Amazon’s new Echo Buds are a nice upgrade

It’s hard to recall a consumer electronics category that matured quite as quickly as the fully wireless earbuds. Things went from a handful of plucky startups to virtually every hardware manufacturer over the course of a year or two. When Amazon entered the category, it did so in an already arguably overcrowded field.

The first question you have to answer when you’re late to the party is what you’re bringing to the table. Ultimately, the original Echo Buds didn’t have a particularly compelling answer to the question in a world where you can pick up a pair of Ankers for $40. There were a smattering of other issues, as well, that ultimately ended in a pretty lukewarm write-up from me.

A little over a year later, the Buds are back. And to its credit, Amazon has both addressed some of the concerns with the original and offered a pretty solid upgrade over the original models. What’s more, the company added some features that other companies have saved for Pro models, while keeping the price at a reasonable $129.

I’ve been using the Echo Buds as my go-to headphones for several days now and can say, overall, I’ve enjoyed the experience. The product inhabits a kind of middle ground — I would still recommend a number of other products in the “Price Is No Object” category, and the Buds are not cheap enough to qualify for the low end.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The new Echo Buds occupy a similar price point as Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus — and in a number of ways compare favorably. Most notable is the inclusion of active noise canceling, which has thus far mostly been the domain of more premium models. Amazon’s latest don’t offer the best ANC — nor really the best of anything — but they do form a well-rounded offering for the price point.

As Amazon has experienced with Alexa, the company’s at a disadvantage when competing directly with the likes of Apple, Google and Samsung, which can build devices that tie directly into their handsets. Amazon’s attempts at creating its own handsets have thus far failed, so the company has been forced to find another way to differentiate itself.

That has largely meant Alexa — and frankly, at the end of the day, the Echo Buds are really another way for the company to serve up its smart assistant. Built-in Alexa is mostly a selling point if you’re already invested in that ecosystem. I tend to prefer Assistant — especially given all of the other Google software offerings it integrates with, but for many intents and purposes, the personal assistants are often interchangeable.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The new Buds are a fair bit smaller than their predecessors — but they’re not small exactly. They’re still a bit on the bulky side, and while they stayed put when using them indoors, I found they came loose a few times on a five-mile walk I did over the weekend. In that case, you’ll probably want to opt for the silicone cover, which sports small wings to better keep them in place. Probably the best option as well, if you’re planning to exercise with them in.

A weird design oversight here, however: I found the charging case doesn’t close all the way when the covers are on. The case doesn’t fully snap shut, and I learned the hard way last night that charging can be a bit tricky (in fact, I just got a “battery below 10%” warning in the right ear, while the left if currently in the high 90s. If you do end up using the wings, it’s best to pull them off after your workout — they’re also a bit on the snug side for too much extended use.

As Matt recently noted, the case is strongly…inspired by Apple. The differences are more pronounced when the two are next to one another, but the similarity is pretty undeniable:

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The case is longer and a little cheaper to the touch. Though the different shape does have the added bonus of being able to sit upright. For this reason, the charging port (USB-C) is on the rear of the case, rather than the bottom. There’s also a wireless charging case option, though that’s going to run you an added $20 — but probably worth it if you’ve got a Qi charger handy. There’s an Amazon arrow logo on the case (the company can’t help itself with the branding), but it’s subtle and located on the bottom. You’ll also find a light arrow on one of the earbuds.

The pair Amazon sent are “glacier white,” which is really more of a light gray. Again, it’s that much more pronounced when compared to the AirPods. Perhaps it’s a subtle way to further distinguish the design from Apple’s? Who knows.

