Price (RRP): $239.99
With the BackBeat FIT 3100 earphones, Plantronics continues with its habit of producing high performance ear gear at reasonable prices. See here for some other models we’ve looked at in recent times.
The BackBeat FIT 3100 earphones are tagged: “True Wireless Sport”. The “True Wireless” bit means that the two earbuds communicate wirelessly, rather than via a wire. Obviously, they also communicate wirelessly with your phone or other device.
Each of the earbuds contains a surprisingly large 13.5mm driver, seemingly of conventional dynamic design. Each weighs 22 grams.
They are unusual in two ways. First, they come with fixed loops which go around the wearer’s ears. Second, the silicon tips – they’re bright red – aren’t replaceable. As we’ll see, that’s because they are not designed to plug fully into the user’s ears. The loops hold them loosely in place, but there’s no real seal.
True wireless earbuds routinely come with a charge case. Because they have a limited run time on their own – too big a battery would make them too heavy – the case provides multiple recharges. In this case, there are two additional charges available in the case. The run time is specified at an unusually long five hours per charge. (Also, a 15-minute quick charge in the case gives an extra hour of listening.)
These cases are typically hard plastic affairs. The Plantronics one isn’t. It has a zipper and a leather-look finish. It looks much more like a soft carry case than a charge case, and it ought to be safer when dropped than those with hard plastic cases.
The earphones clip into place securely within the case. Oddly, when you open the case naturally, the right earpiece is on the left and the left one on the right. I guess it doesn’t matter. I soon got used to it.
They work with the same phone app used by the Plantronics BackBeat GO 410 earphones, which we reviewed a few days ago.
Using the BackBeat FIT 3100 earphones
So, you pull them out of the case and pop them around and into your ears. These earphones do not seal up your ear canal. Or, at least, they certainly didn’t seal up mine. That seems to be intentional in the design. You are supposed to be able to hear what’s around you.
When you put them on you’ll hear three messages. They will announce that they are powered on, along with their battery level: high, medium or low. The right hand one says, “headset connected”, which means that the two buds are connected to each other. The other says, “phone connected”, and then you’re right to go.
Left and right
Now, of course you’re going to have to work out how the controls work. Fortunately, there’s a manual within the BackBeat app. Unfortunately, it’s a bit misleading at the start. It tells you, for example, that the Play/Pause button is on the right earbud. But, no, it’s actually on the left earbud. The controls are the other way around than indicated by the user guide. At least, that’s how they start. Within the app’s settings you can switch the earphones to work the other way around. Nonetheless, it did have me a little confused at the outset. (The printed Quick Start Guide has things the right way around.)
By default, play/pause and track skipping, answering calls and hanging up, invoking Google Assistant or Siri and pairing are all managed from the left earbud. The right earbud is for changing the volume. But earbuds have a click button – the whole surface – and are also touch sensitive. To play/pause, you click in the left earbud. To turn up the volume you tap the right earbud. To turn it down, you tap and hold.
There are two downsides to the non-sealing design. The first is that deep bass is limited. The second is that sometimes there’s too much environmental noise to hear things clearly through the earphones. When I was listening to podcasts, occasionally a bus would drive past me, drowning out the program. But the upside was that I was never in danger from things around me due to not hearing them.
The only other wobble was an issue that affects most, perhaps all, Bluetooth earphones. I went wandering around a shopping mall on Boxing Day. The mall was seriously chock-a-block with people. And it seemed like all of them were using the 2.4GHz band for various purposes. The earphones were continually dropping in and out, not just in their communications with the phone but with each other. It was a weird experience.
But it was also an extreme one. I noticed that my phone didn’t have 4G connectivity that day: it showed only a H+ connection. I presume that was because there were so many people around that the cell towers were overloaded. And that was in the same spot where I’d tested my 4G connectivity previously, achieving download speeds of 270Mbps.