Because Apple nixed the 3.5mm headphone jack from the bottom of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, you either have to use the supplied Lightning dongle for backwards compatibility with your 3.5mm audio accessories, or you have to kick it up to the new age with a pair of wireless or Lightning-enabled audio devices instead.
When you don’t want to be bothered with the issue of charging your device at the same time you’re listening to audio with headphones or earbuds in, the obvious choice is to go wireless. While there are tons of options, only a few come with Apple’s brand new W1 chip, which supports the slick new Bluetooth pairing process. Among those are AirPods, Beats Solo3, and Powerbeats3.
If you’re in a predicament and can’t decide between the three then you should find this piece helpful, because I’ll be comparing the strengths and weaknesses of each from a variety of angles.
Choosing the right W1-equipped audio device
Starting with what I believe to be the most important, comfort must be taken into consideration. You don’t want to listen to music or watch a video when something uncomfortable is attached to your head, even if it does sound good. If it doesn’t feel good, you’ll want to take it off after a short while, so you won’t get the full effect.
Beats Solo3 are crafted to be comfortable around your ears for long periods of time, spelled out by the nice fluffy leather-wrapped earmuffs. These also help isolate you from the noise around you, so if you live in a loud environment, these can help you enjoy your audio in a range of environments; a particularly good trait for when you’re at home with a bunch of rowdy kids. On the other hand, they’re also big and heavy compared to the alternatives.
Because AirPods are so small, they just rest inside your ear, and you’ll barely even feel them there. They’re hard plastic though, so at times I can feel the rougher edges that go inside my year poking at me, but I can just adjust them to get that to stop. More importantly, because they’re lighter, you can jerk your head around and they don’t go flying; the same can’t be said about the Beats Solo3 because of their weight, which makes AirPods more ideal for activities where you’re in motion.
Powerbeats3 are supposed to be comfortable too, simply wrapping around your ear and lightly hanging from them. Of course, like all in-ear headphones, you can typically expect soreness of the ear after a long period of use. One important note is that because the ‘hanger’ goes around your ear, it might get in the way if you wear any kind of sunglasses or prescription glasses, which is worth mentioning. Of course, the hanger keeps them from moving when you’re in motion, so they’re right alongside the AirPods in that respect.
Comfort winner? – AirPods. Because they’re so small and light and you can barely tell that they’re there, you feel more free than you do when you have a huge headphone set on your head or when there’s a dangling cord behind your neck.
Sound quality is another big push when deciding what audio device to pick. These are all running off of Apple’s newfangled W1 chip, which is supposed to answer a lot of the problems regarding Bluetooth sound lag and audio quality over wireless.
The over-ear design of the Beats Solo3 is better from a sound quality perspective. While these probably aren’t the best headphones in the world from an audiophile’s standpoint, they do deliver significantly richer and deeper sound simply because of the size of the speakers that go beside your ears. Any over-the-ear headphone should sound better than tiny little earbud-style audio devices will, and that’s simply because smaller speakers have more trouble delivering those deeper tones to the inside of your ear, where it counts.
Don’t get me wrong, AirPods are no slouch. Many early reviews suggest that the AirPods have deeper bass and richer sound that even exceeds that of the wired EarPods. But, because it’s not an over-the-ear design, sound isolation isn’t that great and you can easily hear everything going on around you, which can be highly distracting and overpowering. AirPods also seem to have a notorious crackling issue, which I haven’t experienced with my Beats Solo3 headphones at all.
Powerbeats3 are comparable to AirPods thanks to being earbud-like in design. There isn’t as much low-end sound as there are in the over-ear design of the Beats Solo3, so they’re not a replacement for the larger setup if sound quality is what you’re after. Because these headphones are in-ear headphones, they do help isolate sound a little better than AirPods.
Sound quality winner? – Beats Solo3. Because they’re over-the-ear headphones, you get better sound isolation and larger speakers, which translate to more sound and less distraction.
Ease of Use
Since you’re using an iPhone, you expect everything to ‘just work.’ That said, I think ease of use is another important quality that needs to be addressed. Realistically, the AirPods, Beats Solo3 headphones, and the PowerBeats3 all use the W1 chip, so they will all pair to your iPhone in exactly the same sleek way, but there are other things that need to be discussed too.
For example, Beats Solo3 have a dedicated volume up and down rocker buttons on the left earmuff, along with a button for playing/pausing your audio, all of which are incredibly useful for quick volume adjustments. Unfortunately, the AirPods require use of Siri to adjust the volume without touching your iPhone, which is a bit of a pain in the blank.
