Apple delayed the release of its new truly wireless earbuds called AirPods that it originally planned on launching in late October. It’s disappointing for some who wanted to use them with their new iPhone 7 that launched back in September. But what does the competition look like?
With the AirPods originally expected to launch sometime this month, right around the time of Apple’s MacBook Pro event and Apple Watch Nike+ launch last week, a lot of accessory makers have been planning launches to time and compete with Apple’s new wireless earbuds. Just this week a few new products launched, including Michigan-based Sol Republic’s first cord-free product called ‘Amps Air’, and today Best Buy is launching new $249 Skybuds that claim to offer 24 hours battery with an included charging case and improved connectivity.
If you just can’t wait for the AirPods, or want to check out the competition and see how Apple’s earbuds compare, these are the alternatives…
A few things to consider before we jump in…
- Apple’s AirPods will utilize its new W1 chip, just like the latest Beats line. From our early hands-on tests, that means they will have superior connectivity and pairing. That’s a big deal. Currently, just about every set of Bluetooth headphones, cord-free or not, experience hiccups with connectivity. In real world usage for non-W1 headphones, that means opening the Settings app and pairing manually in Bluetooth settings while maybe having to power the headphones on and off to enable pairing mode. Most of them attempt to offer an automatic pairing experience after initial setup, but it’s frustrating when they fail.
- Form factor is going to be a big differentiator for AirPods. Just take a look at the competition. Even the bullet-shaped ones that appear smaller stick out of the ear more than you might expect. The other option is a flatter but hearing aid-looking design that many others are using.
- Apple’s AirPods are priced competitively at $159 for what you get with battery life and pairing, audio quality aside.
Launched earlier this summer, Apollo 7 by Erato ($299) is one of the better reviewed truly wireless earbud options on the market, but it’s also one of the most expensive at $300 USD. They don’t get glowing reviews for having outstanding sound quality either, but overall users who can stomach the price are happy apart from the less than stellar mic and audio quality for calls. But that’s par-for-the-course for these types of earbuds so far. Expect around four hours of battery life with a 300 mAh charging case that will give you a few extra charges. You can expect the usual Bluetooth pairing issues (they won’t always just work) and lag in certain situations for video. At $299, they are hardly competing with Apple’s AirPods at half the price…
Just launched last week on what would have been the same day as the AirPods, the new Sol Republic Amps Air offer some of the best audio quality we’ve tested, something that is often lacking in wireless earbuds and not something that is expected to improve much with Apple’s AirPods.
If you can put up with slightly bulkier package– in-ear shots availabile in our full review here— then these might prove to be a better option than AirPods if audio quality is your main concern. Despite being a bit big in the ear, we found them comfortable and overall some of the better cord-free earbuds for the price. The magnetic charging case works well, they are sweat-resistant, plus they get three hours listen time and an extra 45 on-the-go with the charging case. At $179, they might be worth the upgrade in sound quality over AirPods, and possibly comfort too depending on your ear.
Launching today at Best Buy, Skybuds ($249) promise four hours battery life and a charging case that gives an extra 24 hours listening time on-the-go. And they come in what looks like a relatively slim package compared to a lot of the other competition with similar specs. What the press release doesn’t mention is audio quality, but early user reviews have been overall positive. At $249, they’ll have to sound pretty good too in order to make them competitive with Sol Republic and the other guys. We’re expecting a review unit shortly.
Samsung’s Gear Icon X (ugh, enough with the singular names for cord-free earbuds) have 4GB built-in storage for music and a heart rate monitor plus other fitness tracking features. They get a max 3.8 hrs of listening time, but much less in some cases. Replaceable small, medium, and large tips and wings are a plus if getting a good fit is often an issue for you. The charging case will charge them twice while on the go. They get decent reviews as far as sound quality goes, but don’t expect to be blown away, and most reviews note a myriad of issues with everything apart from charging and sound. At $199 currently, they will be a premium over Apple’s $159 AirPods at launch.
Launched this month at Best Buy, Jabra’s new $249 Elite Spot earbuds are IP67 rated for waterproofing and Jabra says you should get around 3 hours listening time and an additional 6 hours while on-the-go from charging with the included portable case with built-in battery. There is also an in-ear heart rate monitor that is supposed to offer “90%+ accuracy” and a companion app for viewing the data.
Motorola VerveOnes+ Waterproof earbuds
Motorola debuted these new VerveOnes+ earbuds a few months ago and overall they’ve been getting solid reviews. You get 3-4 hrs playback with an additional 12 hours on the go via the recharging case with built-in battery. $180 for the standard version, $249 for the waterproof edition.
The Rowkin Bit Charge have a growing following among those after the smallest, bullet-shaped form factor possible at a price lower than the Erato’s above. They cost $129 (you can buy a single unit for $69), but the trade-off is not-so-great audio quality and only three hours or less listening time on a single charge. Like many of the others, the charging case will give you up to 15 extra charges while on the move.
A promising compact form factor, we had a decent experience with these $199 earbuds from Earin, but they aren’t without the usual Bluetooth connectivity issues and the sound quality is nothing to brag about. They offer three hours of playback on a single charge and an extra three charges with the case’s built-in battery. Our full review is here.
Bragi received some attention for “The Dash”, one of the first cord-free earbuds to hit the market a year back. But they didn’t get great reviews at $300, mostly because the company crammed in fitness tracking features and sensor-based touch controls that didn’t work that well. The company has since announced a new product– The Headphone— that removes those features and aims to fix connectivity issues with the first generation product. They will cost $149 at launch next month, but the verdict is still out on performance. Currently up for pre-order from the company for $119.
Take a look at the W1 pairing process, which will greatly improve connectivity and pairing on the AirPods and across other Apple devices from our hands-on with the new Beats Solo3 below: