Some wireless earphones and earbuds cost a small fortune, so what can you expect from the budget end of the market? Clearly, they won’t be as good, but they may be good enough for daily use.
Search for wireless earbuds or earphones and you will find some that cost over £1,000 (or dollars). They make Apple AirPods at £169 seem cheap. However, search at online stores like Amazon and you will find wireless earphones for as little as £15. Some are even one penny, but when you add the delivery charge, they are £15 or more.
Surely budget wireless earbuds cannot be that good for such a low price? Well, I tried some, with the catchy name of:
Wireless Headphones, Wireless Earbuds Bluetooth 5.0 Headphones 3D HiFi Stereo Headphones Noise Cancellation in-Ear Built-in Mic with Charging Case, Earphones for iPhone / Samsung / Xiaomi / Android / IOS
That is a title clearly designed to catch every search term. If you want to look at them, here are the wireless earphones I bought on Amazon UK (affiliate link).
The box says TWS True Wireless Stereo i12, so I will call them the TWS i12 for short.
Earbuds vs earphones: Earphones go into your ear canal; earbuds sit outside of the ear canal.
TWS i12 unboxed
These budget wireless earbuds are very similar to Apple AirPods and with a brief glance, you would think they were the real thing. They come in a charging case just like Apple AirPods and a small cable to connect the case to a USB socket is provided.
Open the case and the TWS i12 earbuds go into pairing mode. These are Bluetooth 5.0 devices, so they should work with most Android phones and iPhones, and other devices made in the last few years. On an Android phone for example, open Settings > Connections > Bluetooth and you will see i12 listed. Tap it and it connects.
There is an almost invisible button on the case. Press it, open the case, remove the earbuds and they automatically connect to the last device, your phone, and are ready to use in a second or two.
(It is important that your phone and earbuds support the same Bluetooth version. Don’t get Bluetooth 5.2 earbuds for a phone with 5.0 Bluetooth. Google “PhoneModel Bluetooth version”)
There is a manual in the box, but it is so small it is unreadable. I had to take a photo from a couple of inches away and then still had to zoom in right in to read it. The poor English doesn’t help. Setting up and using the earbuds would have been a lot easier and quicker with readable instructions, but I managed eventually.
TWS i12 earbuds controls
The earbuds respond to taps, short and long presses. For example, a single tap starts and stops whatever is playing on the phone, such as music or a podcast. It is also used to accept a phone call. Tap twice on the left earphone to decrease the volume, double tap on the right earphone to increase the volume. Three taps left or right is next and previous tracks.
Long press for three seconds accesses Siri (I was using an Android phone, so I didn’t try this), and long press for five seconds to power off.
TWS i12 earbuds battery life
The battery life of these budget wireless earbuds is probably the weakest link in the specifications. Maybe that is why they are so cheap. You can expect 2 to 3 hours of listening before they need to be popped back in the case to recharge. This can be done four times, so the total time is between 8 and 12 hours. For comparison, Apple AirPods work for 6 hours and 30 hours using the charging case.
I tend not to use earbuds for more than two hours at a time anyway, and with at least 8 hours in total, it will get me through several days before the case needs to be plugged into a charger. The battery life is adequate for me, but there are always some people that want more battery life.
TWS i12 earbuds sound quality
If you are worried about the sound quality, you should not be looking at £10 earbuds! (£15 with postage.) They are not the best, but they aren’t terrible, they aren’t bad, and I would even go as far as to say that they are OK. I find them OK anyway.
For the price, they are probably better than you might expect. I mostly listen to podcasts, which is speech, and it is clear and easy on the ear. Listening to music is OK too. Just don’t expect perfect music production on them. It’s good, but not the best.
The TWS i12 budget wireless earbuds are cheap, they work with phones, tablets and computers with Bluetooth 5.0, they last for at least a couple of hours and can be recharged four times with the case. They sound OK and you can control the music and phone calls with various taps.
Some people are only interested in the best audio quality and these are not for them. However, I can imagine some scenarios where they are very useful.
One is when you don’t want to use your expensive high-quality earbuds. For example, going to the gym or for a run, or doing some other activity where you will sweat a lot. Also, there may be places that are not good for earbuds, like the beach. The thing is, it costs next to nothing to buy new earphones if you ruin them. Save your expensive earbuds for less risky activities.
These earbuds are great for children. Firstly, they look like Apple AirPods, so they won’t be embarrassed to use them. Secondly, they are cheap to replace when they lose them, which they probably will sooner or later. Better lose these than the real thing.
Finally, some people don’t need perfect audio. These aren’t the best, but they sound OK to me, and I mostly listen to podcasts anyway. I like them.