There is a lot of talk in the tech world about "wearables" -- technology that can be worn on the body rather than carried separately, as a computer or phone is. The buzz had a brief peak a few years ago with the distribution of Google Glass, a product that met with disappointment, mockery, and occasional rage. Companies are still working on a device with a glasses-style form factor, while watches, especially the Apple Watch, have taken off as the most talked-about wearables.
But the wearable that is probably in most common usage -- certainly the one I use most! -- is a set of wearable headphones. Last year I wrote about the LG Tone Infinim headphones, and I still use and enjoy those. But the vast majority of the time you see me, I'll be wearing the BeatsX by now-Apple-subsidiary Beats by Dre.
BeatsX Wireless In-Ear Headphones
I don't really have a ton to say about these, so I'll just put out some bullet points:
-When you have Dangerous Vision, headphones are a huge deal for two reasons. First, if you can't see well, it's likely that some or all of the time you're interacting with your phone you'll be listening to it (Speak Screen, Voice Dream Reader, podcasts, music, etc.). And if you do it aloud you'll drive everyone around you insane. So you'll want headphones, and you won't want to have to take them out of your pocket or purse 100 times a day; you need headphones you can wear. That means wireless Bluetooth headphones, since headphones wired to your iPhone and also around your neck would be super-awkward; you'd be tied to your phone literally, rather than merely figuratively as so many of us are!
The second reason headphones are an essential wearable is that they offer a place to put physical buttons. Steve Jobs was famously obsessed with ridding the iPhone of its buttons. Since he built pretty much the greatest single product in the history of mankind and I didn't, I won't nitpick! But having a sheet of smooth glass with no buttons on it is not ideal for the blind. Jobs didn't love buttons on headphones either, but he did allow a few! Plus you can buy from other, more button-friendly, manufacturers and use them with an iPhone. Upshot is, working with headphones gives you the tactile control that, if you're at all like me, you want so badly.
-I've heard wonderful things about the Apple AirPods and will probably try them sometime soon. The AirPods are a pair of buds that go in your ears and connect to your phone through Bluetooth. By all accounts they work wonderfully well. My instinct is that since they are two small objects not connected to one another, I'd be likely to lose one very quickly -- it's easy to lose things when you can't see! And that has kept me from purchasing them.
-The BeatsX is basically two AirPods on a string. If one falls out of my ear, no problem since it's connected to the other and draped over the back of my neck (if I'm wearing a shirt with a collar the wire snakes under the collar). So the set won't fall to the ground, and even if it did, it would be easy to find by feel as it's effectively a one-dimensional object rather than approximately zero-dimensional like an AirPod (if you see what I mean!).
-It has the same great Apple design and build quality, and has perhaps double the battery life of the AirPods. Plus you can plug it straight into the Lightning charger, whereas with AirPods you have to carry a charging case.
-The other big advantage compared to pods is that the BeatsX has a traditional Apple three-button controller. that means you can not only connect/drop calls, Play/Pause and change volume but also rewind and fast forward just by clicking the tactile button on the wire. I haven't used the AirPods but my impression is you get better control with the BeatsX as they have three buttons instead of one.
-The microphone is fantastic; I left myself voice mail with the BeatsX on and the phone in my pocket, and it came through just as clear as if I held the phone to my face.
-Comparing to the LG, the BeatsX has these advantages:
-Considerably more comfortable to wear as the connecting wire is soft and flexible rather than hard plastic as with the LG (though the LG is pretty darn comfortable as well!). I should mention here that the LG is just bigger; this, combined with the flexible cord on the BeatsX, means that when not around your neck there is a big convenience edge to the Beats. They can just slip into a jeans pocket, while the LG would not fit and would probably break if you forced them in.
-Much better microphone
-More discreet design if you're wearing a t-shirt
-Longer-distance Bluetooth; i.e. you can get farther from your phone and they still work
-They seem as though they are probably pretty water resistant, though I haven't tested this and am not sure what Beats claims in this regard.
-BeatsX seems to me to have better ear seal and sound quality but check with others on that as, while I love music, I listen mostly to voice and I am not an audiophile-type sound-quality expert.
Advantages of the LG include:
-Controls are much easier to use. Actually for volume the BeatsX is as good or better. But the LG has a toggle for on-off which is vastly superior to the hard-to-use button on the BeatsX. And the LG uses a very well designed rocker for REW and FF which works great for jumping ahead and back in books and podcasts. Whereas the BeatsX requires you to triple-click the center key once for every step you want to take. So if you're going back three minutes in a book with Voice Dream Reader set to 15 seconds as mine is, that's 12 pushes on the rocker of the LG, but 12 triple-clicks on the BeatsX, some of which will almost surely accidentally register as single-click (pause) or double-click (jump forward). So going back more than a minute with the BeatsX is a bit of a pain. More broadly, the LG is just much easier to control because it has so many more buttons. It has two press-buttons, two rockers, and one toggle on-off switch; since a rocker can rock two ways that's essentially seven buttons, vs. the three on the BeatsX.
-The increased number of buttons is partly a design choice, partly a result of the LG being physically larger so it has more room for them. Another consequence of being bigger is that the LG has much more battery life. Officially I think the LG has 16 hours to 8 for the BeatsX. But that doesn't really do the difference justice. What it feels like is that the LG has 16 hours of actual use, while the BeatsX has 8 hours of being connected. That probably isn't quite right either, but, again just by feel, I'm not doing experiments here, what it seems like is if a typical day involves 3 hours of listening and 12-24 hours being turned on and Bluetooth connected to my phone, then the BeatsX lasts one day or less and the LG lasts 5 days or more. It's an enormous difference. The BeatsX does offer two nontrivial forms of compensation, though. First, they charge through a Lightning port, not microUSB as the LG uses. So that may reduce by one the number of cords you need to carry. And second, the BeatsX have an ultra-amazing fast-charge feature. If you plug them in to the Lightning for 5 minutes, they charge to 25%, i.e. 2 hours. This I have tested, and it really works! Of course fully charging them takes far, far longer, probably an hour or two. But 5 minutes buying you two hours is really sweet and definitely helps ease the pain of having to charge more often.
-The LG as mentioned is less discreet, indeed is goofy looking, over a t-shirt. But because of its retractable buds it is pretty slick with a men's collared dress shirt. BeatsX are OK with such a shirt but not as good as LG.
-The LG costs a lot less, maybe $89 or so vs. $159 or thereabouts. Since reading is central to my life and this is how I do it, I'm willing to pay up in this sort of range for what works best for me, but I wanted to mention this as $70 or so of difference is not nothing!
Upshot is, the LG is great, the BeatsX are great, and the AirPods are probably great. Each have their uses. If I could only have one I'd go with the BeatsX, but i'm glad I have both, and as I say I bet I'll end up buying and trying some kind of Pod-like design in the next year or so. If that happens, I will report back!