The age of the hearable is upon us, and 2017 is off to a great start with two exciting options. In the red corner we have Apple's ultra lightweight wireless earphones, the AirPods; in the blue corner it's Doppler Labs with its noise manipulating Here One earbuds.
Both devices share similarities, but their differences are also significant, so we felt we should break down the specifics to give a better idea of which one is a better fit for you. After all, hearables are only just taking off, and it's not only about what these devices can do now, but what they have the potential to become.
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It's time to put these much-talked-about two to the test.
Apple AirPods vs Here One: Design
Yes, we've all heard the joke by now: the Airpods look like little toothbrushes in your ears. Or tiny shower heads. Whatever household appliance you think they most resemble, there's no denying that they're a bit odd looking with their little antenna-like tubes. But if we're honest we don't find them as strange as some folk; there are plenty of more peculiar Bluetooth earbuds out there.
And despite all fears that they'd be dropping out of our ears and down the kitchen sink, they're surprisingly snug, comfortable and light. We've run, jumped, shaken our heads, and not once have the AirPods fallen out. However we do find ourselves slightly adjusting them every so often, as the microphones sometimes lose out to gravity causing the earbuds to shift round slightly. Apple's gone for the same one-size-fits-all approach of its EarPods, so if you can, we'd recommend trying a pair on before you buy.
The Here One look a little more normal, though they're not quite a shining example of subtlety. Unlike Apple's offering, the Here Ones don't extend beyond the ear; they're a pair of chunky circles that, while not sitting flush with your ears, don't jut out too much either. You'll feel less self aware with these in than the AirPods.
They're also heavier than the AirPods but with a deeper, more snug fit inside the ear it doesn't matter, and they feel perfectly fine when they're in. The wingtips are interchangeable too and Doppler gives you six different sizes in the box. Due to the noise-cancelling features they need to sit perfectly snug inside your ear, but it also means they're never at risk of shifting.
In conclusion, both are perfectly comfortable, but the design of the Here Ones and the custom wingtips mean they sit a little better in the ear. They have a less divisive design, too.
Apple AirPods vs Here One: Features
It's here where the differences really start to show. The AirPods are quite simple in comparison, but that's ok because they're not trying to be the Here Ones. Really, these are just wireless Bluetooth earphones for music with the added extra of being able to take calls and talk to Siri. They're meant to be simple to use and easy to forget about when they're in your ears, and to that end they succeed brilliantly.
What we love best about the AirPods is simply how seamless the whole experience is - at least if you're pairing with an iOS device. Setting them up is as simple as opening the charge case next to your iPhone and - hey presto - they're paired. On Android, you'll have to do it manually via Bluetooth settings.
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Once they're paired you can tap on the side one time to pause/play your music, or double tap to talk to Siri; on Android, a double tap will pause or play, but your smart assistant will be MIA. Another feature Android misses out on is auto-pausing when you take the AirPods out.
The Here Ones are a very different beast, one that's about manipulating the sound around you. They're a step up from the Here Active Listening earbuds we reviewed back in 2016; now, they support music streaming too.
Unlike the AirPods, the Here Ones actually filter the sound that passes through their outer microphones and into your ears, allowing you to drown out noisy crowds in coffee shops and low-flying airplanes. Not just noise cancelling, they use signal processing to let you choose what gets through to your eardrums. Most of the control is done through the app, where Doppler has created some pre-set filters for common scenarios such as restaurants or planes. There are even configurations that focus all sound from a person sat in front of you, or even behind. You can get quite granular too, playing around with different frequencies and adding effects like reverb and echo to "remix" the world around you.
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There are a few tap features on the earphones themselves; one tap will bypass any filters you've put on in case someone starts talking to you, which also pauses your music - as does taking one out of an ear, just like the AirPods. A double tap will summon Siri or Google Now/Assistant, depending on your choice of smartphone.
On features, the Here Ones definitely win out. That said, they're a little less intuitive to use, and less seamless than the AirPods. They're also more limited in smartphone compatibility: right now the only Android phones they work with are the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S7. That will change, promises Doppler, but make sure your handset is supported before you pick up a pair.
Apple AirPods vs Here One: Sound quality
You know what? The AirPods are better than expected in the sound department, which surprised us when we first put them in. Apple's EarPods aren't terrible, but they're not known for being fantastic either. The AirPods are noticeably better, with decent bass and a warmer sound than we're used to from Apple's own. No, they're still not brilliant, and the biggest problem is the lack of sealing that means they do let outside sound in (and not in the cool Here One way). However only the audiophiles are going to take issue with quality itself; for everyone else, they do a good job across different genres.
When it comes to phone calls, the sound is a little less clear, though the microphone pickup has been pleasantly accurate in our testing. We should also add that there's sometimes a problem with Android where the max volume is capped far too low. It's fixable, but you'll have to disconnect and repair. Effort.
The Here Ones definitely outpace the AirPods in terms of sound quality. Active noise cancelling works a treat and Doppler has worked hard to make a Bluetooth earphone that will put a smile on the fact of audiophiles. The bass is fuller, the overall sound nice and clear, and of course you're not going to have any ambient noise leaking in - unless you choose to. But with phone calls again, the sound has been a bit murky in testing, for both us and the person on the other end.
In both cases, problems sometimes arise with the Bluetooth connection. With the AirPods we find this happens most frequently when pairing them with an Android device. With the Here Ones, we've been using them with an iPhone, and the problem has been annoying at times. In both cases it's usually a case of stuttering, and something we hope Doppler and Apple can stamp out through updates.
Apple AirPods vs Here One: Price
At $159 the AirPods win the price war. Doppler's earphones will cost you a fair chunk more than that at $299. But then, as we've said, the Here One earphones do a lot more too, so the proportionally larger price tag is justified.
Apple AirPods vs Here One: Battery
Battery life is the Achilles' heel of many wearables, and on the Here One it's particularly terrible. Just streaming music alone will get a maximum of about two hours; three hours if you're only use sound filters. Like the AirPods, the Here One case doubles as a charger, and is good for about three goes before you'll have to plug that in too. Chances are you'll be using a mix of filters and music, so you'll be hearing the low battery warning a lot.
The AirPods are much better on battery, getting you a maximum of five hours on a single charge. A fully-charged case will also give your AirPods an additional 24 hours of battery, and it boosts them back up impressively fast too. Just 15 minutes in the case will get you three hours of playback; the Here Ones take an hour to get to 100%.
Apple AirPods vs Here One: Potential
The age of hearables is also the age of updates, and already Apple and Doppler have deployed some for their hearables. When we spoke to Doppler Labs CEO Noah Kraft he talked plans to improve the existing Here Ones with new pre-set filters, auto mixes based on your location, and even a live translation feature.
With the AirPods there's perhaps a bit less potential for any big changes without a hardware refresh, but who knows? Apple could certainly improve connectivity and maybe gesture functions, but the things we'd really like to see - including fitness features top of the list - will likely have to wait until the AirPods 2.
In terms of potential for both brands and ideas however, this is clearly just the start. We can't wait to see what the next iteration of both devices bring.
Apple AirPods vs Here One: Verdict
Both of these hearables are great in their own way. If we had to pick a winner, it would be the Here Ones because of their impressive noise filtering and superb sound quality. But the beautiful simplicity of Apple's AirPods gives them their own advantage and charm, and if you're an iPhone user they're some of the best Bluetooth headphones you can get your hands on; for Android users, they're a little less impressive.
Hearables are only going to get better, and while the Here Ones win this showdown, both have left us incredibly excited for the wire-free future.