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Bluetooth Earbuds A Great Holiday Gift

December/January 2019/2020

I won’t be getting Bluetooth wireless earbuds – because I already have many of the functions built into my hearing aids, as I wrote about in my October column. But you don’t need to be deaf to have these cool features.

As I explained, I’ve wirelessly connected my hearing aids to my iPad and can stream music directly to them. Plus, if a phone call comes in, I can answer it just by pressing a button on my hearing aids and having a conversation – without touching my smartphone. Driving directions via the Siri assistant on my iPad come directly into my hearing aids.

Bluetooth earbuds can do all of this and more. I like the convenience of not being tethered to earbuds via a wire, plus you can typically use the same earbuds with multiple devices. For example, if you have earbuds with the Multipoint feature paired via Bluetooth to both your phone and computer and you’re listening to music on your computer, when a call comes in, the music will stop playing and the call will come directly to your earbuds.

Let’s look at a selection of these cool gadgets, ranging from the amazing $250 models from Microsoft to the $60 Anker earbuds that have a similar design to the Apple’s AirPods but with possibly even better sound and battery life.

Apple AirPods ($159) — First launched in December, 2016, these are the most popular Bluetooth earbuds, with 60% of the global wireless headphone market. The built-in microphone filters out background noise so your voice is clearer when you take a call or talk to the Siri assistant.

You can adjust the volume, change the song, make a call, or get directions simply by saying “Hey Siri” and making your request. And like many of these Bluetooth earbuds, you can use gestures to issue commands. For example, if you’re listening to music or a podcast, you can play or skip forward by doing a light double-tap on one of the AirPods. If someone initiates a conversation, simply remove one of the AirPods from your ear and the music automatically stops.

Microsoft Surface Earbuds ($249) — Not yet available as I write this, Microsoft’s wireless earbuds are deeply integrated with Microsoft products. If you’re giving a PowerPoint presentation while wearing these, you can turn on a feature that automatically transcribes what you’re saying in real time and adds the text as captions in your slides – in any of 60 different languages.

Like Apple’s AirPods, the Surface Earbuds let you use gesture controls. You double-tap to play or pause, swipe up or down on the earbud to adjust volume, and press and hold to summon the Cortana assistant. 

Amazon Echo Earbuds ($129) — Available for preorder as I write this, Amazon’s offering has something that even Microsoft’s expensive earbuds do not: active noise cancelling. When it works well, this is an amazing feature, eliminating almost all external sounds by digitally neutralizing the sound waves. These earbuds also have noise isolation, meaning that the design and materials of the devices themselves act as sound-proofing.

As you might expect, these earbuds let you call upon the Alexa assistant if you have an Amazon phone. But they also let you summon Siri if you have an Apple iPhone or Google Assistant if you have an Android phone.

Google Pixel Buds ($179) — These earbuds, which won’t be available until spring 2020, use long-range Bluetooth, letting you be much farther from the streaming source than many other models—as far away as 100 yards if you’re outside. Like my hearing aids, they have “adaptive sound,” which makes adjustments based on the environment. If you’re using them for phone conversation, they help to reduce ambient noise.

Like Microsoft’s earbuds, they will be deeply integrated with Google’s software, such as Maps and Translate.
While companies like Samsung and Sony also offer popular earbuds, the gadgets offered by Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft are especially cool because of the integration with other apps.

Anker Soundcore Life P2 True Wireless Earbuds ($59) — These were selling for $45 at launch and will likely be on sale again during the holiday season. Anker is famous for offering quality products at much lower prices than one would pay for similar items from other manufacturers. These new earbuds have a physical design that’s nearly the same as Apple’s popular AirPods and, according to one review, have better sound and battery life than Apple’s offering.

Features include suppression of background noise, enhanced base, and CD-like quality audio, as well as being waterproof.

SoundPEATS True Wireless Earbuds ($35.99) — These are huge sellers on Amazon, with nearly 1,500 ratings and an average of 4.0 out of 5 stars. There are tradeoffs, of course. Unlike more expensive earbuds with gesture controls, these require you to press a button. The sound is decent, but according to one review, not as high quality as more expensive devices. You can use them to answer a call.

Wishing you fun new gadgets this holiday season.

© 2019 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen

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