After having my perception of all non-Apple AirPods ruined by some shady £10 in-ear replicas, I didn’t hold out too much hope for these Magic Earbuds from HONOR. They’re available in the UK now and you can find them on the new HONOR website here.
That new website – at hihonor.com has just gone live and, although as I type it’s not showing as yet, on Thursday you should be able to bag these here in the UK for £89.99.
Whenever I review headphones they will, as day follows night, fall into one of two categories. They’re either over-ear and full of bass or in-ear and tinny as a tin-can.
The only headphones to buck that rule were the Apple AirPods, but they’re about £130.
So, these £89.99 headphones from HONOR had a bit to live up to.
From the minute you open the box though, these are pretty impressive. As is usual with most of our reviews, I didn’t bother reading the instructions. I stuffed them in my ears and paired them with my phone and… BOOM.
The sound is very impressive. Position them at a jaunty slightly forward-tilting angle and the bass feels deep and heavy. There’s “Hybrid Active Noise Cancelling Technology” which you’ll want to keep turned on, but you can press and hold either bud to switch of off if you wish. In traffic, in-house or in-flight noise – it’s a massive bonus and makes the music you’re listening too sound better too. You’re instantly in your own bubble.
That “bubble” meant that my wife had to shout at me several times while I was out in the garden. I didn’t hear her. The noise cancelling works that well, and it’s thanks to a dual microphone setup for “Feedforward and Feedback”. Working with inner microphones, they cancel out a massive 32 dB* of unwanted surrounding noise before you hear your music or calls. Even with the volume turned down, the outside world is turned down and you can enjoy your tunes. Press and hold your finger on either earbud and you’ll hear a lady telling you “Noise cancelling off” or “Noise cancelling on”. Not that you need it though, because the difference is massive.
The 10mm drivers work fantastically well and are a definite match to the Apple AirPods we pitched them against. All the tones were there, with the bass and high notes playing well together without any distortion or interference.
When you pair them to your phone, you’ll get an idea on the power remaining. In use, and with the volume whacked up, I got about 3 hours of music before a soft “bing bong” told me that the batteries were running low.
You carry the earbuds around in a pill-shaped charging case which has a 410mAh battery in it. I charged the earbuds three times on this charging case before needing to charge the case itself again. That’s pretty good, and obviously the case doubles as somewhere to store your earbuds so you naturally put them in there and charge them without really thinking about it anyway.
The charging case charges from USB-C port so, once full, you get around 12-13 hours of music play time on the headphones (depending on your volume level etc). It’s really simple to put the earbuds in – magnets pull them into place and push you away if you try and put them in the wrong way round. Nice touch.
Pairing is a simple and quick experience and, once you’ve done the first “Pair” then it’s even faster – the earbuds start up when you take them out of the case and – by the time they’re in your ears – the music is playing. If you install the “AI Life” app then you get a certain degree of control over those button presses, plus you can update firmware, and check the battery usage for each earbud individually.
Those light touch-sensitive presses on the earbuds are, out of the box, a “double tap” to start and stop music, or a “touch and hold” to turn noise control on or off. Thankfully, nothing happens when you tap the earbud once – which is appreciated when you’re putting them in your ears.
Once thing I did miss was the fact that volume couldn’t be adjusted via the earbuds themselves. You have to do that on your phone. That said, it’s not a big loss. The AI Life app will let you change the double-tap shortcuts as shown, but you don’t get much control over that the touch-and-hold press.
Also, if you’re someone who perhaps only wants one earbud in (perhaps you’re sitting at your desk work and don’t want to appear rude), you’ll find that the audio cuts out when you take one earbud out of your ear. This is, I presume for a couple of reasons. First, you usually want the music to stop when you take your earbud out. Secondly, you don’t really want to have the earbuds “out of sync” battery-level-wise (one at 90% and one at 10%). There is a get-around though – you simply put one earbud in the case or bury it deep in your pocket so that the proximity sensor / microphone “thinks” it’s in your ear.
Perhaps the better way of doing it is to turn off the noise cancellation, then you can hear your surroundings more and speak to colleagues etc.
I made a couple of calls on these and it was all so……. natural. The phone calls sounded clear and the other person could hear me well.
In the box there’s also some silicon ear tips – four different sizes – so that you can find the right fit and maximise the sound.
Overall, these are real Apple AirPod challengers. A lovely design, precise fit, great battery life, brilliant sound. If you’re an Android owner and you’re sick of being surrounded by AirPods, get these. Well worth your money.
Head here to get yours.