Amazon recently unveiled a plethora of new devices at its headquarters in Seattle, but, without doubt, the star of the show was the Echo Buds. These true wireless earbuds are obviously intended to take on Apple AirPods (and Samsung Galaxy Buds) but they include noise cancelling from Bose and incorporate the generally useful Alexa instead of the ever-irksome Siri.
They connect through the Alexa app on your smartphone and use your existing data plan – or Wi-Fi when connected – to access a range of features such as music, navigation via Google Maps, calls, smart home control and more. If Alexa isn't your favourite, if you tap and hold your Amazon Echo Buds you'll be able to access Siri or Google Assistant instead.
Getting Bose Active Noise Reduction on board is quite the coup. It means you can enjoy better sound quality even in the busiest and loudest places. The more traditional design of Echo Buds means you get much better noise isolation than from a pair of Apple's buds too.
We got the chance to get hands-on, and indeed ears-on, with the Echo Buds, and these are our first impressions.
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Amazon Echo Buds: release date, price
Echo Buds will be available in the UK "later this year" and customers can sign up on the Echo Buds Amazon page to be notified when they become available. Echo Buds are priced at just £119.99. That's a great price, especially considering the presence of noise cancelling. It's £40 less than the RRP of Apple AirPods.
• If you're in the US, you can, right now, pre-order Amazon Echo Buds for $129.99
Amazon Echo Buds: battery life and design
Amazon has taken a more standard true wireless 'puck' design approach over Apple's 'Stem' construction. That makes them a lot more discrete while wearing them, as they barely extend past your ear. They do insert further into your ear, which some people don't like, but which provides better sound isolation and hence gets more out of the audio quality of the buds' drivers.
To get the best fit possible, Echo Buds come with three different sized ear tips and wing tips. They're lightweight, not too bulbous, and I thought they felt pretty secure and comfortable.
A further big plus is that each earbud is sweat-resistant and IPX4-rated to withstand splashes or light rain. That means that, along with their seemingly secure fit, they can be used as workout buds.
You'll get up to five hours of music playback on a full charge, and the included charging case holds up to three additional charges. That means you'll get a maximum of 20 hours of music playback by my maths.
The case uses micro USB for charging rather than USB-C. This is either a good thing, if you have loads of old micro USB cables still lying around, or a slightly annoying thing, if you've upgraded most of your devices to USB-C.
In terms of overall appearance, Echo Buds look like generic, affordable true wireless buds, and are almost devoid of flair. However, since they more or less vanish into your ears, this doesn't matter much.
Amazon Echo Buds: sound
Echo Buds feature two premium, balanced armature drivers in each earbud. Amazon claims the driver design is inspired by in-ear monitors used by professional musicians, and they aim to deliver crisp, clear vocals and dynamic bass.
It was difficult to properly assess the audio quality of the Echo Buds during my brief demo, but first impressions were good. The bass on Billy Eilish's Bad Guy had some heft, while the top end seemed clear. The more secure fit than AirPods means it will sound better than them in most situations.
Each earbud has two outer microphones and one inner microphone that work together to reduce ambient noise so Alexa can hear you whether you’re walking to work, on your lunch break, or in a noisy train carriage.
I tested the voice control in the busy demo area and it picked my voice up flawlessly.
These mics are also used to power the Bose Active Noise Reduction Technology, which works to really minimise the noise around you. While the noise killing isn't as ruthless as on the market-leading Sony WF-1000XM3, it is effective, and an especially impressive feature at this price.
Of course, the flip side of having a more secure fit than the AirPods mean Echo Buds don't let you hear what's going on around you as easily as Apple's rival.
However, If you're at a train station, or anywhere you want to hear the world around you, you can simply double-tap either earbud to turn Pass-through mode on. This uses the mics to let ambient sound and speech 'pass through' into your ears.
Amazon Echo Buds: early verdict
Unless the average price of true wireless buds falls more rapidly, Amazon seems to be on to a sure-fire winner with the Echo Buds. They're cheaper than AirPods, from what I've heard they sound better than AirPods, and they're also gym- and run-ready unlike Apple's omnipresent buds.
There's an increasing number of high quality true wireless buds around the £90-£100 mark. However, Amazon Echo's additional features, superior technology and brand recognition means a lot of people won't mind paying that extra £20-£30. And of course, you just know they'll be cut in price on Amazon Prime Day, and among the best Black Friday deals.
The tech and retail giant has created a compelling package, combining sound quality, smart features and noise cancelling – from Bose, no less – all for an affordable price
A lack of USB-C or wireless charging may bother some, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a more feature-rich pair of true wireless headphones for £120/$130.
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