For this review, Pro does not mean Pro(fessional), it stands for Pro(totype), and regrettably means unfinished.
This has to be one of the oddest headphone related products I’ve ever encountered. For one reason, it’s a pair of true wireless stereo (TWS) earbuds that are stored and charged in a smartwatch. For another, it’s because many of the so-called ‘smart’ features simply don’t work. Aipower didn’t send a functional, finished product for review.
- It’s convenient to have earbuds always on hand.
- Great for audiobooks due to clear sound quality tuning.
- Earbuds are tiny and comfortable in the ears.
- Touch controls on the earbuds work well.
- The smart band is far lighter and more comfortable to wear than it looks.
- Earbuds can be used singularly.
- The display is clear and legible.
- With the Pro(totype) version I could not review the smart band features. Very little worked as it should.
- Poor battery life – A one-day maximum even with no usage.
- The bright sound may be fatiguing for sensitive ears.
- Very low sensitivity leads to a surprisingly low maximum volume.
- Only one possible size of ear tips will not work for everyone.
- The smart band is one big awkward looking jellybean on your wrist.
- No home button and sluggish response on the band make the interface difficult to navigate.
- No GPS functionality for fitness tracking.
Before we start, I will like to state the following disclaimer:
In June 2019, an interesting combo product popped up on Kickstarter. The world’s first true wireless earbuds that are stored and charged inside a fitness band. Huh… that actually sounds like it might be handy. Clearly lots of folks thought so, as Aipower raised more than $900k on their first round of crowdfunding for the original Wearbuds.
Early this year at CES 2020, Aipower announced the second generation of the Wearbuds. The Pro version would build on the success of the first model and add several upgrades including:
- A more powerful main chip.
- Higher capacity battery: Usage time extended to 10 days.
- Better display: TFT screen with a color depth of 262K offers a brighter display.
- Improved durability: 7H hardness Corning glass to protect the screen from accidental scratches, fingerprints, and other damage.
- Optimized Bluetooth pairing and True Wireless Sound (TWS) connect.
This is in addition to audio-specific features:
- Graphene dynamic driver
- Qualcomm smart audio chip
- aptX support
- Bluetooth 5.0
- CVC Noise Cancellation Technology
As I write this, the Indiegogo funding is currently going on for the month of August 2020. With 19 days left, they’ve already achieved 524% of the $13,000 goal. The final product will be sold for $200 USD, with early bird buyers getting as much as 55% off. Shipping is estimated for November 2020.
As I’ve stated, the Pro(totype) I received doesn’t work as it should. It’s odd to receive a product in the retail packaging, but with a crippled feature set (that isn’t noted anywhere). It appears that these early demo models are being sent out partially for beta testing. I submitted all the issues I ran into and was told that they were passed along to the technical team.
I simply didn’t expect it. An upfront, heads-up on reduced functionality would have gone a long way. I had to request a list of what didn’t work several times.
Frankly, it took a lot of fun out of the experience.
Aipower was founded in 2018 as a ‘smart device’ manufacturer. That is a technology that focuses on human experience and interaction. Currently, in addition to the Wearbuds, Aipower manufactures a variety of wireless earbuds, motion-sensor night lights, and smart car chargers.
