Hands-on review: Aipower Wearbuds
Image credit: Aipower
A smartwatch that also houses and charges a pair of earbuds means you can say goodbye to fumbling with several different bits of kit, and provides fitness-tracking functions too.
Wireless earbuds are a great innovation, but how often have you been through the pantomime that all users experience when they take them out of patting down your pockets to find the charging case then juggling buds and case?
And in the worst ‘case’ scenario, you pat your pockets down several times before realising that the case, without which the expensive listening equipment is useless, has gone AWOL and left you with some expensive but redundant audio gear until you can source another one.
It’s almost enough to outweigh the hassle of wired headphones, which you can yank out, and stick in a pocket or just leave hanging, safe in the knowledge that they’re unlikely to become detached from your phone.
With a bit of lateral thinking, Aipower has come up with an alternative that provides not only a decent pair of earbuds but also an exercise-tracking smartwatch that acts as a storage unit securely strapped to your wrist, and also charges them up when not in use. It sounds like the sort of elegant solution you’d expect of a company whose team have a track record with the likes of Samsung, Huawei and Alcatel, but so do a lot of other innovative gadgets. We gave the Wearbuds a test run to see how well they work in the real world.
Out of the box, the Aipower smartband is a little bulkier than most smartwatches, but surprisingly light and compact when you realise that it houses two earbuds. Charging is via a proprietary cable equipped with a magnetic connector that fixes to the back of the watch face with a satisfying snap and stays firmly in place.
Getting the silicone band on once charging was complete proved to be a little tricky as one end needs to be hooked over a small metal clip then threaded behind the other rather than over as in most watches. Once we’d got the hang of it, though, it was very secure and comfortable.
Now comes the ingenious bit. Press on each side of the watch face and a spring-loaded mechanism ejects the buds. It shouldn’t come as a pleasant surprise that the right one is on the right and the left one on the left, but that’s not always the case with charging units and is handy when you’re in a hurry.
If all you want is convenient storage, the buds will pair with a phone using Bluetooth and after you’ve done that once will automatically reconnect when removed from the watch. (You can use one at time if you prefer.)
There’s not much point to that though, so you’ll want to activate the smart watch, which involves downloading the Aipower app for Android or iOS, setting up an account and pairing it as well as the buds. All standard operating procedure and stability was reasonable.
Start listening, or using the fitness-tracking functions, and any notions of this being a gimmicky bit of kit that’s stuck ‘smart’ on the front to beguile users is soon dismissed. The earbuds are lightweight and ergonomic, and most importantly for a device designed with fitness in mind stayed securely in place during moderate exercise.
Sound was impressive for a variety of types of music, as you’d expect with true wireless Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, a Qualcomm smart audio chipset, support for the aptX codec and graphene-augmented drivers. Our tester’s gripe with some devices like this is that they go for booming bass while sacrificing clarity on spoken-word podcasts or audiobooks, which are just as popular with users out on a long run. No complaints here though.
Audio is controlled either by a standard set of taps of one or other of the earbuds, or via the watch face. What you’ll really be using the watch’s OLED touchscreen for, however, is to track data such as step count, calories burned, distance run, heart rate etc, all of which are saved back to the Aipower app. When you’re not focused on that, you can get on-wrist notifications from your phone, customisable for calls, texts and the usual social media platforms.
One unusual feature claimed for the Wearbuds is that unlike many competitors they support Mono Mode, a feature that comes from the latest Bluetooth 5.0 spec that allows hands-free phone calls with just one earbud in use.
We had a couple of minor reservations. The charging cable with its magnetic connector is neat but if you lose or break it you’re going to have to go to Aipower for a replacement. Our test didn’t quite get the full four hours use from the fully charged buds that’s claimed, but it was close enough and you can recharge twice by popping them back in the watch to get approaching 12-hours listening. (Our test prototype went from 100 per cent charge to zero in 24 hours when not in use, but Aipower assures us this will be addressed in the production model.)
Finally, it was a little annoying that the watch forces you to switch on location tracking on your phone to enable pairing, even though it doesn’t have any GPS functions. The silver lining was that it prompted our tester to finally set up a handy icon on his phone’s home screen for quick deactivation of this when it’s not needed.
Of course you’re not really reducing the amount of kit you have to take with you, just amalgamating earphones and watch into a more convenient single unit, but the Wearbuds are a genuinely smart solution to the inconvenience of having to carry around a charging case, and a rare example of an attempt to combine two types of tech resulting in something that’s at least the equal of the two if not an improvement.
As a bonus for those who like a bit of attention, they’re likely to generate curiosity when you release the earbuds with a quick squeeze on the sides of what appears to be a standard smartwatch.
We’d love to see this concept evolve to eliminate the need to carry a phone while out running by allowing the watch to store just the three or four hours of audio that a single charge can support. In a similar vein, GPS tracking is such a standard feature these days that we really missed it.
For now, though, there are plenty of situations, even when you’re not exercising, where this clever gadget will come into its own.
The Aipower Wearbuds Kickstarter launches on 20 June 2019, with a limited number of units available at the super-early-bird price of $49 and early-bird price of $69, after which they’re $99.
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