I tried the new $250 wireless earbuds from Beats, and they're officially the best AirPods alternative for iPhone users (AAPL)


Powerbeat Pros

  • Apple-owned Beats introduced the Powerbeats Pro wireless earbuds back in April. 
  • They’re Beats’ first truly wireless earbuds, and they have a revamped design and better battery life than past Powerbeats headphones. 
  • They do have some downsides: namely, a clunky charging case and a lack of long-term comfort. 
  • But I’ve been using the Powerbeats Pro for going on two months, and they’ve quickly become my favorite headphones. 
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If you don’t own AirPods at this point, it’s probably for one of four reasons:

  1. You don’t own an iPhone, and you don’t buy into the Apple ecosystem. 
  2. AirPods are too expensive. 
  3. AirPods don’t fit your ears. 
  4. You think AirPods look truly stupid.

Well, Apple’s cooler, hipper younger sister is here to help with at least a few of those reasons. 

Enter the Powerbeats Pro, the first fully wireless earbuds from Beats. They look a lot like Powerbeats of years’ past, without the pesky cord connecting them or the clunky, plasticky design. The new Powerbeats are the more sophisticated, more stylish, and more modern version of their predecessors, and they’re also an excellent alternative to AirPods in more ways than one. 

I’ve been using the black Powerbeats Pro for going on two months, and they’ve quickly become my favorite and most-used headphones. 

SEE ALSO: After 5 years as an iPhone user, I’ve found one of the few Android phones that would convince me to switch

Because Beats is Apple-owned, the pairing process was incredibly simple.

One of the great things about using Beats products is the fact that pairing them with your devices is as easy as pairing any Apple device.

For the Powerbeats, all it required was opening the lid of the case while my iPhone was unlocked — immediately, my phone asked if I’d like to pair my new headphones. (Why yes, I would, thank you.) 

One of the biggest changes with the new Powerbeats is the design.

Beats really overhauled the look and feel of the Powerbeats with the new Pro model. They’re sleeker, and they feel more premium. The coating on the outside is that kind of smooth-yet-velvety material that’s pleasing to touch, and they have a bit of heft to them (although they’re not so heavy you’ll hate wearing them). 

Beats also upgraded the case, which is now a hard outer shell that can charge up your headphones, just like the AirPods case. It, too, has a luxurious look and feel, and acts as a good ambassador for the headphones inside: expensive-looking, branded — of course — but not ostentatious. 

There are two key downsides to the case design, however: For one, Beats didn’t integrate wireless charging into the case itself, so you do still need to plug it in in order to power-up. At least this time around, Beats hopped aboard the proprietary-charger bandwagon, so the case now uses a Lightning cable, just like your iPhone (and it’s black, to boot).

The other downside is the overall heft of the case. This is not a case you can stick in your pocket, or slip into a purse — it is, quite frankly, a hulking hunk of plastic that does nothing to sell the portability of the buds within. 

I’ll get to what it’s like to actually use the Powerbeats Pro in a moment, but first, I want to talk about the elephant in the room: ear hooks.

Listen, I know that this design isn’t for everyone. The ear hooks feel like a bit of a throwback, they’re more complicated to put on, and they’re certainly not subtle. 

But the ear hooks are also what make Powerbeats Powerbeats, and I’m grateful that Beats didn’t try to eliminate them. Believe me when I say that I care a lot about how something looks when I’m wearing it, and I would be the first to decry a dumb-looking accoutrements on my headphones. But Beats made the design of the Powerbeats Pro as sophisticated as I think it possibly could have, and the result is comfortable and barely noticeable. 

Now let’s talk about what it’s actually like to wear the Powerbeats Pro.

The main selling point of the Powerbeats Pro is that they stick in your ears no matter what. Throughout my time testing them, I found that to be true. 

I have a unique situation of both having an inner-ear piercing — it’s called a daith piercing, and earbuds don’t usually fit — and being someone who, when they get hot during a workout, tends to sweat from my head only. This, as you can probably imagine, makes finding earbuds pretty challenging. 

