Manufacturer
Anker
Price
£79.99
Pros
Sound quality, low cost, battery life, solid connection, noise isolation, look like AirPods
Cons
No volume control, no companion app, no USB-C charging, touch controls could be better
Summary
I'm not going to deny the fact that I actually really rate these earbuds, but neither am I going to suggest they are perfect AirPod replacements either. For me, however, the price point (frustrating differentials between US and UK pricing aside), the sound quality and the battery life are all more than good enough to be honest. Sure, I have some niggles about the touch controls (the lack of a volume control and that sometimes I have to try a couple of times before hitting pause or skip) and I'd like to see USB-C for the charging case, but these are not enough to dent my recommendation by more than one star. If you want AirPod-like looks and reasonably good sound quality at half the cost, you've found your product...
Rating

liberty-air.jpg

Six months ago I was reviewing my experience with another Anker 'Soundcore' earbud product, the Liberty Lites. I liked these, and they quickly became my everyday audio companion while out on my long walks in the Yorkshire countryside. I did, however, have some issues with the volume never being quite loud enough and ultimately the three hour playtime ended up being just not enough for long train travel or flights. So, I started looking at the alternatives. Naturally I started looking at the likes of the Apple AirPods (once I had discovered you can use them with Android phones) and the new Samsung Galaxy Buds. Both look really cool and feature 'true-wireless' connectivity plus super battery life. Unfortunately, both also break my 'never gonna pay more than £100 for freakin' earbuds man' rule; and then some.

Then I stumbled across one of the best kept secrets out there: Anker also sell true-wireless AirPod look-a-like earbuds and they come in at well under the £100. In fact, they cost just £79.99 here in the UK. Actually, scrap the 'just' as in the US they are $79.99 which at the current exchange rate is about £61. At that price they would be an absolute bargain, but even at a shade under £80 they are still half the cost of AirPods with the standard charging case (AirPods with a wireless charging case cost 2.5 times as much!) and the pre-order price on the Galaxy Buds is £139 so not a great deal better. I took the plunge and grabbed a pair of Liberty Air earbuds, here's how that turned out.

Look and Feel

These look, erm, suspiciously similar to AirPods. Especially in white, and you'd have to be standing pretty close (and staring into my earhole) to notice the soundcore logo. The charging case is equally Apple-like. That's not a bad thing, the AirPods have set the bar for earbud design and have something of an iconic status attached to them. They don't feel the same though, perhaps understandably being a little less premium quality in the shiny plastic finish. In the ear they feel fine, light and once you've selected the right pair of tips from the four supplied you get a nice tight fit. The case is a small pebble-shaped one, the same glossy plastic, but small and I prefer this to the larger case supplied with my Liberty Lites.

Sound quality

Forget the looks, it's really all about the audio isn't it - otherwise you might just as well go for a coke can and string approach to listening to your music. Whereas I thought the Liberty Lites were a little underpowered on the volume front, I have no such reservations here. In fact, the sound quality pretty much blew me away. Hands up, I'm not audiophile, but these played everything I threw at them with a genuinely good reproduction and that's from heavy rock to acoustic vocals, opera and classical. The graphene-enhanced technology certainly seems to deliver on the marketing promise in my opinion. Equally important, the call quality was decent enough as well. Not that I take calls as I'm phone-phobic (fact!) but I do speak to my partner throughout the day and she had no difficulty hearing me, nor me her, under all conditions including a noisy train journey.

Battery life

This is one of the areas I was looking for improvement over the Liberty Lite buds, and I got it. While Galaxy Buds offer 6 hours playtime (unverified at this stage) the Liberty Air matches AirPods with 5 hours. In fact, over the course of a few weeks actually using the things every day I can confirm I get a real-world, high volume, 4.5 hours out of them before they need to go back into the case for a charge. The case will add a further three charging cycles, so I get a total of 18 hours without going near the USB cable. The micro-USB cable that is; c'mon Anker, get with the times and give us USB-C why don't you? I've long since moved over to USB-C so having to dig out a micro-USB cable is a pain in the ass. But maybe that's just me.

Touch controls

Ah, here's where I have a bit of a grumble. The touch controls are OK but not great. No volume control still, you have to control that from your smartphone and there's no companion app either. At least the volume is loud enough once you've set it. More of a problem for me and my stubby fat fingers is the fact that I found the touch controls to be a but temperamental and sometimes requiring a second, or even third, attempt to pause or skip. I've got used to it, but wish I didn't have to. I docked a star from the rating as a result of this one thing.

What else?

Well, there's the usual Anker 18 month warranty which is as good as you will get anywhere in my experience. Anker actually do honour these warranties and I've never had any fuss or faff on the very rare occasion I've needed to use their support people. There's also an IPX5 rating for water resistance, which means sweat and rain are not problematical, just don't wear them in the shower, m'kay. There's also Bluetooth 5.0 which has proven to be good on the battery life and equally good on keeping the connection no matter what. I have not experienced one single drop out in all my usage so far. Can't really ask for more than that. The auto-connect stuff all just works, the auto-charging ditto.

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About the Author

A freelance technology journalist for 30 years, I have been a Contributing Editor at PC Pro (one of the best selling computer magazines in the UK) for most of them. As well as currently contributing to Forbes.com, The Times and Sunday Times via Raconteur Special Reports, SC Magazine UK, Digital Health, IT Pro and Infosecurity Magazine, I am also something of a prolific author. My last book, Being Virtual: Who You Really are Online, which was published in 2008 as part of the Science Museum TechKnow Series by John Wiley & Sons. I am also the only three times winner (2006, 2008, 2010) of the BT Information Security Journalist of the Year title, and was humbled to be presented with the ‘Enigma Award’ for a ‘lifetime contribution to information security journalism’ in 2011 despite my life being far from over...