It’s about time, too: the capital’s smallest status symbol had been approaching its third year on the shelves without a single hardware revision and rivals are hot on its heels in the war of the (truly) wireless. No ear-to-ear cables, please.
Samsung commenced battle earlier this month with the launch of its new Galaxy Buds, featuring wireless charging and an impressive six hours of battery life, and boutique Chinese tech brand Mobvoi has unveiled an AirPod lookalike with dangerously similar specs and — crucially — a much lower price tag. The real question now isn’t whether to go wireless, but which one to go for. From Jabra’s workout-ready earbuds to Apple’s AirPods 2.0, this is low-down on cutting the cord.
1. Apple AirPods 2
USP: The iPhone in an earbud: slick and seamless with super-fast charging.
Best features: The AirPod embodies everything Apple is known for: minimal design, instant pairing and high-quality audio. Connection with your iPhone (or Android) is impressively instant, and it’s packed with cool features such as smart pausing: take one pod out of your ear to talk to someone and the music pauses. Put it back and the music restarts.
Charging is fast: the original AirPods gave you just three hours’ power in just 15 minutes (they’ll hold five hours charge in one sitting) and Apple says the AirPods 2 will “give you 50 percent more hands-free talk time”, plus their new case lets you charge wirelessly.
The second-gen model also comes with hands-free Siri and was expected to get a fitness upgrade: Apple filed a patent in July for biometric sensors, which could allow them to measure heart rate and stroke volume, but it seems that’s being saved for a future model.
Downsides: The price tag: AirPods were already some of the most expensive earbuds on the market and the second model costs an extra £40 if you want the new Wireless Charging Case. Not everybody is a fan of Apple’s trademark stem sticking out of their ear.
Price: From £159, apple.com
2. Mobvoi TicPods Free
USP: Budget AirPod clones for every phone type.
Best features: Everyone will think you’re wearing AirPods. Chinese brand Mobvoi’s attempt at rivalling Apple looks very similar, featuring those familiar white stems containing the battery and touch controls (they come in dark blue or red if you’d rather not look like an Apple disciple). The design is slightly clunkier than AirPods but the quality is impressive: the TicPods offer rich, bass-heavy sound; four hours’ battery life (better than average for wireless in-ears); and, unlike AirPods, they’re enabled for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, as well as Siri – not bad for £40 cheaper.
Downsides: The clunkier design means the fit isn’t as secure as that of AirPods (especially for those with small ears), and the lack of app means you can’t customise gesture controls. The max volume is a little low, but your ears will probably thank you for that.
Price: £119.99, mobvoi.com
3. Jabra Elite Active 65t
USP: Workout wonder buds with fitness tracking and noise cancellation.
Best features: Jabra released its Elite Active 65t last year and they’re still the highest-spec fitness earbuds on the market. They have an integrated accelerometer that monitors time elapsed and steps-per-minute, and are IP65-rated against sweat and dust for taking them to the gym. For outdoor workouts, the Jabra Sound+ app lets you choose how much noise the HearThrough mode lets in. Noise-cancelling in-ear tips block out sound, even on busy Tube platforms.
Battery life is five hours — the same as Apple’s — but Jabra’s design is more subtle: unlike AirPods, no one will notice the sleek black buds sitting in your ears (though they also come in racy red, for the exhibitionists).
Downsides: Fitness tracking doesn’t yet include heart rate and calories, and water resistance is limited: currently, they’re only able to withstand sustained low-pressure water jet sprays, so fine for rain but don’t go taking them in the shower.
Price: £169.99, jabra.co.uk
4. Samsung Galaxy Buds
USP: Super-sounding earphones with wireless charging and six hours of power.
Best features: Samsung’s new Galaxy Buds were released this month and are tailor-made for the firm’s sparkling new flagship phone, the S10: like AirPods, they pair with your phone as soon as you lift the lid, plus they feature wireless charging — a feature that’s rumoured for the AirPods 2.0.
To power up, just pop the case onto the back of your Galaxy phone (useful for emergencies and showing off to your friends). Once you’re set up, the sound is high-quality: Samsung worked with acoustics company AKG on the audio and added dual microphones for better call quality. Plus there’s Ambient Sound Mode, which lets in noise from your surroundings so you can still hear traffic or voices while you’re on the move.
Crucially, battery life is head and shoulders above the competition. The Galaxy Buds come with six hours of music playback — an hour longer than the AirPods and Jabra Elite — and the case offers 24 hours’ worth of power. Downsides: If you’re not a Samsung owner, you’ll miss out on some cool extra features. The app is Android-only so iPhone users won’t be able to customise touch controls or use the Find My Earbuds tool, and it might impact how you use voice commands with Samsung’s personal assistant, Bixby.
It’s not one for runners: music and performance are high quality but this comes at the expense of fitness tracking, and the Buds are barely water resistant.
Price: £139, samsung.com
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