Can cheap Bluetooth running headphones actually be brilliant?

And TomTom's new watch gets an early look

RMOT1

One of the big perks of this job is a smorgasbord of different companies getting in touch to offer me things to test out.

But it's not always the latest and greatest stuff. In fact, often it's little things that we'd not normally even bother trying out - and low-end Bluetooth headphones are the main culprit. I usually only review things that people would spend a decent amount of money on, as our goal here is to help people make informed decisions about tech.

Then I spoke to a few of the members of my running club, and it seems most haven't even thought of wireless headphones, let alone picked up a pair. Cost is the big issue, and the variance in quality out there, which makes sense given nobody wants to drop a large wedge of cash on something that's rubbish.

So I began firing back 'YES!' responses to emails with the gusto of a child being asked if he fancied popping to Disneyland… and shortly thereafter I had my choices for this week's column.

Ladies and gentlemen: if you don't want to spend much money but fancy some wireless headphone fun, I present three of the best:

Inateck Bluetooth headphones - £30.99 (UK Only)

Inateck

I was pretty suspicious of these, it has to be said. Inateck makes a lot of cool stuff in the battery charging space, but could it turn up with some decent headphones?

The build quality isn't half bad, and (if you're into this) they look a little like dinosaur teeth, with their curved exterior. They're pretty weighty too, which helps with making them seem more premium, but doesn't help them function well as running headphones, as they're very prone to fall out.

They're the only ones on test with an inline remote on the wire too, so that adds to the flapping when you're trotting - and the buttons are positioned on both sides (and the same shape) so I kept mixing up which one I was trying to hit.

That said, they pack phenomenal audio quality for the cost. It's not great sound compared to high end headphones, but it massively outperforms the price. And the best bit: they're magnetic, so clip together to stay in place around your neck when taken off.

Verdict

Not great for running thanks to the awkward shape and heavy barrels attached to the earbuds - plus you can't use your own tips as they're a sealed silicon unit.

However, brilliant sound quality and magnetic clips make them perfect for the gym or just out and about.

Aukey Bluetooth earbuds - £14.99 / US$24.99

Aukey

These things are half the price of Inateck's, but they're an altogether different shape. Large and rounded, they certainly don't scream quality when picked up… but then again, for the price, would you expect them to?

The audio quality isn't terrible actually - it's no great shakes, but running forgives a lot of sound quality and they worked well enough for songs and podcasts alike.You can hear them bouncing around in your ears when you hit the floor with each step, though.

I rather liked the luminescent colouring that adored the outside and wire, and while I found the wire flapped around a lot at speed on the back (and pulled them out) largely they were pretty comfortable.

They didn't stay in my ears though - even with the extra hook I just couldn't keep them in. They take a VERY long time to register presses too, be it for pausing music, upping the volume, skipping tracks or just turning on… and the placement of the power button means you're shoving them into your ears every time you want to pause the tunes.

And the bloody things keep turning on all the time - a little light pressure in the bag or pocket next to keys ends up bringing them to life and confusing your smartphone.

Verdict

Not great at staying in, the audio quality isn't top-notch and the wire flaps around a lot… plus the build quality worries me. Then again, for £14.99 you could easily buy three pairs and not have to worry when one breaks down / gets thrown down the toilet.

iClever Bluetooth Sport headphones - £14.99 / US$26.99

iClever

These things are half the price of Inateck's, but they're an altogether different shape. Large and rounded, they certainly don't scream quality when picked up… wait, what? Haven't I done this already?

Sort of. It turns out there must be a manufacturer somewhere churning out this reference design for a low cost, as these headphones are identical in shape except for a few colour and embellishment tweaks.

A quick trip to Amazon proves this to be very much the case…

Amazon

The power button is one whole side of the iClever (not just a button like Aukey), which means you're shoving it even harder into the ear to turn it off - but at least the response is quicker and the voice that tells you 'POWER ON' is less robotically terrifying than Aukey's.

Here's the weird thing: these headphones are identical to Aukey's in terms of design, with the same shaped buds and stabilising ring - and yet they stay in better. I could run with these and not worry about them slipping out, yet the other pair were gone within 6 km.

I can't separate them in terms of sound quality, design or features as, again, they're both the same… I preferred the Aukey's as they felt more robust in the hand, but that could have just been my worry at the fake chrome falling apart on the iClevers.

Verdict

Oddly, I preferred these the most for running, taking them out three times during the testing. They're not high in terms of sonic power, nor will they draw admiring looks.

They will, however, cost you no more than the same as a fancy sandwich and a drink or two. Something think about, eh?

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