Pairing is fairly easy. It’s not quite like using AirPods on an iPhone or Galaxy Buds on a Samsung, but it’s a couple of quick taps in the Alexa app. The company made the app the focal point of the Echo Buds for good reason. It serves as ground zero for everything you do on all of your Alexa-enabled devices. At a certain point, however, it may be time to consider breaking the app up a bit. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword — nobody needs more apps, but the thing is extremely noisy at this point.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The upshot is that when the Buds are opened and paired, it surfaces the devices to the front. Tapping in lets you toggle between ANC and Pass Through modes (to my annoyance, I found that it would often default to the mode I wasn’t using when I put the Buds on for the first time in a while), turn the mic on and off and start Workout mode, which is opt-in. For people looking for more consistent workout tracking, an always-on wearable like a band or watch is a better choice.

The sound is a nice upgrade over the previous models. As with noise canceling, you can get better audio on more expensive systems, but for where this sits on the price spectrum, you’re getting solid sound for music, podcasting or calls. By default, it leans too heavily on bass for my preferences, but a few taps will take you to some equalizer sliders, where you can futz around with that.

The Bluetooth connection is pretty solid. I found I was able to walk around my apartment while leaving the iPhone in one place — a test failed by a number of the earbuds I’ve tested. I did, however, encounter some sync issues from time to time between the left and right bud when I was walking outside for long distances, creating an echoing effect. They can also send a sharp bit of feedback when held next to one another, owing to the fact that they don’t always instantly switch off when pulled out of the ear.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The stated battery is up to five hours on the Buds (6.5 with ANC off), and 15 total hours with the case. Compare that to the listed 4.5 and five hours on the AirPods and AirPods Pro and 24 hours with case. I certainly found I was able to get through a full day of use by dipping into the case once or twice.

The new Echo Buds present on upgrade over their predecessors on just about every level, making for a solid pair of mid-price earbuds. They don’t really address the “why” that their predecessor failed to. For Amazon, it’s about getting Alexa on more products. For consumers, the answer isn’t quite so easy.



Amazon’s latest Echo Buds are a shameless Apple knock-off

This is Amazon’s latest hardware product: The redesigned Alexa earbuds. TechCrunch covered the announcement here, where the specs and capabilities are listed. I’m sure they work fine, too, but the case design is a blatant rip-off of Apple’s AirPod Pros.

This is just lazy.

Amazon has a long history of selling and promoting lookalikes, copycats, and clones of other products. Likewise, the retailer sued third-party sellers for doing the same thing. Amazon also has been accused of investing in companies and later producing clones of the products. In 2020 CEO Jeff Bezos testified on this subject in front of a congressional hearing where he couldn’t guarantee the company would end this process. Often the products Amazon copies come from small startups without the resources to fight a giant like Amazon.

Last month California-based Peak Design took to YouTube to protest Amazon’s unabashed copy of one of Peak’s top products. As Peak points out, Amazon’s take is a cheap knockoff made from lower quality materials and without Peak Design’s ethical manufacturing. The video quickly went viral, amassing over 4.5 million hits and highlighting Amazon’s shady practices.

For the latest Echo Buds, Amazon copied a market leader instead of a small startup. To recap, Amazon, a company worth over a trillion dollars, just released a product that looks essentially identical to a top-selling product from Apple, a company worth 2 trillion dollars.

The Echo Buds are much less expensive than Apple’s $250 AirPod Pros, too. The standard Echo Buds costs $100, and the version with wireless charging runs $120. It’s important to note the wireless buds themselves do not look like AirPods. Amazon only copied the ubiquitous AirPod Pro case.

The consumer is the loser here. With more resources than many countries, Amazon can produce world-class products, yet it decided to copy a rival’s market-leading product. In the end, it’s easier (and cheaper) to follow trends than become a trendsetter.

Peak Design takes on Amazon

Amazon’s Alexa earbuds return with a smaller design and wireless charging

It’s been about a year and a half since Amazon released the first Echo Buds. I reviewed them when they arrived, and they were, I don’t know, fine, I guess. They were a bit on the cheap side, facing some stiff competition in the category and, honestly, the idea of wearing Alexa on my head still isn’t super exciting to me.

