Truly wireless earbuds haven’t caught up to AirPods after more than a year

AirPods are the best truly wireless earbuds available because they nail the essentials like ease of use, reliability, and battery life. There are alternatives that definitely sound better from Bose, B&O Play, and other. But they often cost more and all of them experience occasional audio dropouts. AirPods don’t. I’d argue they’re maybe the best first-gen product Apple has ever made. Unfortunately, I’m one of the sad souls whose ears just aren’t a match for the AirPods — and I’m a nerd who likes having both an iPhone and Android phone around — so I’ve been searching for the best non-Apple option.

But some 14 months after AirPods shipped, there’s still no clear cut competitor that’s truly better at the important stuff. They all lack the magic sauce that is Apple’s W1 chip, which improves pairing, range, and battery life for the AirPods. At this point I think it’s fair to say that Bluetooth alone isn’t enough to make these gadgets work smoothly. Hopefully the connection will be more sturdy once more earbuds with Bluetooth 5 hit the market. And Qualcomm is also putting in work to help improve reliability.

That’s not to say these options are all terrible; they’re not. If you’re using them in a place where you’re unlikely to deal with much signal interference, several are fine choices. Samsung, Sony, Bragi, Bose, and others are worth looking at. Each has its own advantages and drawbacks. All of them are more flexible in regards to fit with different options (including Comply foam tips in some cases). The Bose SoundSport Free has the best bass response of the bunch, for example, but they’re basically useless for video since there’s a substantial audio delay. That’s an issue shared by several of these, and some of them only route phone calls to one ear, which can be annoying. A few provide built-in fitness tracking, but I’ve got enough devices that are capable of that. I just want the things to work great and sound nice. The second half is already there — and many of these earbuds let you customize the EQ — but I need rock-solid playback.

At the very least, they’ve all got pretty unique cases, which is ultimately what caught Nilay’s attention during this Circuit Breaker Live segment. Bose’s looks the most “futuristic gadget” to me, though B&O classes it up with leather. The important part is maintaining some semblance of pocketability, ruling out the Motorola (which looks like some sort of medication dispenser) right away. I’m still confused why Bragi’s case for The Headphone is so large since there’s not even a battery inside.

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