A few years ago the idea of totally wireless Bluetooth earbuds seemed like a crazy fantasy. Fast forward to 2016 and the technology has arrived, but it's still a work in progress. Some products over-promise and under deliver. Others have failed to materialize entirely.
Then there's Apollo 7, a pair of wireless earbuds launching today on Kickstarter for as little as $249 ($299 full retail price). Created by California company Erato, these earbuds offer impressive hardware and just the right combination of features without any big compromises. They may just be the best pair of wireless earbuds on the market, at least for now,
I spent a few weeks testing out a pair of Apollo 7 earbuds and I'm ready to walk you through my findings on the hardware, software and how it all comes together so seamlessly.
Design and Hardware:
I really love the Apollo 7 design, everything from the individual earbuds to the carrying case (more on that later) shows a deep attention to detail. Each earbud is a little larger than I would like, but that's because Erato had to pack in a speaker, a microphone, Bluetooth support and wireless charging. You'll never really forget there's a gadget in your ear, which is a good thing if you're worried about losing them.
The most common question I got during testing was whether they ever fell out. My answer evolved over time, but the truth is that it's complicated. They stayed in my ears for the most part and never came out when I wore one while biking for Google Maps turn-by-turn directions. But other times they popped out for no clear reason. I began to realize that moving my mouth to speak or eat was actually flexing my ear muscles and loosening the earbuds.
When an earbud did fall out, I was often able to catch it before it hit the ground. When it fell to the street, I typically brushed it off and stuck it back in my ear. If you're a germaphobe, and you just shuddered at the thought of my disgusting behavior, don't worry, the Apollo 7 design is actually water-resistant so you can simply rinse them off. Once the earbuds dry off, they're ready to go again.
The earbuds were almost entirely invisible hidden beneath my curly hair. That made it easy to listen to music in secret, but it also led to a few situations where someone tried talking to me and I couldn't hear them. Thankfully, it's easy to pause the music by clicking a single button on either earbud.
That single button also lets you turn Apollo 7 on or off, switch between songs, control the volume, answer calls, and even trigger Siri or Google Now. Accessing some of the more complicated controls was beyond me. I couldn't reliably skip songs without pulling out my phone, but switching on Siri and giving a voice command actually worked pretty well. Turning the Apollo 7 off using the button was also difficult, but simply placing the earbuds in their case will cause them to power down automatically. Problem solved.
I wasn't expecting much from these earbuds when it came to audio quality, but I was pleasantly surprised. They sound just as good as any standard pair of wired or Bluetooth earbuds. There's not a ton of bass, but you don't lose it entirely either.
If you're not a fan of Bluetooth these probably aren't for you. Personally, I don't have any issue with the technology when it comes to transferring audio. I know some people hate it, and if you're one of those people you probably stopped reading a while ago anyway.
Even just listening to one earbud you'll get a decent sound, but with both connected the experience is a lot better. I was particularly impressed to learn that the Apollo 7 can even handle stereo recordings, placing separate sounds in each ear when they're synced up.
Call quality is also surprisingly good for such a tiny device. To test that feature, I called my brother and he said my voice was coming through loud and clear. We carried out a quick conversation without any issue and I hung up by simply clicking the button on the earbud.
I've already mentioned having some issues with the single-button controls. When I told Erato, a company representative said the software is still being finalized, and the official version that ships in June should work a lot better. Even so, I never ran into any issues that made it impossible to use the earbuds. I was never even frustrated enough to put them away and switch back to regular headphones.
Battery management could also use a little work on the software side. Battery life is actually pretty great, but when it does start to run low, you'll hear a constant warning of "Battery Low" in your ear every few minutes until they finally die. That seems unnecessary, and it makes it impossible to enjoy your last 30 minutes of battery life.
Battery life really should be an issue for these tiny little earbuds, but it isn't. That's mostly thanks to the charging case, which packs a 300mAh battery and charges Apollo 7 automatically whenever they're stored away. Combined with the 50mAh 3-hour battery in each earbud, you have enough power to last anywhere from a few days to a week depending on how often you use them.
The Apollo 7 case is just as well designed as the earbuds, with a sleek aluminum frame that fit easily in my pocket. The charging dock slides with a satisfying click, and each earbud snaps in without any trouble thanks to a 360-degree charging pad. There's also a built-in microUSB port for recharging the case and indicator lights so you know when it's powering up.
I did notice that Erato's white logo is already starting to fade from the case after a few weeks of regular use. That doesn't really both me, though, and the space gray-colored aluminum is holding up well without any noticeable scratches.
At this point, I'm pretty smitten with Apollo 7. I'd recommend them to any techie who loves listening to music and doesn't mind paying a little extra to be an early adopter. $250 certainly isn't cheap, especially when a regular pair of earbuds go for as little as $10. But it's worth it for an impressive forward-thinking product that really delivers on all its promises.
Apollo 7 is available on Kickstarter now. It comes in space gray, silver, gold or rose gold with matching charging case. It's set to ship in June, but delays are always possible.