But for a first attempt at the space, they weren’t bad. And now the company’s giving it a second go, with some tweaks to the original formula. Top of the list is a redesign that shrinks them 20% and makes them a bit lighter weight. The nozzle is smaller, which should make them more comfortable for longer periods, coupled with four ear tip sizes. The headphones are rated IPX4 for sweat and weather resistance.

Image Credits: Amazon

Amazon has moved on from the predecessor’s Bose noise canceling to its own proprietary tech, which it says can effectively double V1. There’s also an optional case that supports wireless charging via Qi, à la AirPods. The white case, in particular, looks…rather familiar.

That case runs an extra $20 over the $120 asking price for the USB-C case. Though Amazon’s running a limited-time deal to get the standard for $100 and the wireless charging version for $120. They’re also throwing in six months of Amazon Music Unlimited and Audible Plus. The new buds are also available in white. They’re up for preorder today and start shipping in May.

Image Credits: Amazon

Future software updates will bring a new VIP Filter to the headphones. Introduced on the Echo Frames, the feature lets users filter notifications from select senders. In addition to Alexa, the buds can also be set to access Siri or Google Assistant.

Amazon’s Echo Buds get new fitness tracking features

I wasn’t super impressed when I reviewed the Echo Buds around this time last year, but Amazon’s first shot at Alexa-powered fully wireless earbuds was passable. And while they’ve already been on the market for a while now, the company’s continuing to deliver some key updates, including today’s addition of new fitness features.

Say “Alexa, start my workout” with the buds in, and they’ll begin logging steps, calories, distance, pace and duration of runs. Like many new software additions, this one will take a few days to roll out for everyone. This one also requires users to enable the new tracking feature using the Alexa app.

Once enabled, you can state/ask follow-ups, like:

  • “Alexa, start my run”
  • “Alexa, pause my walk”
  • “Alexa, end my workout”
  • “Alexa, how far have I run?”
  • “Alexa, what’s my pace?”
  • “Alexa, how was my workout?”

Asking, “Alexa, how was my workout?” After the fact will pull up your historical running stats.

As I noted previously, the Echo Buds didn’t really do much to set themselves apart from myriad other earbuds, though there certainly was a lot to be said for the price — then $130. At the moment, they’re discounted much further, now running $80 — which makes them a solidly competitive deal.

Amazon Echo Buds review

It’s a wonder that Echo Buds didn’t arrive sooner. Earbuds (I still can’t write “hearables” without cringing a bit) are the clearest path to making Alexa work outside of the home. Amazon, after all, has been unable to crack the smartphone category. Half a decade later, the Fire Phone is little more than a historical curiosity, while Google and Apple have had massive mobile footprints to spread their smart assistants. 

Amazon has dabbled in mobile, with a downloadable Alexa app and Fire Tablet functionality. Last year, the company announced the Alexa Mobile Accessory Kit, which is designed to bring the AI to more devices. Certainly it makes sense as a third-party partner for companies that don’t have the resources or desire to develop their own assistant. The latest Fitbit Versa might be the best example of such an alliance.

From a pure user experience standpoint, however, headphones are the most logical conduit. They’re positioned closest to the mouth for voice commands via microphone and, obviously, offer a direct route into the ear for Alexa responses. In waiting to see how the market shakes out, the company has ceded potential market share.


There’s a lot about the Echo Buds that would have made them an excellent addition to the category two or three years ago. But the category is among the fastest moving in consumer electronics. Samsung, Sony and Apple/Beats all have excellent offerings, and Amazon opening up Alexa to hardware companies has all but assured that third-party products from companies will eclipse the Echo Buds shortly.

The company does get some things right on its first go. If there’s one thing the Echo Buds really have going for them, it’s customization. For the earbuds themselves, that means not only the customary replaceable silicone tips, but also wings to help them stay in place in the ear. I’ve never been a fan of the hard plastic wings, but the soft silicone covers that slip over the buds are a nice touch.

