Fitness-focused earbuds are nothing now, but they’re usually just sweat-resistant and bass-forward for powering through workouts. Amazfit’s new Powerbuds Pro take that to the next level. Design-wise, they’re more like Apple’s AirPods Pro, but with the added ability to track workouts, monitor your posture, warn you when your heart rate gets too high, and measure your hearing. The result is an advanced pair of wireless ANC earbuds with good battery life for a surprisingly reasonable $150.
So, what’s the catch? There’s no real “catch.” Everything works as promised, aside from a few minor quirks. The issue is health-tracking earbuds as a concept—is this a thing that will actually help people, or a novelty doomed to fail?
There’s no doubt which gadget inspired the Powerbuds Pro’s design. I mean, look at these things. The AirPods Pro inspiration is clear.
That’s not to say they’re identical. The Powerbuds Pro is a smidge bulkier, but it has that same iconic look with the stem and silicone tips, and I’m willing to bet most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference at a glance. This is also true for the charging cases. More than once I went to grab the Powerbuds, only to accidentally pick up my AirPods. The Powerbuds Pro’s case is a little bigger and has a matte finish, and the connection port is (mercifully) USB-C.
The Powerbuds Pro comes with four ear tip sizes. However, they run smaller than average. I almost always use medium-sized tips, but for the Powerbuds Pro, I had to size up to a large. Fit is important for lots of reasons, but it’s especially important for the Powerbuds Pro. The right earbud contains a heart rate sensor, and if you have a bad fit, those features likely won’t work well for you. Also, creating a good seal is important for ANC.
Overall, these are comfortable to wear both in everyday settings or during a workout. They never fell out of my ear, and I could wear them for longer bouts at my desk without discomfort. If you like how AirPods Pro look or don’t want to shell out for a pair, these are a great alternative. If you don’t, well, these ain’t for you.
As far as specs go, these are solid earbuds. The buds have three microphones each, an optical heart rate sensor in the right bud, a proximity sensor, an accelerometer, and a pressure sensor. This means you get features you’d expect on modern wireless buds. That includes multi-mode ANC, customizable EQ, in-ear detection, voice assistant compatibility, and touch controls. For Android users, the buds also support Google’s Fast Pairing feature.
Call quality is good. During a test call with a friend, she said, “For once you don’t sound as tinny or far away.” No one complained during several Zoom meetings either. The only exception was an hour-long meeting when I noticed the buds struggled to stay connected to my laptop. It was annoying, but honestly, I’ve experienced that on every pair of Bluetooth headphones I’ve ever owned.
As for music, these earbuds absolutely don’t stack up to something like Sony’s WH-MX1000XM4, but overall sound quality is good, and these won’t butcher your favorite songs during commutes and workouts. I’d just recommend tweaking the EQ to your liking beforehand as the default option sounds a bit flat. I didn’t like most of the preset options, but thankfully, you can also customize your own.
Touch controls are also easy to use and can be customized in the Zepp smartphone app. The preset gestures are all the ones you’d expect—pausing music, taking calls, switching between modes, activating a voice assistant. In-ear detection is also decent, though it takes 2-3 seconds to pause your music after you’ve taken an earbud out. The only thing I didn’t love was that switching between multiple devices wasn’t always smooth, and I occasionally had to re-pair.
The biggest audio feature, however, is ANC, and it’s pretty dang excellent here. They’re about even with the AirPods Pro, perhaps even a smidge better. I’ve got a noisy air conditioner in my office, and the Powerbuds Pro blocked it out until I couldn’t even tell if it was on. I could still hear a slight hum with the AirPods Pro. However, I wasn’t a fan of the Powerbuds Pro’s various ambient modes when outdoors. Like the Jaybird Vista 2, they’re just not great at blocking the wind.
Battery life is also solid, though you don’t have the option of wireless charging. It’s been over a week since I fully topped up the buds’ battery and the case is still at 37%. That’s with several long calls and workouts. Amazfit claims you can get 9 hours of playback without ANC, and close to 6 hours with it on. I can’t say whether that’s true, as I generally don’t wear headphones that long. However, I did wear it for a three-hour stretch and still had more than 50% battery left. With all these features, you could easily wear these for an entire workday. That’s not too shabby for wireless earbuds.