AirPods, on the other hand, know when they’re put inside of or pulled out of your ears, thanks to the built-in proximity sensors. As a result, they know when to start and stop playing audio automatically. AirPods can also be used in one ear at a time, which means they can be used effectively as a Bluetooth headset for taking calls, while the Beats Solo3 doesn’t come with that luxury and the PowerBeats3 would be awkward because one would be dangling.
Powerbeats 3 are similar to that of Beats Solo3 in this respect because they also have external buttons that can be used to adjust volume or play/pause audio. This makes them a little less cumbersome to use than AirPods in this respect, but they still lack that automatic ear detection technology, which is exclusive to Apple’s flagship audio devices.
Ease of use winner? – Tie. Because of the hardware controls being right on the Beats Solo3 and PowerBeats3 units themselves without having to go through Siri to adjust volume and play/pause audio, using them is so much more convenient when my iPhone isn’t in reach. On the other hand, AirPods make up for their Siri mishaps thanks to features like automatic play/pause, and the ability to use one earbud at a time for phone calls, etc.
Because all of these options have internal batteries built into them, it goes without saying that battery life plays a big factor. After all, if you have a busy life, you might not be able to tether yourself to a power source all the time.
Beats Solo3 headphones are nice and large, so as a result, there’s more volume to dedicate to batteries. Beats Solo3 headphones get around 40 hours of continuous battery life, which means if you’re up 12 hours a day, you should be able to get over 3 days of use out of them, or more if you’re not listening to music all day long. Also… Beats Solo3 cheat a little, because they include a 3.5mm auxiliary cable that you can use for wired listening whenever the battery dies, which can be handy if you absolutely need to keep listening despite a dead battery.
AirPods are also decent on battery life because Apple was pretty clever in their design. Since the AirPods themselves are small, and only pack batteries large enough for about five hours of use, they made the carrying case itself a battery, and it actively charges your AirPods when you put them away. With constant use, they should last about 24 hours, which is good for about two days of listening. What’s more is the AirPods charge back up enough after just 15 minutes to be used for three more hours, which means if they die, you can easily get right back to listening after taking a short break.
The worst of the three in terms of total battery life are the Powerbeats3, which only get around 12 hours of battery life. On the other hand, that’s 12 hours of continuous battery life, which means you don’t have to take any breaks in between listening like you do with the AirPods, so there’s a push and pull there in terms of which is better.
Battery life winner? – Beats Solo3. This one’s a no-brainer. Beats Solo3 get almost double the battery life of AirPods and triple that of the Powerbeats3. Although Apple has a pretty cool battery array thing going on with their AirPods, it still doesn’t last as long.
If you’re a traveler, then you want something that’s easy to carry around with you. All of these options are fairly portable, but which is better?
Beats Solo3 have a collapsible frame and come with a handy nylon carrying case to keep them safe during your travels. The case is no bigger than an adult-sized hand, so it should fit in most backpacks or purses, but because it’s so bulky, it really doesn’t fit in your pocket. That said, they’re a better choice for a home body than someone who’s out and about all the time.
AirPods, on the other hand, are very tiny, and their carrying case is no larger than a pack of dental floss. Because of its small size, these are ideal for someone who’s always out and about, whether you’re on break in school, at a waiting room in the doctor’s office, or sitting on the bus. They’ll easily slip in any pocket, but because they’re so small, they’re also easier to lose…
Powerbeats3 are also portable, being able to fit into the palm of your hand. They also come with a nice little carrying case, but it’s much smaller than the Beats Solo3, which makes them ideal for taking with you as well. The small case can fit in most pockets, but it can cause uncomfortable bulkiness, so it’s not as ideal as AirPods are.
Traveling winner? – AirPods. All of these are fairly portable, but not everyone carries a backpack or purse, so Beats Solo3 won’t be for everyone. AirPods, on the other hand, are definitely easy to carry around for anyone, thanks to being small enough to fit in a pocket comfortably.
Another thing to consider is cable management. While this sounds like an oxymoron for wireless audio devices, it’s not.
Beats Solo3 charge with a completely separate Micro USB cable. While you probably have tons of these laying around somewhere, it’s still an extra cable you’ll have to carry around, which means more clutter. Some people are alright with that, but personally I’m not. I like solutions that minimize the amount of cables I have to use. Personally, I charge my Beats headphones with the Twelve South Fermata stand, so I don’t have to carry around an extra cable regardless.
AirPods are sort of kicking butt in terms of cable management, because they charge with Apple’s Lightning cable; the same cable you might already be carrying around for your iPhone. That said, if you have AirPods, you don’t need to carry two different cables with you.
