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By Nathan Olivarez-Giles
The BeatsX earphones are the latest attempt by Apple Inc. to nudge us into a wire-free future. They're also the most convincing, thanks to a smart design that feels just as at home in the gym as it does at the office.
Last year, Apple dropped the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 and introduced the revolutionary ( but easily lost) AirPods. Now, the $150 BeatsX come with the best part of the AirPods inside: Apple's W1 chip for effortless pairing with iPhones, iPads, Macs and Apple Watches.
To connect an Apple device, just turn on the headphones. As long as your nearby Apple device is running an updated version of the company's latest software (iOS 10, macOS Sierra or watchOS 3), a pop-up screen will ask if you want to pair the headphones. It usually shows up in a second or two.
You can also pair the BeatsX with Android phones, but they can't make use of the W1 chip. You have to take the conventional approach of adding BeatsX in Bluetooth settings. As with other Bluetooth devices, pairing can sometimes take a few attempts.
Apple says the W1 chip, also found in the sportier $200 Powerbeats3 and the on-ear $300 Solo3 Wireless, consumes about a third of the power of a normal Bluetooth chip. As such, BeatsX delivers an impressive 8-hour battery life.
Despite the thin, flat, tangle-free cable that ties the earbuds together, the BeatsX never felt like a bother to wear. That cable rests around your neck, but the headphones are lightweight and soft, with a rubberized coating. On a run, the Beats stayed snugly in my ears and the cable was sturdy enough to not thwap against my neck.
BeatsX were a welcome contrast to tethered rivals like the $300 Bose QuietControl 30 or the $200 Sony H.ear In Wireless, both of which rely on plastic horse collars that sit stiffly around your neck.
Like other earphones, the snug fit of the BeatsX is due in part to different-size interchangeable rubber tips for your ears. They delivered clear, balanced sound for music and phone calls, though their small size means there's a lot less bass response than typical Beats headphones.
Many competing headphones from Bose, Sony, JBL, Jaybird and others sound about as good. BeatsX is differentiated more by its understated look and its iPhone-friendly wireless tech. Since it charges with a Lightning cable, iPhone owners carry only one wire -- and Android owners must put up with two.
Another benefit: When not in your ears, the earbuds magnetically connect to one another, keeping the headset from falling off your neck. I wish more headphones did this.
While Apple's AirPods certainly deserve the attention, I can't choose them over the BeatsX. AirPods fit nicely, and they're good for train rides and using at my desk or at home. But I'm not confident that I can run with them without eventually losing one. ( And replacing a lost AirPod isn't cheap.)
Powerbeats3, with their rubber ear hooks, are built for workouts and marathons, but they're too clunky and ostentatious to wear in other settings.
With a clean, minimal design, the BeatsX fit in pretty much everywhere.
Write to Nathan Olivarez-Giles at [email protected]
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 17, 2017 08:14 ET (13:14 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2017 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.