Amazon’s Echo Buds aren’t AirPods killers
On one hand, a product like Echo Buds feels like an almost inevitable answer to Apple’s ubiquitous AirPods. Other products, like Echo Frames (eyeglasses) and Echo Loop (a smart ring) are more of a question mark.
I’ve only had a few minutes with each of these, but across the board my first impression is that these new products are nowhere near as polished as Amazon’s Echo speakers, which the company has been iterating on for several years.
Amazon’s answer to AirPods, Echo Buds have sounded pretty intriguing since we first heard the company was working on its own wireless earbuds. I’ve only had a few minutes with the Echo Buds, but it’s pretty clear to me they are not AirPods competitors.
Like AirPods and Galaxy Buds, Echo Buds come in a charging case. According to Amazon, the buds themselves will get about five hours of playback, while the case will add an additional 15 hours. That makes the battery life better than Galaxy Buds (which only get seven hours of extra battery from the case) but worse than AirPods, which get about 18 hours.
The charging case is also significantly bulkier than AirPods or Galaxy Buds. The case will still fit in your pocket, but it could be a tight fit. The case also charges via micro-USB, not USB-C, which is disappointing.
The case also has a button on the bottom that you can use for pairing or to check the charge level of the batter case.
As for the buds themselves, they are also on the chunkier side, though the design is pretty similar to Galaxy Buds. They sit snugly in your ear and a touchpad on the side can be used to control playback, activate Alexa, or toggle noise canceling. When I reviewed Galaxy Buds earlier this year, I noted that I often have trouble with this style of earbud, as they’re rarely comfortable and don’t fit well in my small ears. Echo Buds didn’t feel uncomfortable during my short demo, but they did feel a little too bulky for smaller ears.
Despite this, I was able to get a good enough seal to hear the Bose-powered noise cancellation in action. Double tap on the side of the right bud and you can switch between noise reductions and “passthrough” mode, which is meant to let in ambient noise in your surroundings. I was in a loud demo room, but I was pretty impressed by how much my surroundings were muffled (but not silenced) when noise reduction was enabled.
My main issue with this feature, though, is that each time you switch between modes, Alexa announces the change — a verbal notification that you can’t turn off. An Amazon rep told me that early testers preferred this during the company’s initial testing, but it’s something I hope they eventually change. Having to listen to an Alexa announcement every time you switch between modes seems like it would become annoying pretty quickly.