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Powerbeats Pro review: An upgrade over AirPods in almost every way Review

In many aspects, Beats’ $249 Powerbeats Pro are the antithesis of Apple’s $199 AirPods: The AirPods forgo buttons for touch controls, while the Powerbeats Pro has three buttons; the AirPods are one size fits all, while the Powerbeats Pro have interchangeable tips and are adjustable; the AirPods aren’t designed for fitness buffs, while the Powerbeats Pro are designed primarily with fitness buffs in mind; and the AirPods are minimalistic, while the Powerbeats Pro aren’t and unapologetically so.

At their core, however, the AirPods are Powerbeats Pro are very much the same product. Both use Apple’s underlying technology — specifically, the H1 chip — to integrate seamlessly with Apple’s ecosystem of products. Pairing the earbuds with every Apple product you own is a two-second process, battery life and range are incredible, and you talk to Siri thanks “Hey Siri” integration.

Design

Powerbeats Pro vs AirPods.jpg

Left: Powerbeats Pro charging case. Right: AirPods (2019) wireless charging case. 


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The first thing I noticed when opening the packaging was the size of the charging case. It’s the first thing anyone who has used the AirPods will notice. The case, and therefore the earbuds, are much larger than the AirPods. The case isn’t what I could consider pocketable. Sure, it will most likely fit in your jean pockets, but it’s not going to be comfortable.

In addition to the charging case and the earbuds themselves, Beats includes a black Lightning cable and three additional sets of ear tips. The different sized ear tips are easy to swap out, and allow you to find the right fit for each of your ears.

I started with the pre-installed tips, but eventually changed to the smallest size. I found it the be the right size for my ears and their comfort, with the added benefit of a tighter seal with my ear improving the sound quality.

I’ve never really enjoyed wearing earbuds that have an ear hook, mainly because I wear glasses. I can’t seem to find a comfortable way to position the ear hook and the stem from my glasses, leading to soreness on the back of my ear. It’s a problem amplified by the fact that I often wear a baseball hat, which then fights with my glasses and the ear hook. The same was true about my experience with the Powerbeats Pro for the first couple of days. Eventually, either my ears adjusted or I found the right alignment, and I’m finding the earbuds more comfortable to wear for longer periods of time.

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I don’t run, but I did test how well the Powerbeats Pro stay in place with a couple of short jogs, and at no point did I feel as if the earbuds moved around or felt as if they were going.

Powerbeats Pro-1.jpg

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There are three total buttons on the main body of each earbud. The Beats logo doubles as a button that’s used to control playback. There’s also a volume up and down button that comes in handy when you don’t want to talk to Siri to adjust volume. A sensor on the inside of each earbud detects your ear and will auto connect or begin playing audio when you first put it in your ear. Taking it out will pause whatever you’re listening to — and, yes, that feature works for Android and iPhone users alike.

Charging the case is done via a Lightning port on the back of the case, with an indicator light on the front of the case letting you know if the case’s current level. The earbuds themselves go into the case, with magnets holding the buds in place and helping align the two charging pins with the contacts on their underside.

Performance

Pairing Powerbeats Pro with iPhone.gif

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Pairing the Powerbeats Pro with an iOS device takes just a couple of seconds. With your iOS device unlocked, open the Powerbeats Pro case and wait for an alert. Tap connect, and you’re done. As Apple does with the AirPods, the pairing is carried over to the rest of your iCloud-linked Apple devices automatically. Meaning, you don’t have to worry about pairing the earbuds with your Mac, iPad, or Apple Watch if you used an iPhone for initial setup.

Android and Windows users aren’t left out, though. You can pair the Powerbeats Pro as you would any other pair of Bluetooth earbuds. The button controls still work, and as previously mentioned, so does the automatic ear detection feature.

Beats touts nine hours of battery life, with the charging case capable of adding another 15 hours to that total. In theory, with the case and earbuds fully charged, you should have enough power for 24 hours of listening. I think the longest amount of continuous listening I achieved was just over four hours, and there was still over 50% charge left on both earbuds. If you do run out of battery, five minutes in the charging case adds 1.5 hours of power. Leave the earbuds in the case for 15 minutes, and Beats claims you’ll get four hours of use.

The range of the Powerbeats Pro was impressive, regardless of the device I was currently using. At one point during my testing, I was using the Powerbeats Pro with a Pixel 3 XL, and accidentally left my phone in the basement of my house. I went upstairs, out through my garage, and to the front curb of my house before the audio stopped. It was only when I reached for my phone that I realized it was still sitting on the counter in my basement, over 100 feet away, with several walls and layers of concrete in between. The same range and lack of interference when using the Powerbeats Pro with an iPad Pro and iPhone XS Max.

Most days, I work from home in a quiet office. Testing earbuds or headphones and their ability to block out background noise isn’t really possible in that environment, so during my testing of the Powerbeats Pro, I ventured out to a coffee shop.

The Powerbeats Pro do a better job at blocking out background noise than the AirPods, but don’t block everything out. I could still hear the the constant chatter, a random whir of a blender, and the occasional banging of a cup against the counter. The decreased background noise is a benefit of having changeable ear tips (presumably, a benefit that would increase if you’re able to find foam tips to replace the soft ear tips that come in the box).

When it comes to sound quality, the Powerbeats Pro sound slightly crisper, with better bass when compared to the AirPods. Prior to switching to the smaller ear tips, I wasn’t convinced there was a real difference in sound quality between the two. But after finding the right fit and using them for a few more days, I’m firmly of the belief that the Powerbeats Pro are the better-sounding earbuds, which goes to show that finding the right fit for your ears is key to improving the overall experience, especially when it comes to sound.

Conclusion

I’m still torn on whether or not I like using the Powerbeats Pro more than the AirPods. I like the idea of better battery life, but then again, I rarely find myself completely draining the AirPods in one listening session. I do enjoy the improved sound quality of the Powerbeats Pro, though I never really found the AirPods lacking. And I do appreciate the smaller footprint of the AirPod’s charging case and earbuds themselves, but the Powerbeats Pro case easily fits in my backpack.

I think the bottom line is this: If you hate the look of the AirPods but don’t want to miss out on the ease of pairing and switching device, battery life, and impressive range — the Powerbeats Pro are made for you.

Disclosure: ZDNet earns commissions from some of the products featured on this page.


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