By Graham K. Rogers
I had been using Apple's AirPods for about 2 months when a blue set of BeatsX Earbuds arrived. My initial excitement about the W1 chip-equipped device sagged quickly with the controls, the wires and the inefficiency. The BeatsX may indeed suit some users. But not me.
When Apple announced the AirPods, the W1 chip was also for Beats devices, including the BeatsX earphones. Like Apple AirPods these were delayed several weeks. When they were finally available I ordered a pair in blue (5900 baht), from the Apple Store online. They arrived Monday of last week and are now also in iStudio stores, although availability is limited.
I have tried really hard to be objective, but with several weeks' experience of the (6900 baht) AirPods and their ease of use, this was difficult. Nonetheless, the BeatsX do have some advantages. I am unsure if this outweighs the usability value of the Apple product.
BeatsX - in the box (left) and ready to use
Components of AirPods are inside the earpieces or the carrying case which doubles as charger. The cabling on the BeatsX product has three pods: for Bluetooth, Charging and Sound controls. The Volume/On/Off control sits a little higher on the cable than Lightning-connected Earbuds with the iPhone 7. I found some confusion here when wearing the device as to what I was trying to do because controls are not visible.
BeatsX pairing with the iPhone 7 Plus
When wearing the BeatsX with the cable over the back of my neck, I was never sure when pairing or activating Bluetooth. The button controlling this is small. I was never confident I had made it work because I could not see it. With the AirPods I put one in my ear and it turns on automatically. Like the Air Pods the W1 chip does a lot of the setup work: pair with one device and all my others (except AppleTV) were paired too. They can be paired with non-Apple devices, such as Android phones and PCs, but that has to be done individually.
BeatsX, with Apple AirPods and Earbuds
The BeatsX speakers have soft rubber cups that fit in the ears. There are three sets of different sized replacement cups. The user is expected to try all until a proper fit is found for the best music experience. As they came out of the box, they did fit snugly in my ears. I tried the other options, taking some 20 minutes or more to detach, fit and experiment with each, ending up going back to the original set.
BeatsX fitting options
The Air Pods fit nicely in the ears and never have never felt as if they are going to fall out. Indeed, most of the time I hardly notice them and became used to the lack of cable feel, for example when turning my head to cross a road. Despite the good fit of the Air Pods, there is enough ambient noise to keep me safe when moving about the city.
That was not the case with the BeatsX. The fit was tight and that did cut out city noise, for good or bad. Speaker output was loud and clear. However, as I moved my head or walked, some sound was transmitted to my ears unless I held the cable up a little. Eventually I was able to tune this out and ignore it, but it was not something I had ever noticed with the AirPods or Earbuds. That tight fit was also uncomfortable after a few hours.
BeatsX: Volume (top), Charging (left) and Bluetooth pods; and closeup (picture right)
With the AirPods, the battery life is 4 to 5 hours and then a short spell with the charging case tops them up. I usually do this at lunch, and the case has enough to keep me going for a day or sometimes two. With the BeatsX, the battery life is said to be 8 hours before a recharge is needed. This is effected using the USB to Lightning cable provided.
An advantage, once the user can work out which of the three pods to use, is the ability to change the volume with a similar switch to the earbuds. Pressing this also turns off the sound. Pressing longer activates Siri. With the AirPods, Siri (or reaching for the iPhone) is the only way to adjust volume and like many I find this hit and miss. The Volume Up/Down controls do not operate the camera shutter.
Apple AirPods case (left) with BeatsX carrying case
I made occasional comparisons between the two Bluetooth devices during the week, but in a back to back examination I included the iPhone 7 Lightning-connected earbuds. I tried each with a selection of music: "Der Hölle Rache" from The Magic Flute, "The One" from What the World Needs Now (P.I.L.), "Yellow Submarine" (The Beatles) and "Ruby Tuesday" recorded by Melanie Safka, as well as several Apple Radio comparisons.
The sound with the Apple products was far nicer: the Air Pods producing a particularly rich output with good clarity. In all cases, the BeatsX sounded a little harsh with a lack of background detail.
Overall I found the BeatsX fussy to use after the ease of the AirPods. I am disappointed with what I bought. Also cords seem redundant with wireless devices. Although they are 1,000 baht more, the AirPods are worth the extra. I will be giving the BeatsX to one of my students.
I persevered with these but by Saturday there was no device stickiness: no strong desire to continue using these, particularly as the AirPods were in my pocket. On Sunday morning when I put the AirPods in my ear and told Siri, "Radio . . . Alternative" and the sound began, it was as if I was experiencing music anew.
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)