I.Am+ Buttons hands-on
“Will.i.am’s natural sounding I.am+ Buttons earbuds may be the most comfortable we’ve worn”
- Very comfortable
- Wide range of fitting options
- Natural, balanced sound
- Unusual, sci-fi cool design
- No noise cancelation
Will.i.am should stick to music. We’re not snidely saying that because the famous musician’s previous tech projects haven’t been all that great, but because we’ve tried out his I.am+ Buttons Bluetooth earphones, and they are a very different product to what we’ve seen from Will.i.am before. How different? Well, they’re good. Really good. It’s immediately obvious music is his forte, and not huge, misjudged smartwatches.
The Buttons are marketed under his I.Am+ company name, and at their most basic are a pair of Bluetooth connected earphones, much like the many other pairs we’ve seen. The two earbuds are connected together by a short, braided cable with an in-line remote; but the design isn’t like a regular set. The disc-shaped cover really singles them out, and it’s a strikingly modern, unusual design, reminding us more of Audeze’s iSine 20’s than a set of Beats, or Samsung Level In model. They come in a wide array of colors, including a cool silvery grey and a fashionable, color-of-the-moment rose gold. Some of the color combinations, such as the beautiful black and space grey, are Apple Store exclusives.
The design’s really cool, they sound top-notch, and fit superbly.
While design is important, especially when they’re from an obviously fashion-forward brand like I.Am+, if they sound like a set of tin cans strapped to your ears, no one will want to wear them. Here’s the surprise: They sound awesome. Having played with Will.i.am’s smartwatch in the past, I put the Buttons in my ears with relatively low expectations. The test tracks belting into my ears in a loud room sounded super crisp, with a balanced stage and no hint of an over-powering bass line. Vocals were natural, and there was plenty of detail in the midrange. This wasn’t my choice of music playing, yet I wanted to carry on listening, which says plenty about the quality of the Buttons.
On top of this, and perhaps the thing I liked the most, was the excellent fit. Buttons are in-ears, and with that comes all the associated problems. Getting them to stay in your ears can be a challenge. If you’re not messing around with different tips, you’re pushing the damn things back in to properly seal while at the gym or walking around town. The Buttons come with a box full of different tips and fittings, giving you the best chance of finding one that suits your ears. My ears are often awkward, and I can rarely find the right fit.
With Buttons, after trying a few different options, a set of small tips with wings did the job very well. Comfortable and quite secure, a workout would be possible wearing the Buttons, despite not being a sports earbud. They’re light too, and didn’t “hang” from my ears like some other models. The wing is a separate piece to the tip, so you can even mix and match to get them just right for you. It’s a solid benefit.
The design’s really cool, they sound top-notch, and fit superbly. Is there anything wrong with the Buttons? The battery life is a little disappointing, eight hours fully charged, which is similar to the competition and not outstanding; but they do have a 120-hour standby, and you won’t have to constantly turn them on and off to conserve battery life. The buds magnetically clip together when they’re hanging around your neck too, ready to show them off even when not in use like a piece of techy jewellery.
Then there’s the price. These are a premium product, with a big-name attached, and therefore you’re going to have to splash out. The Buttons cost $170, or 170 British pounds. That’s more than Apple’s AirPods, more than Bose Soundsports, the JayBird X3s, and the same as Beats Powerbeats 3. The Buttons are definitely targeting the big players, and by pricing itself above several very desirable models — the AirPods being the best example here — is a risk. It’s also unfortunate, because while the Buttons sounds great, they didn’t sound better than my Jaybird X3s. However, they genuinely do fit much, much better. If, like me, you’re frustrated by poorly fitting in-ear Bluetooth earbuds, then check out Will.i.am’s Buttons, and don’t be put off by his previous tech endeavours. He knows about music, and it really shows.
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