(Pocket-lint) - Powerbeats Pro was arguably the first taste we got of the fruit to come from the Apple and Beats partnership, since Apple first bought the company way back in 2014. It was the first time we saw a design co-created with the expertise from Apple; one with lots of custom, in-house tech inside.
For 2020, Beats has worked through a number of iterations, now on the fourth-gen Powerbeats. These hooked in-ears use the same design and internal tech, so sound the same as the previous gen, but the costs is a lot less.
That means Powerbeats still shuns a fully wire-free design, but is that really to its detriment? Read our Powerbeats 4 review to find out...
What's new for Powerbeats 4?
- Curved and angled for comfort
- Cable joining two earphones
- Physical controls on the earbuds
- IPX5 rated against splashes/sweat
The new Powerbeats look like the Powerbeats Pro true wireless, except the two earphones are connected with a cable. For the Powerbeats Pro - the company's true wireless pair - Beats and Apple worked on a brand new, refined shape that wasn't just softer and better looking, but also a lot more comfortable to wear. So it makes complete sense that this tried and tested shape comes down the line.
That means, compared to the Powerbeats 3, the new Powerbeats has softer lines and contours, with more ergonomic angles, and a shape that lends itself to being in your ear for long periods without getting uncomfortable. The channels and lines are designed to help sweat and moisture run off the back, ensuring it doesn't build up on the earbuds and become unpleasant.
Part of this design focus is to also ensure that that the earphones stay in your ears during workouts and don't slip out, and lose that seal between the tip and the entrance to your ear canal, because that massively impacts the sound.
This is helped further by the fact that there's no external remote control built into the cabling, so there's no worry that any additional weight is being hung from either side.
Instead, Beats has adopted a similar control system to what you'll find on the Powerbeats Pro. Instead of having the same controls on both sides, though, there's a volume rocker switch on the top edge of the right earbud, while the 'b' logo acts as the play/pause control. On the left earbud, there's nothing except the power button on the top - which you also need for pairing the earphones in the first place.
The bendy but durable hooks that go over the tops of the ears are grippy, hold well even during sweaty workouts, and are really good at sticking in place. They don't slip or slide, so that seal is always good.
As wireless earbuds go, the new Powerbeats are some of the most comfortable we've worn. Although snug, they never feel invasive in the ear, and that means it's easy to just focus on whatever exercise you happen to be doing.
Despite that, we found that having the cable running behind our neck meant there wasn't that same freeing and unrestrained feeling you'd get from wearing the true wireless model.
At times, if we shook our head from side to side, or turned it too quickly, the cable might still get caught slightly in hair, but that's literally the only downside.
We tested the Powerbeats 4 on outdoor runs, during kettlebell sessions, and when on the exercise bike, and we never felt that annoying 'tap' on the back of the neck as we were jogging up and down. The cable stays with you, and because it's rounded and thin - rather than flat - it doesn't stick to sweat either.
Features and performance
- Apple H1 Chip
- 15 hour play time
- Lightning port for charging
- 5mins fast fuel = 1 hour playback
Like most of Beats' newest headphones, the new Powerbeats feature the Apple H1 Chip inside. This is the little brain that allows the easy pairing/connection with Apple products.
When you setup the Powerbeats 4, you get an easy pairing pop-up graphic on the screen of your iPhone, so you can pair with them and connect without diving into your settings menu. Once paired, it'll automatically be paired with any other Apple device that's logged into that same iCloud account.
With Android phones, you can download the Beats app to connect, monitor battery, and rename the product with a personal name. You don't need to use the app though, you can just pair as normal using the Bluetooth connection settings.
That means that while iPhone/Apple users will feel the Powerbeats 4 is more convenient, these buds are still just as useful for anyone else. And given the levels of comfort and sound, we'd say this isn't a pair to miss out on just because you don't get that iCloud/instant pairing mode.
The other thing that makes the Powerbeats 4 worthwhile is how long they can last without charging. Beats claims up to 15 hours of music playback on a full charge, which is enough to power you through two to three weeks of workouts, presuming you're not going over an hour a day on average. But if you are, and you go on long runs often, the Powerbeats should comfortably keep you going on any individual workout or session you happen to undertake.
On our first two sessions, we recorded workouts of between 45-50 minutes, and after those two combined totalling more than 90 minutes, the battery had dropped from 100 to 88 per cent. So if we were excercising once every day, we reckon that'd be a fortnight of battery.
Is sound improved for Powerbeats 4?
- Same drivers as Powerbeats Pro
- Nice seal in the ear
As well as borrowing heavily from the design of the Pro version, the Powerbeats 4 also use the same custom push-pull drivers inside, which means you get the same great sound.
Bass is nice and full without losing its shape or structure, so you get a punch from it without it getting all boomy. The key thing here, though, is that seal in the ear we've mentioned before. Because the design ensures these buds don't slip out of position, you're never left with one ear giving you tinny sound because the seal has gone.
One thing we will say is that - similar to the Powerbeats Pro - the noise isolation/cancelling properties of the new Powerbeats is pretty weak. You'll either view that as a positive or a negative.
On the plus side, when you're running near roads - particularly at night time or when it's dark in the early morning hours - you can hear cars and traffic quite clearly. Working out in a loud gym, however, and you'll probably need to turn them up pretty loud to drown out the external noise (not that, in COVID-19 land we have gyms any more).
Despite that, we've loved listening to the Powerbeats 4 during our workouts. Before the Pro was released, it was rare to get this quality audio from a pair of workout earphones, and now you can get it for much cheaper - as long as you're okay with having that cable attaching the two earbuds.
For the Powerbeats 4, Beats took a design and sound formula that works well, and brought it to a more affordable pair of workout earphones. It's a fantastic option for those without the budget to buy the Pro model.
Noise-cancelling isn't terrific, but for a lot of outdoor excercises, that's actually a good thing. It's also not a terrible thing for working out at home if you need to keep an ear out for someone at the door or commotion caused by kids.
Overall it's great to have a relatively inexpensive pair of in-ears that sound this good and that will last through multiple workout sessions before needing a recharge.
Alternatives to consider
The Powerbeats wire-free sibling was a revelation when we first tested it, and continues to be our first choice for working out. They're a bit pricey compared to the cabled model though.
Libratone's exercise earphones offer great sound and comfortable design, but add to it with active noise cancelling, so if you need earbuds that kill external noises, these are a great alternative. Although, they will cost you a little more.