Hands on: AfterShokz Xtrainerz review

A new way to get you swimming

What is a hands on review?
TODO alt text

Early Verdict

While we’re big fans of the bone-conducting headphones from Aftershokz, the lack of Bluetooth connectivity make these expensive options a much harder sell.

For

  • Great lightweight design
  • Perfect for open water swimming

Against

  • No Bluetooth connectivity
  • Expensive

 The Aftershokz Xtrainerz, launched at CES 2019, are headphones designed to help you enjoy swimming that little bit more.

Not through making the act of splashing around any more palatable, but more to do with the fact that you can now be entertained with podcasts or music while you’re remembering how to not breathe underwater.

The technology and idea is really interesting - but they are limited by one key missing feature.

Aftershokz Xtrainerz price and release date

We’re still waiting for an exact time, but the Xtrainerz release date has been set for ‘spring 2019’ - so we’d expect them around March / April.

In terms of the Xtrainerz price, they’re set at £150 / $150 (around AU$210), which isn’t too high a tariff given what they can do.

 Design 

Image 1 of 3

Image 2 of 3

Image 3 of 3

In terms of the design, we’re still amazed at how much technology can be squeezed into such a tiny space.

The slim, lightweight design is comfortable to wear, and is reminiscent of the Trekz Air headphones from the brand, which last for a few hours while barely feeling like they’re attached to your head.

The bone-conducting pads sit just in front of your ear holes, vibrating the music in, and the band sits nicely around the back of your skull.

There are four buttons on the Aftershokz Xtrainerz, and they’re mostly easy enough to press (one of the issues with previous models from the brand were the keys requiring too hard a push, but that issue has been rectified).

The only struggle we had was with the mode button, which allows users to shuffle their music or activate in / out of water mode, as that will change the sound output to improve the quality for the conditions - this is something we’re looking forward to trying when splashing about in the pool.

In terms of charging, it’s not great to have an exposed port on something that’s IP68-rated, so Aftershokz has added a clip-on charger (that also doubles as a way to get music onto the headset).

We’re never fans of proprietary chargers, as they’re easy to lose, and this is a bit chunkier - but it makes sense given the need to stop water ingress.

Music playback

As mentioned, we’ve long been fans of the Aftershokz range of headphones, because bone conduction is not only safer, it’s a weirdly cool technology.

There’s something amazing about putting your fingers in your ears and still hearing the music playing, and we imagine under the water that’s going to be even more impressive. The quality hasn’t necessarily improved too much, but given your own bones are technically the speakers, we’re never expecting amazing audio.

The big missing feature here is Bluetooth connectivity, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it means that you can’t use these more costly headphones paired with your phone when out and about - so you’ll need separate options for that.

It has to be said that Bluetooth in the water isn't really possible unless you're really close to the source of the playback - and given you're moving about all over the place that's not going to happen.

However, that doesn't mean it shouldn't be on there - Bluetooth playback when you're out of the water is a must, given you've spent so much money on these things, so they should also function like the Aftershokz Air or Titanium as well.

The more pressing issue is that you can only listen to MP3s or podcasts you’ve got stored on a computer and can be transferred to the Aftershokz Xtrainerz. With the wealth of waterproof phones on the market right now, you’d have expected the option to be able to stream music or podcasts directly to be bundled right in.

Early verdict

There’s not a lot to say about the Aftershokz Xtrainerz that a simple description of what they do can’t achieve. They're bone conducting headphones, they're lightweight and they're water resistant for swimming entertainment.

They’re comfortable, lightweight and do something very few others are doing right now. We’re not sure on the battery life, but with resistance to seawater these headphones sound brilliant for triathlon training, able to switch from any pool or ocean to the bike or run with ease.

The lack of Bluetooth connectivity is disappointing for the money - if that was there, these could have laid claim to the best sports headphones ever made. We still think that there's a market for them - those that want headphones that can last an Iron Man race, or at least the training (given you can't actually race in headphones) will snap up anything that can actually do that.

Hopefully future versions will allow for more all-round use - but even just being able to function underwater without going in the ears is a neat new innovation.

  • Check out all of TechRadar's CES 2019 coverage. We're live in Las Vegas to bring you all the breaking tech news and launches, plus hands-on reviews of everything from 8K TVs and foldable displays to new phones, laptops and smart home gadgets. 

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.