Apple’s $229 wireless AirPods are proving pretty divisive:
People are huge fans of the AirPods’ battery life, their range, and of how really ridiculously simple they are to pair with their iPhones, iPads, and other Apple devices.
A less exciting feature of the AirPods is how they have one-touch access to Siri — and no other physical controls. That means you need to ask Siri to raise the volume or change tracks. Plus, they look kind of dorky. Sorry, but it’s true.
Here’s the not-so-secret thing about the AirPods, though. The best stuff about them comes from Apple’s brand-new W1 chip, a proprietary enhancement to Bluetooth that adds range, efficiency, and simplicity to any headphones. And while the AirPods may get all the attention, they’re not the only W1-equipped headphones on the market.
So if the AirPods are leaving you cold, I urge you to take a look at the over-ear Beats Solo3 Wireless headphones. They’re a little pricier at $229, and way less subtle as a fashion statement, but the Solo3 has most of the pluses of the AirPods, including the W1 chip, without nearly as many minuses. The overall quality shouldn’t be surprising, since Beats is an Apple subsidiary. Plus, they sound pretty good, too.
After using the Beats Solo3 heavily for over a week, here’s the rundown.
Beats Solo3 vs. Airpods
Thanks to that W1 chip, syncing the Beats Solo3 to my iPhone is super-dumb-simple, as it is on the AirPods. Hold the button down for a second next to an unlocked iPhone, and you get prompted to connect. It’s as simple as that.
Better yet, once it’s synced with your iPhone, it’s automatically synced with all of your other Apple doodads, too — it automatically appears as an audio output option on any iPad, Apple Watch, or Mac that’s synced with your iCloud account. It makes switching between devices a snap.
And, Apple promises, the W1 chip manages the battery life on wireless headphones more efficiently. That means Apple can offer 5 hours of listening time per charge on the AirPods… but over 40 hours on the Solo3. After five days of heavy usage, my battery charge was sitting at around 70%, which ain’t bad at all.
The operating range on the Solo3 is insane, too, thanks to W1. I recently left my phone to charge in my bedroom while I vacuumed the entire house, and experienced nary a hiccup in sound quality. That roughly tracks with people’s experience with the AirPods, and it’s nice.
W1 makes the difference
What the Solo3 definitely has that the AirPods don’t are buttons. The Beats Solo3 sport real, physical buttons on the side of the headphones, so you can pause and skip tracks or raise the volume without pulling out your phone.
It’s silly, but it’s an important thing that the Solo3 has and that the AirPods don’t. And you can still call Siri by holding down the play-pause button if that’s important to you.
Less materially, Beats are still considered a fashion statement, so you’ll look less dorky wearing the Solo3 than the AirPods. You know, if that matters to you. Besides, there’s mounting evidence that earbuds are bad for your hearing, so maybe you want something over your ear, anyway.
Also of note is the fact that later this year, Beats is expected to finally launch the delayed $149 BeatsX fitness earbuds, which will also have W1.
Ultimately, I’m finding that the real game-changer in Apple’s audio strategy is the Apple W1 chip. And if the AirPods aren’t looking like your cup of tea, you have great options like the Beats Solo3.