They’re available in three sizes, so you should be able to find a decent fit. Once everything is in place, the buds should form a nice seal to keep sound in and unwanted ambient noise out. For my money, though, the PowerBeats Pro are still the best on the market when it comes to fit. The over-the-ear design keeps them from straining your ears after an extended period. Amazon’s solution is fairly elegant, as well.

The rest of the customization — and just about everything else, for that matter — is done in the app. Without its own operating system, the Echo Buds don’t have quite the same out of the box pairing experience as first-party Apple or Android headphones. That said, once you’ve downloaded the app, pairing is painless. For those who have other Echo devices, there’s probably something to be said for having all of your Echo devices in a single spot.


From here, you can customize the touch gestures. By default, a double tap on the left or right ear toggles between active noise reduction (not full-on cancelation) and pass-through modes, while pressing and holding fires up Alexa. The nice thing about this is the ability to reduce accidental triggers. That’s probably my biggest complaint with the Galaxy Buds — the slightest adjustment triggers the touch. The app also offers a built-in equalizer, with sliders for bass, mid and treble, along with a five-level slider for the pass-through ambient mode.

The sound isn’t bad for the price, once you’ve got a nice seal and a the settings to your liking. Sony’s spring to mind both for the quality of the audio and the active noise canceling, but they’re priced at nearly double Amazon’s. I suppose we’ll be able to compare it to Apple’s in the near future, but again, pricing is a major consideration. I like the idea of pass through mode more than the actual implementation. The concept is a nice one — the ability to let in your surroundings. The ambient sound feature leans a little too heavily on the microphones. I wouldn’t recommend having it anywhere above a one out of four. Things like an AC unit were amplified to a point that was overwhelming.


Alexa, meanwhile, is still very much a home assistant, but Amazon should be building upon that as it makes a more aggressive push. This early implementation was a little buggy in the first go. Asking for the news, Alexa had trouble connecting to NPR, and instead just gave me the weather. Trying to get the assistant to fire up noise reduction with my took a couple of goes, but in both cases, I eventually got them to work. On a whole, however, the microphone did a good job recognizing commands. 

The design of the buds themselves is fairly generic, but that’s perfectly fine. The charging case, meanwhile, is a pretty reasonable size, somewhere between the AirPods’ little dental floss case and the massive PowerBeats Pros. It’s small enough to carry around in your pocket — one of my biggest issues with Beats’ otherwise terrific earbuds. The materials are certainly on the cheap size, and the inclusion of a microUSB slot in 2019 certainly gives the industry of a company working hard to keep prices down. 

At $130, they’re priced $30 less than the standard AirPods 2. Amazon would have done well to go all in on pricing here — $99 would have been a really solid sweet spot for the company — well below other premium earbuds. That’s still a decent premium over off-brand buds, but a familiar name — and assistant — would surely carry some weight with Amazon shoppers. And given that much of the market has settled at between $150 and $250, they’re a downright deal by comparison. 


Amazon will almost certainly sell plenty, and knowing Amazon, we may see some decent discounts around the holidays. And hey, with Apple’s recent announcement of $249 AirPod Pros, that $130 price tag just got a whole lot more appealing.

Ears-on with Amazon’s new Echo earbuds, framebuds, and ringbud

Amazon announced more than a few devices today during an event at its headquarters in Seattle, and it was the smallest gadgets that made the biggest impression. The company built Alexa into earbuds, glasses, and a ring with the Echo Buds, Echo Frames, and Echo Loop. I’ve tried them all out.

The ones people are most likely to actually want are the earbuds, of course. With Bose noise reduction and Alexa functions built in, they’ll be a popular option for anyone for anyone who doesn’t want to take out their phone, but also doesn’t want to wear large over-hear headphones.

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The Echo Buds are somewhat large — bigger than several sets of wireless headphones I’ve seen and tried, though they were comfortable after being corkscrewed into my ear.

