, allowing you to go crazy with your workouts.
Coming in at a cost of $79.99 (at the time of writing), they’re designed in Santa Cruz California where the state’s stringent eco rules are already evident in the design of the box. In fact, outside the earbuds themselves, everything else is more or less made of recyclable paper/wood pulp product. You wouldn’t think it when you open it up because the materials look and feel very elegant, and the presentation professional. Not a sign of the impossible-to-open cheapy plastic anywhere.
There was one item in question that was shown on the box but not listed in the “included product” list. In the box, you get:
- Earbuds with mic
- Micro USB charge cable
- Cord Stability Clip
- Eartips x 3 (S,M,L)
- Carry pouch with draw string (not listed, but it’s in there)
STYLING / DESIGN / COMFORT
The FIT 350 has an “around-the-ear” form factor and uses flexible rubbery material that’s soft, pliable and never uncomfortable. This kind of design is really convenient at times when you want to hear an announcement or have a quick chat. You can pull out just the inner earbud and leave’em hanging – and instantly push them back in when you’re ready for the music.
It’s got an attractive bi-colored scheme, with one earbud in white and the other in dark gray. The cable itself is mostly dark gray with an outer shell made of friction-free, woven fabric.
The earbud tips don’t have the traditional round shape, but look something like lampshades or mushroom heads (you get 3 sets of them in different sizes). And let me tell you, they do a REALLY good job of sealing the music in with a firm, rubbery grip. And to help keep them in, Plantronics added oval shaped “wings” that gently fit in the indents of your ear.
But the best thing I’ve found about them was this: I totally forgot I had them on after several hours of listening! They’re just so light and comfortable, and unlike some of the competition (who shall remain nameless), you don’t have to jam them deep so deep in your ear canals that you feel them cry for relief.
The FIT 350 also comes with a cable clip that you can use to shorten the 18″ long cable or to clip to your shirt when you’re off for a run.
Made for sports and exercise, these earbuds are sweatproof with a rating of IP X5. They also have night-time visibility with reflective materials woven into the cable. The whole thing is very light (15 grams)and hardly noticeable once you put them on.
USABILITY / FUNCTION
The main controls reside on a 2 inch square rod. On this rod are three push-buttons for the six main functions:
- On/off and play/pause
- Volume up and next song
- Volume down and previous song
The buttons feel nice with a tactile and audible “click” that lets you know the button has been pressed. Having only three buttons, you’d think it’d be easy enough to use, but there’s a small usability issue that can get annoying.
ONE SMALL ISSUE
Once you put on the FIT 350 and lose sight of the controls, you’ll be forced to hunt around all four sides of the square rod before you find the side you want – the side with the controls. And it doesn’t end there; you’ll then get confused by the off-center layout of the buttons.
Since you’re relying on sense of feel for the controls, it would make sense to have play directly in the center of the rod and vol up/down controls on either side. On this unit, the up button is in the center with a flat-shaped play on one side of it and a groove on the other side that tricks you into thinking another button is there – which isn’t the case.
The controls themselves work just fine, but the design and layout could have been thought through better. It really doesn’t help that the buttons are off-center, making the task of finding the button you want to press an irritating chore. So while the design makes sense visually, it seems the engineers might have overlooked testing for tactile usability.
INTERFACE AND FEEDBACK
The voice interface and dual red/blue LED lights work well. The FIT 350 makes clear announcements when it:
- Turns on (blinking blue light, battery status announced)
- Makes a connection
- Turns off (blinking red light)
The lights will also blink when a button is pressed, but otherwise there isn’t any indication of whether or not the unit is active. Might be helpful for the more forgetful of us to have some kind of blinking indication. That way, we’d be alerted to turn it off.
Other than that, a great job.
BATTERY & CHARGING
The FIT 350 has a great battery life rating of 6 hours, but I’ve gotten more than that with a low’ish volume output and a good BT connection (by avoiding BT link loss.)
When the power goes flat, you can recharge the FIT 350 via micro USB cable.
The Bluetooth connection is very good. There may be an occasional stutter now and again especially if your music player is in your pants pocket (your own body acts as a barrier – refer to BT link loss in “BATTERY” section), but it doesn’t happen very often. What probably helps a lot is the use of Bluetooth 4.1 which has improved connectivity as low energy usage.
The maximum range is stated to be 33ft/10meters, and I’ve never encountered any issues with quality or drops otherwise. When I exercise using the FIT 350, I set a playlist and simply leave the player in a small bag on a wall as I run the treadmill or do other exercises.
The sound quality is very good. The FIT 350 uses 6mm drivers offering a sensitivity of 106 dBSPL and a frequency range of 20Hz – 20kHz. But please note that it’ll really depend on how good of a seal you’ve made with your earbuds.
At listening sessions in a quiet room, there have been times when I thought the highs were too shrill and the low end missing. But some minor finagling here and a twist there always fixed things. I was then able to hear the boominess of the bass (compared to just a few seconds ago where I heard none) and more controlled, tempered highs that didn’t pierce my ears.
When you’re exercising and running about, the situation will be different of course. But all in all, the music will sound good while most of the environmental noise is kept out. I’ve even had people wave their hands in my face as I realized I couldn’t hear a word they’d said due to the passive noise cancelling quality of the tips.
It’s not a major issue, but as with most cloth woven cables, the FIT 350 is no exception. Every time the cable rubs vigorously against your clothes or taps against you, you’ll hear the abrasion or the thumping. Thankfully however, this is minimized by having the cable routed behind your neck and tightened with the cable clip.
And in case you’re wondering, there IS a mic built into these earbuds. Should you ever need to talk on the phone during your run, you can. It’s just hard to say anything about the quality of the conversation since the mic will be behind your right ear. Having said that, I want to add that Plantronics is a huge player and well known for their high quality mics in their headsets and earpieces.
The Plantronics Backbeat FIT 350 is a great fitting, good sounding pair of earbuds that are available (at the time of writing) for US$79.99. They’re made for sports and is water & sweat resistant, but will still look good even when you’re not in tight shorts and sports bra or tank top.
With good Bluetooth, comfortable fit and limited 1 year warranty, these wireless BT earbuds have a lot going for it and should be put on your “to audition” list the next time you’re on the market for a new pair of earbuds.
More Info: https://www.plantronics.com
(Test unit provided by Plantronics for this review.)
Check prices: https://amzn.to/2qnHoO8 —Amazon affiliate link
What the stars mean:
5 – Excellent (up there with the best, no flaws/issues)
4 – Very Good (better than expected, may have minor flaws)
3 – Good w/caveats (works, but has some issues)
2 – SMH (serious issues, needs major improvement)
1 – 0_0;; (just… why?)