Bluetooth technology has drastically improved the functionality of headphones. When you’re physically tethered to your phone, you can’t just throw it in a backpack while you commute. If you’re out getting some exercise, the wire can limit your movement and restrict the type of activities you can do. People buy Bluetooth headphones to remove these limitations, but not all Bluetooth headphones are wireless.
The most common Bluetooth headphones have a wire that connects the two earbuds together. This makes them cheaper to manufacture, but limits the potential of Bluetooth technology.
To address this problem, manufacturers came up with earbuds that are completely wireless, commonly referred to as “True Wireless”.
From a technical standpoint, true wireless earbuds are technically two separate units. Each has their own battery, and each has their own Bluetooth receiver. Early models were more expensive to manufacture, and sold for a premium price. For many consumers, the additional cost wasn’t worth the added convenience.
Like all technology, hardware gets cheaper over time. The SmartOmi Q5’s are one of the more affordable true wireless earbuds on the market, and have received favorable reviews from consumers. How do they compare against other models? What compromises are you making when you select these instead of a more expensive alternative? To answer these questions, we tried them out for ourselves.
What’s in The Box
The quality of the packaging came as a complete surprise to us. The box is made of a thick composite material, much like the box iPhones come in. The print quality on the face is very clear, giving off a premium image. Once you open them, the earbuds are presented to you in a custom molded tray. While there is no functional benefit to this, recreating the same unboxing experience you get with high end electronics helped set high expectations for these earbuds.
Removing the tray reveals all of the accessories. You get a soft fabric pouch to carry them in, which is made from a tan colored faux-suede material. The material is quite thin, but it feels well stitched. It closes using a draw string, making it easy to open and close. Inside the bag is five replacement ear tips. You two pairs of the default size, which fit our ears perfectly. If you find them uncomfortable, there are three additional sizes available, divided into small, medium, and large. The medium tips are sized the same as the standard model, but protrude deeper into the ear. The medium and large tips are proportioned the same, but scaled. These extra sizes are necessary because of the supporting wing. Everyone’s ears are a little different, so having four sizes ensures that the Q5’s will be comfortable for everyone.
The most unique accessory in the box was the dual charging cable. Each of these earbuds charges using a Micro-USB port. On the one end of the cable, you’ve got a single USB Type-A connector. From this connector you’ve got two Micro-USB chargers sticking out of them. Unfortunately, you can’t use this cable to charge two phones at once. But if you leave it laying around somewhere, you can use a standard Micro-USB charger to juice up the earbuds.
Design & Comfort
Each of the earbuds has a two-part design. The earpiece is angled, allowing it to enter your ear canal comfortably. It’s connected to a plastic bracket that sits comfortably on your outer ear, and supports itself against your cartilage. This piece is attached to a large rectangular enclosure that contains all of the hardware.
These are a little bulkier than the earbuds you may be used to, but the size is comparable with most of the other true wireless earbuds on the market. The additional support is a smart design, as it reduces the chance of these earbuds slipping from your ear. Combined with the adjustable angle of the earpiece itself, using them feels very natural.
The earbuds have a distinctly modern design. The center of the rear enclosure acts as a button, and is surrounded by a mesh-like pattern. Their sleek looks are appealing to us, although it does take a moment to get used to their additional size.
The pairing procedure is straightforward. There is a single button on the back side of each earbud. After holding this button for five seconds the LED will blink red and blue. This indicates pairing mode. If you pair both earbuds at the same time, you’ll have stereo audio. If you pair just one, the channels will be summed to mono. Mono is an important feature. Whether you’re keeping one ear free or sharing your music with a friend, summing the channels to mono ensures that you both hear the same thing. Any parts of your music that are faded to either side will be played back on both.
You don’t have to use the LEDs to pair, either. The earbuds provide voice commands, so you can pair while wearing them. After pairing, this button will allow you to answer calls, or activate Siri.
Battery Life & Charging
The biggest draw back to true wireless headphones is the battery life. The ratio between size and capacity isn’t linear. A battery that’s twice as big won’t hold twice as much. In some circumstances, a doubling the physical size of the battery can increase the capacity 10-fold. The batteries used in these earbuds are extremely compact, as space is at a premium. Since each earbud needs its own Bluetooth receiver and amplifier, you’re drawing twice as much current.
The Q5’s give you about two hours of listening time. This is much shorter than wired Bluetooth earbuds, but comparable with most true wireless options.
If you’re shopping around, you’ll probably see many wireless earbuds advertising 10 or more hours of battery life. In most cases, the earbuds themselves only get 2 hours each. But what manufacturers have done is provide you with a battery case. When the earbuds are in the case, they’ll charge up. So even though this system will give you 10 hours or total use in between plugging them in, you will have to take a break every two hours to keep them in the case.
SmartOmi’s decision to skip the battery case has both advantages and disadvantages. If a battery case gets damaged or breaks, you’d have to replace the entire package as the earbuds can’t be charged directly. With this design, losing the cable doesn’t mean your headphones are no good. You can just use a smartphone charger, or order a replacement cable for a couple of dollars. But if you need more than two hours of battery life and won’t have access to an AC outlet or a USB port, you won’t be able to get as much use out of the Q5’s.
Considering the low price of these earbuds, the sound quality was pretty impressive. They’ve got a very detailed, analytical sound. The response curve is fairly flat, and all of the frequencies are evenly presented.
They don’t have a ton of bass, so if you’re listening to hip-hop or electronic music these wouldn’t be our first choice. But for rock, acoustic, and folk songs, they’ll sound much better than the bass-heavy earbuds on the market.
If you’re using the earbuds that came with your cellphone (even the Apple ones!) you’ll notice an improvement in sound quality with these. For the price, they provided exactly what we’d expect. However, there are better headphones on the market. If you were to double your budget, you’d find something with a little more bass, and perhaps a smoother treble. But in this price bracket, the only way to get better sound quality would be to give up the wireless features.
For sports like running, hiking, or cycling, Tru-Wireless earbuds are much better than standard models. But the primary disadvantage is going to be the weight of each earbud. They can fall out of your ears a little easier. If you’re performing explosive or aggressive movements at the gym, these wouldn’t be our first choice. We also noticed that they’d tend to shift a bit during jerky activities. Things like riding your bike off road and running up and down stairs meant that we’d occasionally have to press our fingers against the earbuds to snug them up. This isn’t a problem exclusive to the Q5’s, many similar earbuds have the same problem. But since the main advantage of this design is for athletic activities, it’s something to keep in mind.
In the tech industry, very few products have as wide of a price range as headphones. You can find a cheap set at the dollar store, or you could spend upwards of four figures on a high end model. After a certain point, there is a price floor. Dollar store headphones aren’t going to be anything but terrible. If you want your purchase to be enjoyable, you’ve got to spend a little more.
Where true Wireless headphones are concerned, the SmartOmi Q5’s are priced right at the floor. There are cheaper models available, but the sound quality is almost exclusively abysmal.
That’s why these one’s stand out. Listening to them is enjoyable. To keep costs low, they did omit a few features. There is no battery case, and it takes a little longer to charge them. But they didn’t cut corners where it matters. You’ve got all the same features found in premium headphones, and they’re comfortable to wear. If you’re on a tight budget, we highly recommend them.
If sound quality is your number one priority, you might consider trading in the wireless feature for something that has a bit more base. We recently tested out the Phaiser BHS-750, and consider them to be the next best alternative.