5 AirPod alternatives that almost make the grade

AirPods improve in iOS 11

AirPods put a little AI inside your ears

AirPods are great, but if you don’t feel particularly comfortable wearing a pair of white sticks in your ears there are several alternatives you may want to take a look at. I thought I’d introduce you to five.

AirPod alternatives that may make the grade

You have to be realistic.

In terms of lag, the time it takes to switch between voice and music audio, iOS integration and future upgradability, AirPods are not easy to beat.

Apple’s control of the ecosystem means it can change the user interface, augment it, and provide performance features no one else can promise, in part because it powers its headphones with an H1 wireless chip. And you get software upgrades that make your devices even more useful over time…

But some people want to paint it black.

Ride on:

B&O Play E8

With the reputation of Bang & Olufsen behind them you’d be forgiven if you expected these to deliver the very best wireless audio ever. You’re (almost) right – the audio is fantastic, touch controls are responsive (tap the right ear thrice to summon Siri), and they use Bluetooth 4.2.

Which is where it all goes wrong, as that older BT standard means that while audio is fabulous when the connection is strong, things like switching modes or nearby interference may diminish your experience.

They’re a bargain at the moment though – you’ll pick them up for $175. Specs: Playback time 4 hours, charge case boosts to 12 hours total, built in mic, touch controls.

Jabra Elite 65T

While larger in the ear than other wireless earbuds, these are comfortable to wear and lightweight.

They also provide pretty good audio, and this must in part be because they use Bluetooth 5.0, which is better at audio and less likely to fail just when you hit the funny bit in your ‘Big Fitness Motivation’ podcast while you trudge your sorry tech-loving ass around some field, wearing running shoes and something baggy and wishing you’d avoided eating all those pies.

You’ll find these for $169.Specs: Playback time 5 hours, charge case adds another 10-hours, built in mic and touch controls.

AudiYo i8s

The good? Nicely designed, with decent music playback (three hours) and a charging case, these are definitely at the low end of the market. Audio sounds good, and these things are waterproof and you can use the charging case to charge your smartphone also. Thing is, their use of Bluetooth 4.2 disappoints.

All the same, if you need a casual system or an AirPod alternative that (gasp) works well without possession of an iPhone, then you’re in luck. Thesewill cost around £69,but I’ve not found them in the U.S. quite yet. Specs: Playback time 3 hours, charge case adds another 10 quick charges, built in mic and touch controls.

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless

These aren’t cheap, but they provide brilliant sound in a lightweight package that fits your ears comfortably.

Touch controls let you summon Siri. What’s nice about these (other than Sennheiser’s deserved reputation for making systems that sound good) is that the charge case is fabric wrapped, making using these things feel a little classier.

You’ll find these for around $299. Specs: Playback time 4 hours, charge case adds another 8 hours for 12 total, built in mic and touch controls.

Samsung Galaxy Buds

A little cheaper than AirPods, but the compromise seem to be around audio playback, which lacks bass and sounds a little tinny.

You’ll also hear this difference when making calls, and the reliance on Bluetooth means moving between modes is slower than you get from those H1 AirPods. The Galaxy Buds do deliver noise cancellation, which AirPods lack.

One unique advantage to this system is support for Qi wireless charging with the case, so you can pop the case on a compatible charging mat. You’ll find these for around $158. Specs: Playback time 6 hours, charge case adds another 7 hours, built in mic and touch controls.

How can AirPods become an essential item?

What about Apple’s AirPods?

If I’m honest having looked at what’s around, I still feel that if you’re an Apple purist then AirPods remain the best game in town delivering excellent sound quality and seamless mode switching along with all the other advantages of the company’s integrated mobile platforms.

When it comes to price, the current model of these with the wireless charging case costs just $199, falling to $159 with the non-wireless case.

While it’s clear lots of people want to compete with Apple in this segment, it’s also clear that the product that company has put together is simply superior. Just a shame they aren’t available in black, which remains a bit of a deal-breaker for me.

I’d also really like them to be sufficiently discreet that I’m not going to be relieved of them when I wear them when walking the meaner streets where I live. At present they stand out like a cop at a Woodstock rally.

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Jonny Evans

Watching Apple since 1999. I don't say what they should do. I say what they might do. They sometimes do.

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