Powerbeats3 also charge via a Micro-USB cable, which means I have the same complaints with these that I do with the Beats Solo3. Nevertheless, you also have that awkward cable that goes behind your head to help keep you from losing an earbud if one pops out. It’s pretty tangle-resistant, but it’s not tangle-proof. I’m not really a fan of that cable behind my neck, personally.
Beats Solo3 also have an optional 3.5mm auxiliary cable, which can be used if you prefer the audio quality of a wired headphone instead of wireless. Most people won’t bother with this because the iPhone 7 lacks a 3.5mm headphone jack, but the inclusive dongle adds compatibility if you have no other option. This cable easily tucks away inside of the carrying case along with the Micro-USB cable if you choose to bring it.
Cable management winner? AirPods. Because AirPods use Lightning, you don’t have to bring extra cables with you that you’re not already using on a regular basis. More importantly, they have the fewest amount of cables to bother with during daily use.
Durability might not be a big thing for most of you, because I’d bet if you buy any of these expensive audio devices, you’ll take good care of them. Nevertheless, let’s talk about some key points anyways…
The Beats Solo3 are made out of a plastic shell with a flexible metal frame that collapses. The leather cuffs on the earmuffs are nice, but after lengthy use, many people report that the leather can wear out or tear easily. While it’s never happened to me, that’s one thing that makes the Beats Solo3 a little less durable than the other choices.
AirPods are pretty durable; they’ve been shown to have good water resistance, despite the fact Apple doesn’t claim any. There are no moving parts, and they’re honestly much too small to bend by accident. The only complaint I have with them is that the case is made out of a glossy plastic, which scratches very easily. Nevertheless, the case protects the AirPods themselves from being damaged on drops, which is helpful.
Powerbeats3 are made out of a durable rubberized plastic material that seems to be tailored for those who take part in physical activities. Their material helps resist sweat, which is going to be huge for people who use them for working out. You can also drop these all you want, and they’ll probably just bounce rather than break. Nevertheless, they are attached via a wire, which opens the door to sheering, and in my opinion, makes them more prone to accidents.
Durability winner? – AirPods. With fewer moving parts than all three choices, and less surface area to be bent or destroyed with misuse, these have a fairly idiot-proof design.
Perhaps one of the most important things to consider when choosing between the three W1 audio device choices is the price.
Beats Solo3 come in at the most expensive, and given that these could be considered the most “premium” of the three choices, that comes as no surprise. At $299 on Amazon (sometimes less), they’re out of many people’s budgets, but if you like sound quality, you might have to take the dive. It’s also nice that Beats Solo3 come in various different color choices, which gives you some options to pick from.
AirPods are the cheapest of the bunch, coming in at $160 on Apple’s website. Although they look just like Apple’s EarPods, they do a lot more than their wired predecessors ever did and perform much better. Unfortunately, you’re stuck with white, because that’s the only color Apple has made thus far. On the other hand, this really cool concept shows what Jet Black AirPods might look like, and it would be awesome to see them in the future.
Powerbeats3 are right in the middle, at $199 on Amazon (sometimes less). These are a little bit specialized for the active lifestyle, and you’re paying for the Beats brand name, but as far as value goes, they might be just slightly over the threshold I would pay for them. Still, they come in many different color options, which makes them a little more customizable to your tastes than AirPods are.
Price winner? – AirPods. They are the fairest-priced W1 audio device on the market today, but the Powerbeats3 are a close runner-up.
So overall, let’s circle back to which W1 device is better. Honestly this depends on you, and what your lifestyle is like.
For me, AirPods get the most number of wins. That’s because for my lifestyle, which is primarily being away from my house and around town, they’re easy to take with me and last long enough to use all day long. AirPods are great for travel, so if you’re like me and you never stay in one place for too long, these might be your best bet.
Beats Solo3 are my second favorite because they sound so good compared to the other options. I like to use these when I’m at home, especially when sitting on the couch or laying in my bed, because they keep the background noise of children at bay and allow me to immerse myself in my audio experience. If you stay home, or in one place a lot, these might be your best friend.
Powerbeats3 aren’t bad, but they’re my least favorite as you can probably tell from my comments. I guess I’m really just not a fan of their design, battery life, or features. For someone who leads a more active lifestyle than I do, these might be a good option, but since I’m a computer dweller/nightlife junkie, I really don’t have any room for them in my way of life.
For what it’s worth, all of these options integrate seamlessly with all of your iOS and macOS devices thanks to that W1 chip inside of them, and they still work with other devices as well.
Which current W1 audio device is your favorite, and what types of audio device(s) do you hope to see gain W1 support in the future? Share in the comments below.