The Powerbuds Pro have health-tracking features that you won’t find on most wireless earbuds. In running, walking, and cycling workouts, you can track time, distance, speed, calories burned, and heart rate. Runners get a little extra, as the Powerbuds Pro can automatically detect when you’re running and record the workout. It’s convenient and works pretty well. You’ll hear a tone when it starts and stops recording. Syncing is a little wonky—it’s not always immediate—but if you don’t see it, it’ll show up after refreshing the app or the next time your pair the buds. The results aren’t very accurate in terms of pace or distance, however. They’re more ballpark figures than anything else.
You can also opt to enable a Motion Beat Mode that pumps up the bass whenever you record a workout. I never really noticed it, but I also use music to distract from the misery of outdoor running. Another option is to get real-time notifications about your stats mid-workout. I didn’t have much success with this feature. You have to be connected to the Zepp app for it to work, but I never mastered the art of tapping an earbud while in motion.
If you exceed your maximum heart rate during a workout, you’ll hear a thumping heartbeat. This is to make you aware that you’ve reached your threshold and should ease up. I can see this being useful if you do heart rate zone training, or as an audible cue to slow down. The one time I triggered it, I was overdoing a run on a hot day. The audible reminder was neat, but I was also already in the process of slowing down.
Hearing health-monitoring is similar to what Apple does with its iPhones and Apple Watch. You’re given a recommended listening time of 40 hours per week at an estimated 80 dB, the WHO’s recommended threshold for safe listening. The louder your music, the faster that number goes down.
When you pair to the app, you can also calibrate the buds to monitor your posture. If you sit too long in a fixed position, you’ll hear a tone reminding you to move around. In the app, you can also see a scale of how bad your spinal alignment is. Mine, apparently, is “fair” and the equivalent of holding a cat on the back of my neck. I was skeptical of this feature, but the first time I heard the tone, I was in fact hunched over my keyboard like a goblin.
The “problem” with the Powerbuds Pro isn’t that these features don’t work. It’s that they depend on you wearing the buds for long stretches of time. If you only pop in earbuds for a little bit each day, monitoring your posture and hearing health is useless. Personally, I tend not to wear headphones for more than an hour or two at a time.
The automatic tracking for running is also odd. I’m glad it works, but that would imply you’re not running with your phone and are listening to music via a smartwatch. If you do that, you can’t tap the buds for a real-time update of your stats. If you have your phone, you’d probably just start an activity in the Zepp app. Except, if you have a smartwatch, you’d be tracking your activity in its native workout app. Even if you didn’t have a smartwatch, using an app like MapMyRun or Strava will give you more accurate results with regard to pace and speed. In that instance, you’d really just be using the buds as a more discreet heart rate tracker that can sync that data with popular apps like RunKeeper and MapMyRun. This is a headache to think about, especially because strapping on a smartwatch or fitness tracker would be much simpler.
Lastly, the Zepp app is not my favorite. Its design isn’t intuitive, and it’s hard to even find your workout log. You can’t bypass it, however, if you want access to these health features. It’s fine if you already have a Zepp smartwatch. But if you just want the earbuds, you’ll get patchy daily activity data and yet another app to deal with. The bottom line is, when it comes to health-tracking, these buds can only ever play second fiddle.
At the end of the day, I just don’t think we’ve figured out a good reason to add health-tracking features to earbuds when smartwatches and fitness bands are better suited to the job. I see what Amazfit is trying to do, and it’s 75% of the way there. But is anyone really clamoring for what they’re offering? My gut says no.
My reservations about health-tracking aside, these earbuds are an excellent budget option if you want decent audio with ANC. Even if you don’t use 90% of the features, you still get good sound quality, good battery life, and for $100 less than the AirPods Pro. Compared to other fitness earbuds, these sound way better than the Jaybird Vista 2, have much better ANC, and cost $50 less. The $230 Jabra Elite 85t will get you better sound quality, but they have an IPX4 rating to the Powerbuds Pro’s IP55. That makes these the better choice for fitness, at least until Jabra comes out with the sport version of the 85t.
Listen, sound quality and fit are important, but it’s hard to argue with the Powerbuds Pro’s affordability—especially since the ANC is actually quite good. If you don’t mind the AirPod-like design or the fact that you’ll get good-but-not amazing sound, this is your best bet if you want to save some moolah.