Can I wear AirPods? Not a chance. Seriously — the right bud will only perch precariously in my ear for a moment before it pops right out. 

What about Pixel Buds? Ha, absolutely not. 

How about literally any other kind of wireless earbud (Jaybirds, Galaxy Buds, Bose, etc.)? No, no, and no. My ears simply will not cooperate. 

This is why I’m pleased to report that the Powerbeats Pro really do work. In the commercial advertising the buds, Beats had people like Olympic gymnast Simone Biles do a vault with them in, and they stayed put — it’s not false advertising. The buds stayed in during runs, while lying down, while bending over to touch my toes, while shaking my head vigorously, and — sorry — even when I was very sweaty during a workout. Oftentimes while running, I kept reaching up to do my usual jamming-of-the-buds-back-in before realizing that they were already in, and they weren’t going anywhere. 

In short, if you need a pair of workout buds that really and truly stay put, these are them. 

There are some comfort issues with the Powerbeats Pro, however.

If there’s one area where the Powerbeats Pro fell short for me, it was long-term comfort. 

I tried wearing the buds on a flight, and by the end, my ears were aching. It wasn’t even a long flight, either — only about 2.5 hours.

The comfort issues aren’t a deal-breaker by any means, since I would mostly use these for working out and commuting anyway. But it might be a downside for distance runners or cyclists, or anyone who prefers buds over over-ear headphones. 

The sound quality is definitely improved, and I have no complaints about the battery life.

I’m not always wild about how Beats headphones sound, given that they’re prone to going way too hard on the bass. But the Powerbeats Pro sounded more balanced and less abrasive than I was anticipating. 

Overall, the Powerbeats Pro offered a bright, crisp sound that was perfect for listening to music casually, working out, or talking on the phone. While they don’t cancel out all exterior noise, they do block a surprising amount, so I didn’t feel like I was constantly cranking up the volume. 

The battery life has also been solid so far. I’ve only had to charge the case two or three times, and the buds charge up while you’re not using them. I would estimate that if you’re using the Powerbeats Pro heavily, you’ll need to charge the case every three or four days, which isn’t egregious. Beats says you’ll get about nine hours of listening time, which just about matches up with what I’ve found.

A nice bonus: Beats included an indicator light on the front of the case, so you’ll know if you’re in the danger zone. 

There are a handful of other nice perks of the Powerbeats Pro.

  • Unlike previous Powerbeats, there’s no on/off button, since they charge in their case at all times. This also meant that Beats was able to make the hand-off between the case and your ear really seamless and futuristic. When you put the buds in your ears, they automatically turn on and are ready to use. And when you’re talking on the phone and want to switch to the Powerbeats, opening the case and putting them in your ear automatically hands off the call to the buds. 
  • Call quality was excellent. I didn’t really have high hopes for the Powerbeats Pro when it came to taking calls, since past Beats earbuds have been, honestly, garbage on that front. But Beats made a lot of improvements with the Powerbeats Pro, and they’re now my go-to headphones when I’m chatting on the phone. (The only downside is that outside noise can sometimes get distorted or amplified for the person on the other end — my boyfriend said that me wrapping up leftovers in tinfoil while we talked on the phone sounded like gunshots to him.)
  • Believe it or not, they are comfortable to wear with glasses. If you are a glasses-wearer or just want to be able to wear your sunglasses and headphones at the same time, it is possible — nay, comfortable — with the Powerbeats Pro. 
  • Beats added external buttons, so you can leave your phone in your pocket. There are volume and play/pause/skip buttons on both earbuds, which is almost a must-have in 2019. 

So, should you buy them?

It’s an enthusiastic “yes!” from me. 

The Powerbeats Pro certainly have their downsides: they’re not comfortable for long stretches of time, their charging case is too big to be as portable as AirPods, and some people may not like the ear hooks. Plus, they cost $250, which is not nothing. 

But their revamped, streamlined design, the fact that they stay in no matter what, and their position as an AirPods alternative for Apple users (but they do work with Android phones, too!) make them my new favorite earbuds, and the headphones I use the most overall. 

So if you’re on the hunt for excellent wireless earbuds, you’ve found them.