Last month a newly discovered Apple patent suggested a touchscreen case might be in AirPods' future. And thanks to JBL, we now know what that might be like. The new JBL Tour Pro 2 has a 1.45-inch touchscreen display in its charging case, and now the reviews are starting to emerge we can see if it makes them the best true wireless earbuds you can buy.
Spoiler: it doesn't.
That's not necessarily the case's problem, however. Reviews suggest that the case is just fine; it's just that the earbuds themselves aren't as good as they could be.
What does a touchscreen earbuds case actually do?
In some ways it's a bit like the similarly sized display on an Apple Watch or a wearOS watch, with smartphone notifications appearing on the screen and the option to adjust in-call settings or use JBL's Find My feature to track an errant earbud. But the main purpose of the display is to provide access to all the features you'd normally go into your earbuds' app for, such as adjusting the automatic noise cancelling mode.
JBL has done it well, but should it have done it at all? Engadget for one isn't convinced, noting that a case isn't significantly faster to access than your phone app: "there’s something to be said for easy access to settings, but that only works if you leave the case sitting out on your desk. Otherwise, you can probably get your phone out just as quickly." But there's no doubt it looks pretty attractive in photos and makes the JBLs stand out – or at least, it does for now while touchscreen cases are still fairly rare.
Where the JBLs appear to fall down is in sound quality, which judging by the multiple reviews I've read (I haven't had the chance to test these ones myself) is good but not up there with the best noise cancelling earbuds in its £249 price bracket.
And for me, sound is the single most important feature of any earbuds: I can't be the only person who doesn't change their earbuds's settings much after the first time in the app, and that means no matter how clever the case it's not something I'm going to use often, or at all. It'll be interesting to see how well these buds sell, and whether other manufacturers follow JBL's lead.