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Hands on: Amazon Echo Buds review

The Echo Buds are true wireless earbuds with Alexa smarts

What is a hands on review?
Amazon Echo Buds. Image Credit: TechRadar
Image Credit: TechRadar
(Image: © Future)

Early Verdict

The best way to take Alexa on the go with you? Echo Buds might be the smartest true wireless earphones yet.

For

  • Comfortable fit
  • Hands-free Alexa access
  • Strong active noise cancellation

Against

  • Battery life could be better
  • Micro USB charging only

Going from niche to mainstream in just a few short years, true-wireless earbuds have become a must-have for the on-the-go music fan. But what if you want access to smart functionality from your wire-free buds, too?

Lots of headsets and earphones offer hands-free control for smart assistants like Siri and Google Assistant, but the Amazon Echo Buds, with near-instant access to Alexa support, might be the smartest (and certainly the easiest to use) smart earbuds yet. Read on for our first ears-on impressions of the Amazon Echo Buds.

UPDATE: Our hands-on Amazon Echo Buds review has been updated to reflect that fact that the earbuds are now on sale for $129.99 in the US and coming soon to the UK for £119.99.

Price and release date

The Amazon Echo Buds are available for pre-order now, priced at $129.99 / £119.99. Given the smart features packed in here, from hands-free Alexa to active noise cancellation, that’s an incredibly attractive, and competitive, price point.

Amazon Echo Buds

Image Credit: TechRadar

(Image credit: Future)

Design and features

First, the basics. Amazon Echo Buds are true-wireless earphones. What does the term ‘true-wireless’ mean exactly? Well, there’s a battery in both the left and right earpieces, meaning there’s no wire connecting them to each other or your playback device; a Bluetooth connection is used to beam tunes and audio direct to the buds in your ears. To charge them, you simply magnetically snap them into an included charging case, with its own separate back-up battery to juice the buds on the go. 

It’s a comfortable, tangle-free experience usually, and the Echo Buds meet that criteria admirably. Coming in black with an obloid case, you’ll get five hours of music streaming from the earbuds themselves, with 15 back-up hours in the case for a total battery life of 20 hours per charge. That’s not the longest battery life we’ve seen from true wireless buds, but there’s more going on here than some rivals offer.

Amazon Echo Buds

Image Credit: TechRadar

(Image credit: Future)

So what’s special here then? Like an Echo speaker, the Echo Buds make use of the voice-activated Alexa AI assistant, tethering to the app on your phone to do everything from playing back songs to setting timers or controlling smart home devices. What separates the Echo Buds from the competition (seeing as many already offer Alexa in some form) is that the Echo Buds support the 'Alexa' wake word. Simply say the AI assistant’s name, and you’ll be able to make requests of the helper without pulling out your phone or pushing an activation button.

It makes using Alexa on the go far more intuitive and simple. We've used many true-wireless earbuds, and few manage to make invoking the helper with button taps or earbud long-presses work successfully. But our short time with the Echo Buds at the Amazon demo event - in a busy, noisy room - left us confident that you’ll be able to tap into the power of Alexa without any hiccups when out and about.

That’s not the only thing the Amazon Echo Buds are capable of - Amazon has teamed up with Bose to offer active noise cancellation. (Note that Bose hasn’t worked on any other element of the audio offered here, just the ANC tech). By double-tapping either bud (a default setting, but customizable in the accompanying app) you can switch on noise cancellation, effectively blocking out the outside world and immersing you in your tunes. Tap again and you'll activate a ‘Passthrough’ mode that uses the onboard mic to boost the sound of the world around you, letting you engage in conversation easily without having to remove the buds.

Amazon Echo Buds

Image Credit: TechRadar

(Image credit: Future)

Should you choose to remove your Echo Buds, you’ll be pleased to hear that an onboard optical sensor will kick in, pausing your playback and smartly activating the tunes once again when you pop them back in.

Overall, it’s a very intelligent pair of earbuds, and set of features, at a price point that makes you wonder how Amazon can afford to sell them at all.

Performance

The nature of the demo area at Amazon's launch event made it difficult to properly assess the audio quality of the Echo Buds – they were in our ears for music playback for literally mere moments.

But what we could discern was an incredibly comfortable fit, and a well balanced sound. Daft Punk’s Get Lucky had some bass heft, but the more intricate top-end twinklings weren’t overpowered. Likewise, the noise cancelling and passthrough options, while not as powerful as seen on Sony’s rivals, were effective – and, again, attractive at this price point.

Amazon Echo Buds

Image Credit: TechRadar

(Image credit: Future)

What’s perhaps most attractive though is just how easily you can get to Alexa controls. With ANC activated, we were able to quickly ask Alexa for some news headlines - being able to check on the wider world (or your other connected services) without the need to tap a button or pull out a phone, or read a screen, makes the Echo Buds very welcome.

Early verdict

Amazon may not be the first manufacturer to offer its Alexa assistant in earbuds, but it’s looking likely that it will have made the best yet – at least if Alexa access is your primary concern.

You can get Alexa in other earbuds, but given the ease with which the assistant can be accessed here, and the Bose active noise cancellation onboard, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more feature-rich true wireless pair at this price point. A lack of USB-C or wireless charging may bother some (in which case we recommend you check out our list of the best wireless earbuds 2019 for alternatives), but expect to see these in many happy ears when they launch before the end of the year.

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.