Band Technical Specifications
- Chipset: Nodic 52840, ARM Cortex-M4 CPU
- Flash: Built-in 8M
- Bluetooth: 5.0
- Screen LCD: 135×240, 262K Color, TFT Screen
- Seven-Axis Sensor: 3-Axis Accelerometer, 3-Axis Gyroscope, Air Pressure Sensor
- Heart Rate: HM9000
- Button: IQS266 Touch Screen Controllers 2×3 Cap
- Battery: 180mAh
- Operation Range: 10m
- Charging Method: Proprietary magnetic cable – USB A
- Water Resistance: IPX5
- Battery Life: <10 Days
- Charging Time: 1.5 Hours
- Colors: Black, White, Mint, Grey, and Coral
- Warranty: 2-Years Limited
Earbuds Technical Specifications
- Chipset: Qualcomm QCC 3026, aptX, CVC Noise Cancellation Technology
- Bluetooth: 5
- Touch Sensor IC: Single Touch
- Charging Port: Pogo Pin Charging Port
- Speaker: 1x 6mm (in each earbud),
- Impedance: 16 Ohm
- Frequency Range: 20Hz-20KHz
- Sensitivity: 88 dB/mW
- Battery: 35mAh
- Battery Life: <5.5 Hours
- Operation Range: 10m
- Water Resistance: 1PX6
The Wearbuds Pro box is white, simple, and elegant. Nicely logoed on all sides, the box lists all the features and specifications in a variety of languages. The top slides out of the exterior sleeve and opens to display the Wearbuds securely ensconced in foam. Overall the impression is of a premium product.
In the Box
- Long Strap: 17.5-23 cm. (Shorter strap available for purchase)
- Ear Tips (small)
- Proprietary magnetic USB charging cable
- User Manual
A single pair of included ear tips seems like a stingy choice until you realize how the earbuds charge. Since the earbuds have to slide into a tight-fitting hole on either side of the band, it appears that it was all molded to fit only the one small size of ear tips.
I’m fortunate that the earbuds fit my ears quite well, but not all ears are created the same. It’s quite possible that they won’t fit your ears and there is no way to easily modify them to do so.
What Doesn’t Work on the Pro(totype)?
I have two Wearbud Pro(totype)s on hand. When I received the first Wearbuds, I promptly downloaded the iOS application, synced the Wearbuds, and allowed the app to update the firmware. That all went quite smoothly. Nevertheless, I messed things up.
Turns out, I wasn’t supposed to do any of this until a new version of the app was released to the Apple store a few days later.
As a result, I ran into an issue with the updated firmware. The ‘power on’, ‘charging cable connected’, and ‘earbuds inserted/removed’ animations became scrambled. Further firmware updates did not fix the animations. Our contact promptly sent out a replacement Wearbuds that did not have this issue.
Unfortunately, the new Pro(totype) had its own unique problem. Due to a UI bug, the “the data displayed on the screen is not accurate” so the replacement Wearbuds does not indicate when one of the earbuds is inserted. This does not happen on the first Wearbuds I received.
From our contact, we were told that the additional functionality not supported by the Pro(totype) version:
- The training modes support only walk, run, and cycle.
- Fitness data cannot be synchronized. “Normally, users can enter the training mode by tapping on the band, and then check the report in the app.”
- No historical fitness data.
- Battery life only lasts 3-4 days even without use. “It will be improved in the fully functional ones.”
- You can’t control the music on the band, and can’t pick up or reject the call on the band.
Other quirks I have noticed:
- The cycling training mode only uses cycling time and heart rate. It does not add to steps, calorie, or distance training totals (the walking or running modes do).
- While the app does allow you to change the watch face, the last two watch faces do not match the app. Some of the attractive website and box art depicts faces that are not available.
- The “Find my Wearbuds” function only changes the screen image and makes the band vibrate silently. There is no audible noise. This is entirely useless to actually locate your missing Wearbuds band unless you’ve happened to forget that you’ve got it attached to your arm.
Since much of the smart functionality of the band hasn’t been implemented on the Pro(totype) version, I’m going to focus mainly on the physical aspects of the band and (fittingly for Headphonesty) how the earbuds work and sound.
At heart, this is a combination product designed to intelligently capture the best of two related products into a single form. Why have a smart band and a separate set of TWS earbuds if you always use both at the gym?
In a perfect world, the combination product would only magnify the strengths of both. In practice, however, the reality is more of a compromise than it is a perfect combo.
The Wearbuds Pro(totype) is a seriously compromised product.
