In all the excitement of Apple’s iPhone 12 announcement, you’ll be forgiven for missing a small detail: The new iPhones will ship without a pair of wired earbuds in the box. That means if you don’t have already have a pair laying around, you’ll have to buy some ‘buds. Conveniently, Apple-owned headphone maker Beats just took the wraps off its latest earbuds, the $79.95 Beats Flex, which are officially the cheapest pair of earbuds that Apple makes — and they offer the same type of iPhone compatibility you get with the much pricier AirPods. With the holidays just around the corner, well, it seems pretty clear what Apple’s strategy is here.
But Beats Flex seems to have a lot to offer. The new earbuds are the next generation of the classic neckband design of Beats X, which cost around $200 when they launched. And while completely wireless seems standard now, not everyone wants (or wants to spend money on) a pair of tiny earbuds that can be easily separated or lost.
Of course, Bluetooth neckband earbuds are a dime a dozen. What sets Beats Flex apart is its compatibility with iPhones. The Flex includes Apple’s W1 chip, which means all you have to do is power up the earbuds next to your iPhone and they will pair instantly. You also get AirPods features like the ability to easily switch the Apple device you’re listening from, share audio with friends who are using another pair of Beats ‘buds or AirPods, and check the Flex’s battery status on your iPhone.
Unlike AirPods, however, Beats Flex sports a USB-C port instead of Lightning (hallelujah!). The Flex promises 12-hour battery life and a 10-minute quick charge that adds 1.5 hours of playback if the battery is nearly dead.
On the audio front, Beats has upgraded Flex with a new acoustic driver and microphone for better sound, and some digital processing in the background will further improve the audio. The ‘buds themselves are magnetic, and they pause your music playback when snapped together and begin playing again when in your ears.
These earbuds are not free with purchase like Apple’s old earbuds were, which will understandably make some people irate. I rarely used the included earbuds, but just having them on hand in case of Bluetooth emergencies was always reassuring. This hard shove to Bluetooth — while a long time coming — is also a little annoying! But for the money, these new earbuds seem like a pretty good deal.
Beats Flex are available to preorder today in Beats Black and Yuzu Yellow, and go on sale October 21 at Apple. They’ll be available through third-party retailers Nov. 20. We plan to test out them out to see if these earbuds actually offer the ease of AirPods for much less, so stay tuned for a full review.