After spending two days using the BeatsX earphones, I'm not sure I can go back to my tired old pods.
Wireless earphones have been around for years, but it wasn't until Apple removed the headphone jack from its iPhone 7 that they suddenly became a necessity... at least for me. Soon after upgrading to an iPhone 7 I lost the tiny Lightning cable adapter, and the free EarPods make me feel like I'm tethered to my phone. For workouts I survived off a pair of first-gen wireless LG Tones, except during runs. The hard plastic neck base would pound down against my collarbone, so I rarely used them outside of the gym.
Apple's completely wireless AirPods never really appealed as to me as a runner. I was afraid one would pop out of my ear one day and I wouldn't notice until I was miles away. No thanks.
The BeatsX seemed to fit the bill. They connect wirelessly to the phone, but they still have a cable securing them to your neck at all times. The $150 price tag will be hard to justify for most and likely too rich for my blood -- I borrowed a colleague's to get some QT with them -- but I was excited to try them out.
These are only my impressions while doing my normal activities. For an in-depth analysis, check out CNET's full review.
What's good about the BeatsX?
For starters they're made with Apple's W1 chip, which in theory means they have easier device syncing, a stronger bluetooth connection, longer range and seamless compatibility with other Apple devices.
If you have an iPhone 5 or newer (it's not compatible with anything older), just turn the earphones on to start using them. As long as Bluetooth is turned on, you'll immediately see a pop-up screen asking you to pair them. No setup, no searching through the settings menu. And if you have an Apple Watch synced to your phone, you should automatically see the BeatsX as an output option when you're playing music on the watch. And the iPhone never forgets the earphones unless you choose to forget them. You'll just have to unpair them from your device before connecting them to another device.
What if I don't have an iPhone?
The setup on my MacBook was not quite as seamless as I still had to go into the Bluetooth settings page to connect. Same goes with Android devices.
Is the cable annoying?
It didn't really bother me. The the soft rubber on the BeatsX felt light around my neck, even when they were bobbing up and down during a run. In fact, I'd much rather have them attached to each other than have to keep tabs on two tiny devices (yes, another shameless AirPods dig). And they stayed on all day.
I wore them on my commute in the morning to listen to my podcasts, listened to music during my toning session at the gym, around my neck at work, in my ears for a jog on the beach and dangling around my neck again while running errands. The buds clip together magnetically when they're hanging around your chest so you can wear them like a necklace or lanyard if you don't mind the look (I didn't). They faded into the background and were always there when I needed them. And since the cable doesn't tangle, if you ever have to take them off and stick them in your purse or pocket, you won't have to worry about knots.
Will the earbuds stay in my ear when I'm doing all this stuff?
The buds are designed to fit more snugly in the ear than Apple's AirPods and EarPods. As long as they're placed correctly, and in the correct ear, which is harder than it seems because of the microscopic "R" and "L" lettering below each bud. The easiest way to decipher the correct side, was by looking for the control buttons which are meant to be on the left.
I first tried them out with the default tips which I really had to jam into place to ensure they wouldn't fall out. And they didn't, even while jumping rope.
Even if you typically don't like the way earbuds feel inside your ear -- I hate that underwater disconnected feeling -- these Beats come with a wide range of bud options to chose from so there's a good chance you'll find something that works for you.
I added the wingtips during my run, which clip into the outer part of the ear. The added layer of security made it so I could rest the actual buds in my ear without having to jam them into place allowing a bit more ambient noise to filter in.
OK, so they fit, but how do they sound?
The sound quality with the buds is great and they're incredible at drowning out ambient noise if that's what you want. But perhaps too much so. Noise isolation (as Apple calls it) is great when you're trying to concentrate at the office, but not when you're out on the street or on a run and you want to remain at least somewhat aware of oncoming traffic.
How far away can you get from your phone?
Pretty far actually. I tested them out on an open soccer field leaving the phone at the goal post with some tunes playing on the Beats as I walked off. I got about a quarter of the way out when I heard the first signs of interference. Once I passed the quarter marker the sound started cutting off intermittently, and by the time I reached the halfway point it had completely stopped playing. This doesn't factor in walls and obstacles, but it's still pretty impressive.
It means I could leave the phone in my gym bag nearby and go about my routine without having to tuck it into my sports bra.
Any other tricks?
Another great feature on the Beats you won't find on the AirPods: the manual controls. You can pause, skip a track, lower the volume, take a call or summon Siri right from the cable. Just brush up on your shortcuts: click once to pause, hold down for Siri, twice to skip forward and three times to go back.
How long did the battery last?
The BeatsX held up beyond the 8 hours of playback time promised on the box and I ended the day with about 30 percent charge. But I had to do some digging to figure this out. I'm used to finding the battery information at the top right hand corner of the phone screen. With the Beats you have to swipe up to the quick settings, swipe left for music, click on the drop down menu at the bottom and then click "Beats" to reveal. That's way too many steps.
But when they finally did run out of juice, charging them was a piece of cake. They come with their own Lightning-to-USB cable, but I just plugged them into my iPhone charger and had a full charge in less than an hour. Their fast Fuel charge means you can get 2 hours of playback in just 5 minutes.
So you're saying these are good for active people?
Yes! After two days of wearing them around the clock, my biggest complaint was the color of the cord which was no longer white thanks to a mix of makeup and dirt. So take advantage of the darker color options. I used them way more than my clunky Tones, and knotted earbuds, and reached for my phone a lot less thanks to the easy pairing. They never interfered with my day to day, and just worked well when I needed them.
If you lead an active lifestyle and you don't want to babysit each individual bud, these are a no brainer over the AirPods and they're even $10 less. But they're still not cheap, so if you don't care about the extra features, especially the wireless, going with much cheaper earbuds is still the way to go.