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AirPods-style earbuds without a killer feature

AirPods-style earbuds without a killer feature

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I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the market for truly wireless earbuds is absolutely saturated at this point. Even beyond all the usual players – Apple, Anker, Plantronics, Jaybird, Sony, and others – there are thousands of white-label models from countless companies. Despite this, rubber-tipped earbuds still vastly outnumber Apple-style plastic-tipped buds.

Razer is no stranger to headphones and earbuds, and the company’s existing line of wired Hammerhead headphones has received mostly positive reviews. Razer recently released its first truly wireless earbuds, with a promised low-latency mode for gaming and a $99 price-tag. After using AirPods as my primary earbuds for over a year, I was excited to try out the Hammerhead True Wireless, but it doesn’t quite live up to expectations.

Design, hardware, what’s in the box

I think it’s important to preface this section by stating I really don’t like in-ear earbuds, which is why I’ve used Apple AirPods as my main earbuds for well over a year. I’ve been made fun of in Android Police’s work chat several times for this.

Workplace harassment

So when Razer announced AirPods-style earbuds that charged via USB Type-C and worked well with Android, I was excited to try them out. Fast forward a few days, and the Hammerhead True Wireless showed up at my doorstep.

The charging case for the Hammerhead is a bit on the large side, especially when put next to the cradle for AirPods. On the front is a single LED that gives you an idea of the power level (green for full, orange for low, red for very low), and on the back is a USB Type-C port. Standard stuff for wireless earbuds in 2019 unless you’re Plantronics and still use microUSB.

The earbuds are also a fairly standard affair. Like AirPods, there is a long stem at the bottom of each bud containing the battery. The buds rest inside your ear, but I found they usually take a bit more adjustment than AirPods. Sadly, there are no proximity sensors, so music won’t automatically pause when you take the earbuds out of your ears.

The Razer logos on each bud (which sadly don’t light up with RGB) act as touch buttons. Pressing and holding for half a second plays/pauses media, holding for two seconds activates the assistant on your phone, holding for six seconds activates pairing mode, double-tapping skips to the next track, and triple-tapping returns to the previous track. The low-latency gaming mode can be activated by triple-tapping and holding for two seconds. Tapping and holding the button in the proper combination feels like trying to input the Konami Code.

Hammerhead next to AirPods

Battery life is one area where these earbuds are definitely behind the competition. While some other true wireless earbuds can reach six hours of battery life, like the Libratone Track Air+ and Plantronics BackBeat Pro 5100, and others can hit eight hours, the Razer Hammerhead maxes out at around three hours on a single charge. Razer claims “up to 4 hours,” but that didn’t seem to be accurate in my testing (with gaming mode off).

In the box, you get the earbuds, the charging case and USB Type-C cable, a manual, a wrist strap, and silicone earbud sleeves for use during exercise and other sweaty tasks.

Software

Razer offers a very basic app to go with the Hammerhead. It can show the battery life of each earbud, walk you through how to operate the gestures, update the firmware, and change the language of the voice prompts.

I really wish the app would allow me to customize the gestures or set an equalizer. Oh well, back to furiously tapping my ear.

Razer Hammerhead TW
Razer Hammerhead TW

Audio quality and latency

So how do music and games sound on the Hammerhead? Well, more or less the same as AirPods. Swapping between the two, Razer’s buds sounded a bit more compressed than the AirPods, and with slightly less bass. You’re never going to get incredible sound quality from earbuds that rest inside your ear, but podcasts come through clear, music sounds decent, and the volume can get very loud. I was easily able to listen to news updates while I was vacuuming.

Razer’s claim of 60ms low-latency audio is the main selling point for these earbuds, supposedly making the Hammerhead best-in-class for gaming. I tried a handful of mobile games (Sonic Dash, Fortnite, a few emulators, etc.), but I was not able to tell a discernible difference between latency on the Hammerhead and latency from AirPods or any other Bluetooth headphones I owned. This could come down to the codecs being used; according to my own testing with Wireshark, the only low-latency codec the Hammerhead seems to support is AAC, just like AirPods.

The Hammerhead only seems to support AAC audio, at least on Android.

Maybe there would be a more substantial improvement if you were coming from older earbuds with poor audio codec support, but I sure couldn’t notice an improvement. I’ve asked Razer for additional technical information about the low-latency mode, and I’ll update this section if I get new information.

Should you buy it?

Razer Hammerhead True Wireless

6/10

If you want an AirPods clone for Android, maybe. In real-world testing, the Razer Hammerhead True Wireless doesn’t seem to deliver on its promise of lower latency than other wireless earbuds. It also doesn’t have any other compelling features that set it apart from the competition, like an app with plenty of customization options, or Qi charging, or elegant controls. The three-hour battery life is also poor, given the current competition.

That being said, the selection of non-in-ear (outer-ear?) truly wireless earbuds that work well with Android is so small that the Razer Hammerhead might be a good option for some people. Razer’s earbuds still have good sound quality, full functionality on either iOS or Android, charge via USB Type-C, and have a two-year warranty. The $99 price tag is also lower than most of the competition.

Buy it if…

  • You’re looking for AirPods clones that work well with non-Apple devices.

Don’t buy it if…

  • You’re okay with in-ear earbuds (because there are much better options).
  • You need more than three hours of battery life.






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