On the plus side, if you are wearing the band, it is super convenient to have TWS earbuds available at a moment’s notice. Want to listen to that video privately in public? Have an audiobook that you have found a few moments to enjoy? Pop an earbud out of the band and you are good to go.
But you pay for that convenience. The smart band is FAR larger and bulkier than is the norm. The big jellybean shape is necessary to contain the buds. It stands about 20 mm high from the wrist, meaning tight clothing cuffs become an issue. It is surprisingly light in weight and comfortable on even my skinny wrists, so it doesn’t feel much different than wearing a typical watch.
Aipower does give the following warning: “During vigorous activity, the earbuds may undock and potentially fall off if pressure is accidentally applied against them.” The convenience of having the earbuds on hand is also offset by the increased chance of losing them.
Battery life is limited by having an all-in-one device. The 180mAh battery in the band is depleted by the two 35mAh batteries in the earbuds. Although Aipower claims a proposed battery life of 10 days, and the ability to recharge the earbuds twice (they only have a 5-hour battery life), my Pro(totype) required charging every night.
With no use, simply sitting unused on a table, the battery depletes to 17% in 24 hours. My experience was far from what is claimed in the documentation.
Aipower claims an IPX6 water resistance (against a high-pressure stream) for the band and IPX5 (against a low-pressure stream) for the earbuds. This means neither will survive submersion, so this setup isn’t safe for swimming, unlike many fitness tracker alternatives.
The front of the band is simply the screen, while the back houses the optical heart rate sensor and the proprietary magnetic charging mechanism. The USB cable can only connect in one orientation due to magnetic polarity so you can’t make a mistake when connecting the charger. A charger is not included.
The actual screen is far smaller than the smooth black surface of the band would seem to indicate. It also doesn’t have a home button (like my wife’s inexpensive Xiaomi Mi Band 4 smart band) so navigation is at the mercy of tap and swipe. Unfortunately, it isn’t always so intuitive, nor responsive, so I found interfacing with the operating system (OS) fairly frustrating at times.
Overall, the earbuds are much less of a trade-off than the smart band. The touch controls actually function quite well. Overall, they feel far more responsive than the screen. Due to their small size, I did find I’d fairly frequently accidentally stop or start playback when inserting or repositioning the buds in my ears.
Long touch increases (right bud) or decreases (left bud) the volume. Single-tap to play or pause, double-tap to skip tracks.
One thing I greatly appreciate is the ability to use either one of the earbuds singularly. Often, I find myself in situations where I prefer to have the ability to clearly hear the ambient sounds as well as what I’m listening to. Either bud can be popped in or out and will change the connection seamlessly.
The Bluetooth connection functions well, if not quite up to the range of other Bluetooth headphone dongles I have on hand. Keep in mind the Bluetooth connection is from phone to band and from phone to earbuds. There doesn’t seem to be any real interconnection between the band and the buds, beyond docked charging and displaying battery levels.
You must always have your phone on hand to use the Wearbuds.
The bean-shaped earbuds are tiny and weigh approximately 3.5 grams each, which is less than the Apple Airpods (at approximately 4 grams/Airpod). The diminutive size means their lack of ergonomic shape doesn’t negatively impact comfort in the ear. They are only held in by the seal of the ear tips.
Which of course, raises the issue of a one-size-fits-all ear tip. Since the charging mechanism is shaped to only fit the included ear tip, you have to be fortunate enough that the single size properly fits your ear. In practice, they insert into my small-medium sized ear holes fine and were reasonably secure.
Those will larger ears may run into fit issues that cannot be resolved.
Each earbud contains a graphene-augmented driver, which Aipower claims will “bring astonishing high-fidelity sound”. Graphene was first created in 2004 from pure carbon and is notable for its high strength, low weight, and flexibility.
The wireless technology is a Qualcomm QCC 3026 chipset with Bluetooth 5 and supports aptX. I noticed no lag or latency, and as long as I was in the same room as my iPhone, I experienced no dropouts. The QCC 3026 chipset is designed more for cost savings than for producing high-fidelity audio.
