If you're an iPhone user, it's worth considering a pair of headphones that use Apple's proprietary H1 (or older W1) chip. The chip makes Bluetooth pairing even easier—there's no need to open the Settings menu, as your phone automatically prompts you to connect whenever the headphones are nearby. The chip also makes for a more stable connection and increased wireless range.
All headphones are technically “portable,” but we use the term to describe small, lightweight models, some of which can be folded and tucked away in a pocket or purse when not in use. This category also includes earbuds for use with smartphones—those that come with a microphone and in-line controls for volume, skipping tracks, and connecting or disconnecting calls. Note that while smaller, lighter headphones are often more comfortable than their bulkier brethren, you might trade sound quality for comfort.
Earbud-style headphones range from the disposable models you get on a plane to the ones that are included with your smartphone to high-performance buds that offer sonics rivaling full-size models. Their tiny earpieces rest on the outer ear or need to be inserted into the ear canal, and some models, particularly sport buds, include wings or fins for a more tailored, secure fit.
Bose is promising five hours of listening time on a single charge, which is just above the 4.5-hour threshold we feel is the minimum for a pleasant experience. You’ll get another 10 hours from the case, which isn’t great against today’s competition, but you can squeeze another 45 minutes of usage out of a 15-minute charge, and at least it only takes two hours for a full top-up. The Bose Soundsport Free have other neat features to justify its high-end cost, like NFC pairing with your iPhone or Android smartphone, IPX4 water resistance, interchangeable ear tips, and a tracking feature for finding lost buds.
For those who want to make sure that their earbuds don't fall out during exercise, the Jaybird Vista Truly Wireless are worth considering. They don't have the battery life of the Samsung Galaxy Buds Truly Wireless, but the 5.5 hours of playtime should be enough to get you through your workout, with the charging case providing an extra 2 charges should you run low. They come with a selection of tips and fins to help you get the most secure fit, so you can focus on your workout and forget you even have them on. As always, these earbuds are compatible with Jaybird's great companion app, which lets you tune the sound to your liking, from presets to a parametric EQ, to even sound profiles created by other users.
I'm not sure they sound quite as good as the Sony WF-1000XM3, but they certainly sound like premium true wireless earphones, with rich sound that includes powerful bass performance and lots of detail. Some people may have some quibbles over the fit -- I had to supply my own XL tips to get a tight seal and found the Anker's Soundcore Liberty Air 2 a little more comfortable -- but the Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro are a good value. They also work very well for making calls (they do a good job reducing background sound).
You won’t need to worry about the Powerbeats Pro earbuds falling out of your ears, as the flexible stabilizing hook over each ear does a fantastic job of keeping these earbuds in place for most ear shapes. I took our test pair to the gym for a 90-minute high-impact workout involving a lot of jumping and diverse movement, and the Powerbeats Pro set didn’t budge. It’s one of the most comfortable earbud styles we’ve tested. For once, an ad with celebrity athletes (video) promising a secure earbud delivers on that promise. However, this design makes the Powerbeats Pro far less discreet than other true wireless earbuds, and it does feel reminiscent of the commuter Bluetooth single-ear headsets of, say, 2007. That said, if people can get accustomed to walking around with the AirPods’ trendy white-cigarette-in-the-ear look, we suspect they’ll be completely fine with the Powerbeats Pro look, too.
The Elite 75t uses a four-microphone array similar to that of the Elite 65t, but with upgraded wind-noise-reduction capabilities. When using the 75t in a quiet room, I sounded very clear to other people during calls and videoconferences. To test the wind noise reduction, I stood in front of a window air conditioner, put the fan on high, and called Brent Butterworth. Brent reported that he initially heard the sound of air hitting the mic, but when I spoke, the noise dramatically dropped in volume. In contrast to the experiences we’ve had with other headphones that employ this kind of technology, which can compress the sound of your voice, Brent said my tone sounded a lot fuller and richer through the 75t than through other earbuds he’d heard.
Earphones can connect to your smartphone through a 3.5mm cable or wirelessly over Bluetooth, depending on the model. Wired earphones are generally less expensive, and you don't need to worry about keeping them charged. Bluetooth earphones are more convenient because you don't have to physically connect them to your smartphone, but they need battery power to work. For the most part, you won't find a 3.5mm port and removable cable on Bluetooth earphones; when they're out of power, they're out of commission until you charge them again.