pple’s revamped Powerbeats Bluetooth workout earphones take what was great from the firm’s true wireless earbuds and add a cable, longer battery life and cheaper price.
The new £129.95 Powerbeats replace the older, more expensive Powerbeats 3, with redesigned ear hooks, cable guides and Apple’s H1 chip, which simplifies Bluetooth connectivity and gives them all the AirPods-like features Apple’s headphones have with iPhones.
Designed to stay put
The design of the Powerbeats is pretty simple. Each earphone’s body has an earbud sticking out of one side with a traditional silicone ear tip that twists into your ear canal. The other end has an hook that loops over the back of your ear, holding it in place and neatly guiding the cable backwards rather than in front of your ear like its predecessors.
It’s a streamlined and comfortable design that is super secure. You can bend the ear hooks to adjust the fit, and once twisted in place they are not coming off, no matter how hard you shake your head.
The cable resting on your neck is better than many I have tested, but like all neckband headphones it drags on clothes and can get caught on things. Within 15 minutes of street running, turning my head to check for cars and people, the cable noticeably dragged on the side of my neck, which may be irritating for anyone running very long distances. At least the cable can’t pull the earbuds out of your ears.
You can also take the earbuds out and hang them around your neck when not in use.
The Powerbeats are fairly light at 26.3g in total and are sweat resistant, so you don’t have to worry about a little rain either. They come with a little fabric bag, but feel robust enough to tough it out in a gym-bag pocket. The ear hooks may interfere with glasses, but were OK with wrap-around sunglasses.
Water resistance: IPX4 (sweat resistant)
Connectivity: Apple H1 chip, Bluetooth 5, Lightning charging
Bluetooth codecs: SBC, AAC
Battery life: 15 hours
Controls and connectivity
Controls are simple but one-sided. The left earbud has a power and pairing button, while the right has a volume rocker, a multi-function Beats logo button for playback controls and a Lightning port for charging.
It’s nice to have dedicated volume controls on a set of active earphones. The controls worked well with Android and iOS smartphones, tablets and an Apple Watch but the Powerbeats have a few compatibility issues with some other devices.
The volume controls didn’t work with Garmin watches, which is a known issue caused by a recent firmware update for Beats headphones. The same thing has recently broken volume controls on the PowerBeats Pro too. Garmin and Apple said they are working on a fix. Neither volume control nor the ability to pause the music worked when connected to Spotify on a Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2.
Neither of the Garmin nor Samsung smartwatches have issues with headphones from other brands, such as the AfterShokz Aeropex running headphones.
The Bluetooth connection was rock solid with a variety of different devices, from a MacBook Air and various Windows 10 PCs to iPads, an iPhone SE, OnePlus 8 Pro and Samsung Galaxy Z Flip.
Apple’s H1 wireless chip, the same system built into PowerBeats Pro, AirPods 2 and AirPods Pro, enables instant-pairing and multidevice switching with all Apple-made devices plus hands-free “Hey Siri” support for the firm’s voice assistant.
The Beats app on Android provides some of the same functions such as pairing the headphones, showing battery level in a little popup when you turn them on and managing various settings.
It’s also worth noting that the Powerbeats do not have any capacity to play music on their own and are simply Bluetooth earbuds.
The Powerbeats sound essentially the same as the Powerbeats Pro: punchy in the low-end, full of energy and with forward sound well suited to listening while doing activity. But they are also surprisingly good general earbuds, with reasonable sound isolation, no obvious latency or lipsynch issues with video, good vocals for podcasts and generally good sound with most music genres, particularly pop.
Those looking for earbuds to listen to nuanced classical or more delicate tracks might be disappointed, but then these are primarily workout headphones.
The Powerbeats are rated for up to 15 hours of constant playback, which is about right from my testing. Certainly long enough for even an ultra marathon or a week’s worth of running and exercising. The earbuds are charged via a Lightning cable. One is included in the box but any cable used with an iPhone or iPad will work too. A five-minute quick charge is enough for around 40 minutes to an hour of playback.
Apple doesn’t provide a rating for the number of charge cycles expected from the battery in the Powerbeats but it is replaceable and the headphones are generally repairable.
It costs £82.44 to replace the battery and £102.44 for other repairs out of warranty.
Apple offers trade-in and free recycling schemes, including for non-Apple products.
The music doesn’t automatically pause when you remove the earbuds.
Call quality was good, coming across loud and clear to the recipient but with a little background noise.
Wind noise could be a problem because they stick out of your ears quite far.
The earbud doesn’t block out all noise but does reduce your situational awareness while running.
The Beats Powerbeats come in black, white, or red costing £129.95.
For comparison, the Powerbeats Pro cost £219.95, Apple’s AirPods cost £159, the AirPods Pro cost £249, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds+ cost £159 and Jabra’s Elite Active 75t cost £189.99.
The Powerbeats are an excellent set of neckband headphones that excel for exercise.
They sound great, with a forward, energetic tone that’s perfectly suited to motivational tunes as you pound the pavement or heave those weights. But they also sound good enough for general usage, particularly if you mainly listen to pop.
The ear hooks are the best in the business – light, comfortable, adjustable and rock-solid when twisted into place. They won’t come off regardless of how hard you go at it and with IPX4 sweat resistance, they should survive everything but a dip in the pool.
However, they suffer from the traditional neckband earphone problems. Even though the cable is routed neatly behind your ear, it will drag on the back of your neck or get caught on clothing. Some people prefer a cable as it’s harder to lose the earbuds and you can hang them around your neck when not in use, but if you don’t the more expensive Powerbeats Pro are far better. Both the Beats earbuds have issues with volume and playback control connected to popular running watches made by Garmin and others.
The Powerbeats are a great set of well-made exercise earphones. At £130 they’re certainly not cheap, but you get what you pay for.
Pros: secure fit, good cable routing, rock-solid connectivity, volume controls, good sound, long battery life, fast pairing with either iOS or Android, sweat resistant.
Cons: expensive, not great with glasses, cable can drag, no volume or playback controls on the left earbud, no pause on remove, no support for aptX or better, issues with Garmin devices.