Also, of note, the Qualcomm CVC noise cancellation technology included in the Wearbuds Pro is designed for improving call quality and not for music playback. In Qualcomm’s words, it “…brings advanced audio enhancements and noise suppression to the near and far end, and provides packet loss and bit error concealment. In combination, this delivers the best possible call quality…”.
It seems the earbuds were likely designed to prioritize and balance a combination of small size, a robust feature set, and sound quality. TWS earbuds in general need to walk a line of working well both for music playback and for call clarity, which isn’t necessarily the same thing.
The first thing that stands out when listening to the Wearbuds is their overall quiet volume output.
Likely this diminished volume output is a result of their oddly low sensitivity of 88 dB/mW. As a way of comparison, the Apple EarPods have a sensitivity of 104.27 dB/mW, while the Sennheiser MOMENTUM True Wireless 2 has a sensitivity of 107 dB/mW. Sensitivities below 90 dB/mW are relatively rare.
In practice, this means that normal listening levels on the Wearbuds are only a couple notches from full volume. Even at max volume, they are just beginning to edge on being too loud. In fact, depending on the noise level of your environment, you may struggle to hear the earbuds.
These aren’t for audiophiles. That being said, the Wearbuds are solidly ok depending on how you use them. They are clear sounding and are free from distortion. The Wearbuds aren’t going to ever be my first choice for critical listening to music, but they do a very competent job with audiobooks.
The soundstage is relatively narrow and confined. The overall sound tends towards brightness which seems to help with clarity but can be a bit too forward depending on the music being played.
Bass reproduction is tight and controlled. It comes across as fast (perhaps due to the small 6mm dynamic driver size) but doesn’t extend extremely low. There is actually decent mid-bass impact when the music demands it, although overall bass levels are shy on quantity. The eccentric acoustic masterpiece of the Beastie Boy’s ‘Mix-Up’ is decently served up by the Wearbuds.
The tuning of the Wearbuds tends towards the upper midrange and treble frequencies, so the overall midrange tends to lack a certain weight. Male vocals can veer towards a nasal sounding quality. Vocals in the first track ‘Waves’ from ‘Bahamas is Afie’ by Bahamas, is clean and crisp sounding, but his voice loses some of its character tonality and sweetness.
All that upper-midrange and lower-treble tuning mean higher pitched vocals, horns or strings tend to shine but can lean towards harshness depending on the musical content and complexity. I found the Wearbuds to be fatiguing for longer music listening sessions. This is mitigated by listening to music at lower volume levels (admittedly easy enough to do with the Wearbuds).
Again, clarity jumped out as the focus for the tuning. Vocals on calls or audiobooks benefit from this sound signature.
Thank you to the marketing company for providing the Wearbuds Pro(totype)s for review purposes to Headphonesty. If you are interested in taking part in the Indiegogo campaign, it runs until early September 2020.
To be fair, the Wearbuds Pro(totype) is a product damned by promise. My expectations were of a fully operating product ready to review, so when I discovered feature after feature that didn’t work, it was difficult to mitigate my disappointment and to be impressed by its current level of functionality.
The smart band is currently lobotomized. Here’s hoping that future updates will bring about a successful brain transplant.
So, my focus changed to considering the benefits of such a unique combination product. As mentioned above, a perfect combo device should build on the good points of each product, whilst minimizing any compromises. I’m hard-pressed to confidently say that any feature of the Wearbuds Pro(totype) isn’t besieged by serious compromise (size, battery life, interface, functionality, etc.).
All could be forgiven if the earbuds floored me with their performance. We are a headphone review site after all.
Again, I think my expectations weren’t in line with the manufacturer’s aims. I wanted musical headphones. What I got was earbud tuning designed for voice clarity, at the expense of musicality. They work fine if your primary usage is calls and audiobooks. What that goal, I think you could be quite happy with their performance.