Review: How This Tiny $25.99 Bluetooth Earbud Beats the Apple Airpods
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A FEW MONTHS AGO, MY OLD BLUETOOTH HEADSET (FROM 2013) STARTED DYING, so I needed a replacement. I immediately found that Bluetooth headsets have gotten a lot more advanced in the last four years.
The Apple Airpods Are Good, But They Cost $159.99
A few months ago, a friend of mine let me try out his new Apple Airpods. For the unfamiliar, Airpods are completely wireless Bluetooth earbuds that also contain microphones, allowing them to double as fully-wireless headsets. Cool. Once I tried them, I realized how much they could ease my everyday life, but, even if they’re worth it, I wasn’t ready to pay the $159.99 that Airpods cost.
In short, the Airpods are good. I briefly tried them for some music-listening, and though they don’t seal in your ears, the music sounded good. When talking to my Airpod-owning friend over the phone, the call quality was so good I couldn’t even tell he was using a headset.
With all this in mind, I didn’t think it was possible to compete with Airpods at a much lower price-point. But, as it turns out, it kind of is, (with one possibly important exception, see the bottom of this post).
Enter the $25.99 Airpod Psuedo-Alternative: The FOCUSPOWER F10
So I, without much hope of finding something inexpensive that could compete with the Airpods, looked around online for a truly wireless Bluetooth earbud/headset. To my surprise, I found something on Amazon:
- $25.99 (plus free 2-day shipping with Amazon Prime) for a single earbud.
- Has thousands of reviews, and is rated at 4.3 stars overall.
- Is a Bluetooth 4.1 device
- Great Battery Life: According the the manufacturer, up to 7 hours music listening time, or 8 hours talk time. I haven’t kept track of this, but I know that with my heavy usage, it’s been long enough. Some reviewers even say that they experience even longer battery life than the manufacturer claims. Apple says that Airpods work for 5 hours of music listening/ 2 hours of talk time per Airpod before needing a recharge.
- Fast Charge Time: I haven’t actually timed this, but it’s very fast. My impression is that I can charge for 15 minutes and use the earbud for at least an hour of talk-time before I get the low-battery notification again. Apple says that their Airpods can charge for 15 minutes and get 1 hour of talk time, so I think it’s the same in this respect.
- Suprisingly Tiny Size: Neither the Airpods, nor the F10, are big enough to bother me, but they do have some key differences in this area. The FOCUSPOWER F10 is surprisingly tiny, and doesn’t have a piece that hangs out under your ear like Airpods do. Both form-factors work for me.
- Very Comfortable: The F10 comes with three sizes of traditional rubber ear tips, sealing in the ear like most normal earbuds I’ve used. The Airpods, on the other hand, don’t have rubber ear tips and don’t seal, simply sitting in the ear, much like the ubiquitous wired Apple Earpods included with iPods and other Apple devices since the olden days. Personally, I much prefer the traditional rubber tips, and for my earbuds to seal in my ear. This minimizes background noise interfering with my listening, and is more comfortable as well, especially for long use-periods.
- Good Sound Quality for the Price: The sound quality on the FOCUSPOWER F10 is great for phone calls, and good enough for music, TV and Movie audio. It can’t compete with expensive headphones, but it’s good enough to make listening to music enjoyable, even with just one ear. I’d have to use them longer to be sure, but I think the Airpods probably beat the F10 in this respect. I am sure, however, that the listening experience between the two is very different, due to the lack of an ear-seal. Bass, in no-seal earbuds, tends to suffer. This isn’t a huge deal for me, personally, either way.
- Works Very Well as a Headset: The F10 works great for calls. People on the other end can hear me well, and I’ve used it for this purpose extensively.
- Magnetic USB Charger: No need to plug this into anything, just drop it on the included magnetic USB charger (plugged into a USB port or charger, of course) and then easily pull it off when it’s done. This is superior to standard charge methods, for sure. Not quite as convenient, perhaps, as having a charged-up Airpod case to drop your earbuds in when they get low, but still much better than charging just about anything else. Here’s a picture of the charging contacts on the back:
The One Exception: Let’s Talk About Mono Audio
Airpods connect to any reasonably modern phone, in stereo, via Bluetooth 4.0 or higher. A new version of Bluetooth, dubbed Bluetooth 5.0, just came out this year on some devices (the Samsung Galaxy S8, for example). The reason I mention this is due to Bluetooth 5.0 including a new feature which allows phones supporting it to play Bluetooth audio through two devices at once. This could be used, for instance, to play music to both your ears through two FOCUSPOWER F10 earbuds. The cool thing about the Apple Airpods is, both of your Airpods can connect in stereo without Bluetooth 5.0, as a single device. The FOCUSPOWER F10 can’t do that. In fact, it can’t do stereo at all, even with a Bluetooth 5.0 device. I’ll explain.
I don’t think there’s a way, (even with the dual-connect capabilities of a Bluetooth 5.0 device like the Samsung Galaxy S8), to connect to two of these earbuds as separate left/right stereo channels.
This means that, no matter what, all music played through this earbud/earbuds will play in mono. Mono, meaning both left and right audio channels will be playing through a single earbud. If you have a phone supporting Bluetooth 5.0, sure, you can buy two F10 earbuds and listen to them both at once, but they will both be outputting the same mixed left/right channel. In fact, I saw at least one reviewer who reported that he was doing just that, and was liking the result.
If you are a music lover, and will be using this earbud as your primary music-listening device, however, this will likely be a problem for you. That being said, this product fits perfectly in a specific use-niche: One-ear listening.
I wouldn’t want to listen to music in mono all the time, but when I’m in a position where I’m using this earbud, it’s not a problem for me. The reason for this, is that much of the time when I’m listening to something via headphones, I’m around other people. When I’m around other people, I usually want (or need) to know what’s going on around me. Often, in this scenario, someone, at some point, will need my attention, and because of this, I have gotten in the habit of having an earbud only in one ear. I’ve been engaging in this one-earbud-in practice this since I was a teenager, and I save the high-quality music listening for times when I’m not super active, or when no one else is around. For all the more social and active environments, the F10 earbud excels.
If any of this sounds familiar, or you want this device primarily for phone calls, or you don’t care if your music is playing in mono all the time, this is the ultimate budget one-ear device listening/calling device. It has been for me.