They have two modes: noise reduction and passthrough, which you switch between with a double tap on either bud. The noise reduction was considerable but certainly not to the level you’d expect from a pair of over-ears. In-ear headphones already provide a physical barrier to sound getting in, but the addition of three microphones on each ear (two external and one internal) let it do the usual electronic reduction as well. I could still hear the crowd around me and people speaking to me, but it was easily drowned out by the Billie Eilish song they queued up.

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Passthrough provided a quick and clear version of surrounding audio with no noticeable delay. Music and other stuff can still be played in this mode and it blended pretty seamlessly in.

Of course the Echo Buds, like pretty much everything else at the event, have Alexa built in. You get at the service via wake word, a process that worked well for me.

Their little case looks more fiddly than it is. Magnets snap the contacts onto each other and it begins charging immediately. You should get some 4-5 hours with the buds, out to 20 hours if you drain the case too.

About five feet away from these headphones, and with a half hour wait to test out, were the new Echo Frames. These glasses can be customized with your prescription, though sadly the design and material are locked in.

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The oversized arms of the glasses house the Alexa hardware, and while the glasses themselves are pretty light, the thickness is definitely noticeable from any angle. The underside of the right arm has an activation button and a volume rocker, as well as the port for magnetic charging. The big shiny sides are touch sensitive; You swipe to accept a call, respond to Alexa offering more info, and so on.

The sound is a bit like someone whispering in your ear — you wouldn’t want to listen to music on these, the Amazon folks admitted. But speech was clear and Alexa commands were handled quickly.

The speakers aren’t exactly hidden: Each arm has two speakers inside, each of which has two “ports,” one on top and one on bottom. I asked the demonstrator probably five times why there are ports on the top if the sound needs to come out the bottom, but all she would say is that it’s how they made the directional audio work.

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Perhaps that’s also why I could hear the Alexa responses from a foot or two away in a crowded room. You can configure it so only certain things get played automatically, which is good, because if the person on the bus next to me heard some of the texts I get, they might be alarmed.

Honestly it’s not much worse, though a bit clearer, than if someone is using bad earbuds. Just be aware that if you use these things, others might be hearing that whispered text conversation too.

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Last, and weirdest, is the Echo Loop. It’s a big fat ring that you can use to ask Alexa questions and hear the answers. The big part with the dots isn’t actually the speaker, but rather part of the microphone array — presumably for subtracting ambient noise so the speech recognition works better. The inside of the ring is where you’ll find the tiny speaker — the smallest of any Amazon device, it was said — and mic.

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You tap a button to activate Alexa, and the ring will vibrate to let you know it’s time to talk. You then ask your hand the question you have in mind, and afterwards cup the ring to your ear — right up to it, because this speaker is tiny. A second or two later, out comes Alexa’s voice, sounding like an old transistor radio, telling you the weather in Barcelona or whatever.

Does it work? Yes, it does. It’s a ring you can ask questions. The speaker is pretty quiet and you need to find the right position to hear it well (admittedly it was fairly loud in the room), but the ring speaks.

It’s not for everybody, which is why it, along with the glasses, are part of the new Day One Edition series of questionable devices. But if you can think of a way it might be useful, be assured: It works as advertised.

Amazon’s Echo Buds bring Alexa to your earholes

Amazon had a lot of surprises at this morning’s big event in Seattle. This one, however, we saw coming from a mile away. Echo Buds are the company’s attempt to compete with the likes of AirPods by bringing its smart assistant directly to wearers’ ears.

Priced at $129, the wireless earbuds are relatively inexpensive as far as brand names go. We can’t really speak to quality right now, but Amazon has teamed up with Bose for these to bring active noise cancelation. That’s accessible with a tap, similar to what Sony introduced with its own earbuds.

The product is clearly designed to help Alexa grow outside of the home, a market the company hasn’t captured as well as native mobile assistants like Siri and Google Assistant. That said, Amazon is also giving users the ability to access those assistants native to the user’s mobile phone.

As with the rest of the products announced at the event, Echo Buds are available for preorder starting today.