Apple's Powerbeats Pro deliver on almost every feature we wanted to see from AirPods — better audio, better sound isolation, more secure fit, and longer battery. But does that make them our new go-to headphones?
When they finally arrived they received a lot of attention for borrowing a lot of the same tech as AirPods. While the comparison will certainly be made, they aren't necessarily an alternative to Apple's diminutive earbuds.
Powerbeats Pro are very much like the standard Powerbeats, minus the wire in between each earpiece. They have a slightly adjustable hook that gently wraps around the top of the ear. The earpiece sits partially against your ear such as the AirPods do but with a small tip that fits snuggly justinto your ear canal. There are several different sized tips that can be swapped to best fit the user. They should be snug, but not too tight or they will cause a bit of discomfort over extended use.
The ear tips not only help keep the Powerbeats Pro in place better than AirPods but they help with sound isolation. There is no noise cancellation but most external audio is blocked out though they won't work nearly as well as dedicated ANC headphones on a plane or bus.
Each earbud is housed in a single matte black case that also acts as a charger. You will achieve about nine hours of use per full charge and with the battery included in the case you can get a total of 24 hours of use.
In our testing, we never wore the Powerbeats Pro for nine hours but in a real-world situation, we never had to worry about the batteries dying like occasionally happens with our AirPods.
Apple decided to include physical controls on the Powerbeats Pro rather than the tapping gestures found on AirPods, possibly because all the motion can accidentally trigger the those gestures at times. They are easy to use and most of the time you can rely on voice controls if you choose.
We like the look of the Powerbeats Pro case but the problem is not only is it large, but it is slippery. While filming our review, we had several outtakes of the case simply slipping free from our hand as we went to open it.
As countless others have pointed out, the case is also large. It isn't easy to fit in a pocket, and had us leaving it at home or in the car before even heading to the gym rather than taking it with us and keeping it in a pocket or on the treadmill like with AirPods.
Powerbeats Pro, just like the second generation AirPods, rely on Apple's custom H1 chip to function. This enables not only good performance and range but stellar iOS integration.
Connecting to devices is quick. Range is also outstanding. We had good range when moving about our home or the gym with our phone placed elsewhere. When running, we connected to our Apple Watch for effortless playback.
That brings us to the tight integration with iOS, particularly the automatic syncing to all devices through iCloud. Simply pair the headphones with your iPhone or iPad and it will magically appear on your other signed-in devices without issue. Apple's pairing process for AirPods and Powerbeats is simply legendary and has been mimicked by many others, though still never with the degree of simplicity found on iOS.
The H1 chip will also unlock Hey, Siri support through iOS where you can query Apple's virtual assistant without having to reach for your phone.
Woeful connection issues
Our biggest issue with the Powerbeats Pro is continuing lackluster connections. Regardless whether paired to our Apple Watch or our iPhone, connections would drop out with alarming frequency. For a premium set of luxury headphones, that is a big problem.
We checked around the office to see if everyone was having similar issues and it was split between those having no issues and those experiencing the same.
Another related issue that the Powerbeats Pro would seemingly forget the connection. We'd open the case and it would continuously ask us to re-pair the headphones with our phone. No matter how many times we did it or reset our phone.
This was very surprising to us as they use the same H1 chip as AirPods and our AirPods have impeccable wireless connections. The positive is that Apple regularly pushes updates to their headphones and it is likely that this could be remedied by just that, down the line.
We want to be able to say that we're alone with this, but we very clearly aren't.
Apple spent a lot of time on the audio quality of the Powerbeats Pro, and it shows. It is full, powerful sound that has much more substantial bass than previous Beats let alone AirPods. We said we wanted better audio and that is what Apple delivered. They sound amazing.
Throwing on an upbeat, bass-heavy tracklist for a run was energizing and kept us motivated as we filled our Apple Watch rings.
Songs such as "Glitter and Gold" sounded phenomenal on the Powerbeats Pro with a surprisingly clear upper range yet a powerful thumping bass. Songs that are more instrumental have a great amount of separation in the guitars, drums, and brass.
There is a lot to love with Powerbeats, but they also have several features that are entirely missing in action. Ones Apple has used in the past and ones that others in the market have embraced.
When comparing Powerbeats Pro directly to AirPods there are two things missing that AirPods have — Find My iPhone, and wireless charging support.
Using the Find my iPhone app, or Siri, you can find wherever your AirPods are. It shows where they were last connected right on a map and if within range, it will let you know. A tone can then be sent to each individual AirPod so you can hopefully track them down. Powerbeats Pro are certainly larger and less likely to get lost than AirPods but it can still happen.
We don't even necessarily need the tone, but being able to see where they were less connected or if they are in the home or gym can be useful. Perhaps it is Apple's way of acknowledging that Powerbeats Pro are less pocketable than AirPods which seem to travel with us everywhere.
And then, there's that Qi charging, completely lacking on the Powerbeats Pro. In practice that lack forces you to always rely on Lightning and cables — something we've been trying to move away from. The case is large, it seems there would have been space to fit a Qi receiver in there for those that would like the option to wirelessly charge.
Looking outside of Apple's ecosystem, we don't have features that others do. The biggest one for us that we are pining for is passthrough audio. Especially when we are running, it would be beneficial to let some outside noise in.
Passthrough audio would also alleviate our issues with phone calls that we outlined above. If your voice was able to pass through when speaking, it would feel much more natural. Galaxy Buds and countless other manufacturers have enabled this kind of feature and we wish Apple had done the same now they these have a much more airtight seal than AirPods.
AirPods FTW — Powerbeats for the gym
Powerbeats Pro are a companion product to go with AirPods and not replace them. We've longed for a more premium version of AirPods that have better sound and more features. We got that with Powerbeats Pro but the size and style don't make them an easy alternative to AirPods.
With all our time using Powerbeats Pro, we found ourselves turning to AirPods at every chance we got, other than when we hit up the gym. Powerbeats Pro are just too large a case to carry with us all the time and AirPods are so much more subtle when wearing.
We want that better audio, but it turns out when it comes to practicality, the size is going to be really important. It's something that the product can't overcome.
When we did opt for the Powerbeats Pro, in those optimal conditions, we were thrilled with them. They sounded amazing and full of bass, stayed in our ears through all our running and jumping, and were easy to control.
We didn't have the errant taps register like we sometimes got with the AirPods gestures. They were perfect for the gym, but otherwise not ideal. That leaves us with wanting AirPods outside workouts and Powerbeats Pro during workouts. In other words, we want both.
Arguing for both is hard, especially with the price tags each corresponding set carries, but that is the corner Apple has backed us in to. If we are forced to recommend one over the other, we'd have to go where you spend more of your time listening. Do you listen more at the gym or outside of the gym? That's the set you should pick up.