After about two years, it’s finally happened. Out of the many startups (and, increasingly, big-name companies) that are trying to make truly wireless earbuds A Thing, a small company called Erato made a pair where the Bluetooth connection doesn’t continuously drop out. This has been the most consistent problem with just about every other pair of wireless earbuds I’ve tried, but with Erato’s earbuds (known as the Apollo 7s), I don’t have to play pocket roulette with my phone when I use them. Front pocket, back pocket — it really doesn’t matter where my phone is. Save for a few inevitable, but truly infrequent, blips in the connection, the Apollo 7s offer a wire-free earbud experience that actually works.
It’s surprising to me that Erato was the one to pull this off, because I experienced connection issues when I tried a preproduction unit back in May. Of course, I was even more surprised (and impressed) that the folks at Erato had the gumption to send me a prototype unit in the first place — Erato hadn’t even launched the Apollo 7 Kickstarter yet. The company had faith in its product, and now I can see why.
Now, let’s put the connection quality aside for a second. After using the final production version for a few weeks, I still think Erato’s earbuds are too simple for my tastes. I’m not even talking about fitness tracking or heart rate monitoring — the necessity of which I’m not sold on, but has become a prime focus for some of Erato’s competition (Bragi, Samsung, Jabra). I’m talking simpler stuff: there’s no way to adjust volume from the earbuds, no audio passthrough, and no way of easily checking the battery life of the earbuds, save for a few voice prompts when the battery gets really low. You have a little button on each earbud that can turn them on or off, or play and pause music, and there’s a (decent!) microphone for phone calls. The utilitarian charging case serves its purpose, and the two to three-hour battery life is fine, even if I’d like a little more.
But I can’t get over that Erato solved the most basic problem with truly wireless earbuds. It’s admittedly a problem that won't matter in a few years — it's really just an issue of software, hardware, and wireless protocols, and how well your product balances all three in the face of Bluetooth’s fragile nature. But it's still a problem now, and Erato deserves credit for getting it right, and for delivering that solution to the backers of its crowdfunding campaign (Erato says 95 percent of its preorders have shipped).
All that said, I still think it’s too early to plunk down $300 for wireless earbuds when the market is just starting to boom. We’re about to see (or are already seeing) newer features, more diverse designs, promises of better sound, and all at lower cost. Erato won’t be the only one to mitigate the Bluetooth connection problem. But it’s worth nothing that the company also just announced two new pairs of wireless earbuds that cost less than the Apollo 7s that will ship later this year. The commoditization of wireless earbuds has begun.
The Apollo 7s are the kind of product you can enjoy if you’re an early adopter who’s okay with sacrificing a full suite of features. So if you backed the company’s crowdfunding campaign and are just getting started with the Apollo 7s, you can probably breathe a sigh of relief. Of course, if they don’t work for you, I want to hear about it.