The shift to truly wireless earbuds is gaining momentum. And for every winner, there's an outright loser. The Skybuds ($199) fall firmly into the near-miss category. The sleekly designed earbuds offer secure placement with solid audio quality and some cool app-based features like locating lost buds, but they are held back by an awkward pairing procedure and a lack of volume.
Look ma, no wires! Rather than resort to a neckband design with a dangling cable that hangs around the back of your neck, the Skybuds are completely wireless. Each of the two silver plastic earbuds is somewhat rectangular, with rounded corners. There is a square button on the back of each earbud that functions as a multipurpose button controlling audio and phone calls. Although the earbuds are labeled "L" and "R,"” they're both the same shape and can be used interchangeably in either ear.
The earbuds are stored in the Skydock, a small, rounded rectangular case that doubles as a charger. The top of the Skydock easily slides up to reveal the earbuds, which can be removed effortlessly. You'll also find a button that displays the battery status of both the dock and the buds (when docked) using five blue lights: three lights for the dock and one for each bud when pressed. When not in use, the lights turn off to save battery power.
Compared to the Erato Muse 5, the Skydock has a much nicer design. In addition to its sleeker shape, which allows it to easily fit in a pocket, the sliding opening mechanism seemed to be more refined and thought-out, so users won't fumble with an unattached cover.
Comfort and Fit
Unlike some earbuds that come with silicone or plastic ear hooks that are used to hold them in place, Skybuds utilize a "Twist-and-Lock" feature to keep them secure. Essentially, you are supposed to put each earbud in your ear vertically, wiggle it till it is seated in your ear and then rotate backward 90 degrees to "lock" them in place.
If you have larger ears, this may work. After using them for five minutes in this fashion, however, they became very uncomfortable for me. The buds are slightly too big to fit in my ears like this — they pushed on my ear canal, causing discomfort.
When I put them in and just left them in the initial upward position, they felt much more comfortable. They didn't feel as secure as when I twisted them horizontally, but still, they managed to stay in place for everyday use.
The medium ear tips were comfortable out of the box, and while it's nice to see that the company included a pair of small and large tips with the buds, I find it surprising when manufacturers don't include two pairs of each size. Also missing are the malleable Comply foam tips, which is disappointing for a pair of headphones at this price.
The initial pairing of the Skybuds was a slightly awkward process. Instead of simply placing the buds in pairing mode, searching for them on a device and connecting, I needed to first pair my phone to the right Skybud. Once connected, the two buds would connect to each other when they were within range of each other — roughly 10 inches apart. And finally, I had to pair with the Skydock.
In my smartphone's connected-devices list, my phone would show Skybuds L, Skybuds R, Skybud Audio and Skydock. This is all done so that my phone could pair and recognize them in the app. After a little fumbling, I could connect to the app; however, the Awareness feature — which lets in ambient sound, so listeners can hear what's going on around them — was not available. That meant that I had to update the software on the buds and dock — a grueling process that took two hours.
Once I downloaded the free app from the Google Play store, I followed the instructions to update the Skybuds. This required me to keep the app open in front of all other apps, meaning essentially that I could not use my phone for the duration of this update, which can take up to an hour. Once completed, I needed to update the firmware on the Skydock as well, which took another 15 minutes.
Once connected, I could easily walk around my living room and kitchen without issue. However, once I walked into my bedroom, the connection to the phone — which I left in the living room, approximately 18 feet away — became spotty. Additionally, similar to the Apple AirPods, when you remove one earbud from your ear, the music will pause. That's fine for when you're listening to music, but it's quite another thing when you're taking a phone call.
When I answered a call, to my dismay, the sound only went to one earbud. That left me with the awkward choice of either removing the silent bud or keeping it in my ear, which made me feel like I was missing something.
As I've said with previous pairs of wireless earbuds, when you're selecting them, I'm not convinced audio quality is the first priority; rather, it's connectivity and user experience. With that said, the Skybuds are certainly not terrible, though I wouldn't describe them as "audiophile" by any means. While I was listening to certain tracks, the Skybuds sounded a little distant, compared to other earbuds playing the same track.
My biggest issue with the Skybuds, however, is the maximum volume level on certain tracks. I listened to the majority of my music on Spotify, and while some songs might have had a slightly lower volume level than others, with the Skybuds, it was noticeably inconsistent. While comparing them to other earbuds with many different form factors, if there was any outside noise whatsoever, I could hear it. Having only one or two more "notches" of volume would have made the experience more enjoyable.
Listening to DJ Khaled's earworm, "All I Do Is Win," the sound was clear, but the bass was lacking. I felt that if I could have squeezed out even one more notch of volume, I would have really felt the bass drop. The added volume would have also added some slight separation on the vocals.
When I began listening to"Young Folks" by Peter Bjorn and John, the familiar whistle chorus was forward, however, some of the more nuanced background details seemed to get a little lost, compared to other earbuds. On the AirPods, for example, I clearly heard the slight reverb in the vocals and the crispness of the maracas against the pulsating bass guitar.
The Skybuds "Awareness" feature offers users the ability to make the sound more "transparent." It's a fancy way of saying that you can control how much ambient noise you can hear. It's a great feature for running or biking, but when I used it, the Skybuds' overall sound quality was greatly affected: It dampened my music. Enabling the feature also puts a strain on the earbuds' battery life, shortening it, so keep that in mind if you're planning on going on a long run.
Skybuds claims that the buds offer four hours of playback. I got 3 hours and 30 minutes of use, which was pretty good, considering I listened to everything at higher volumes. However, the AirPods lasted 4 hours and 29 minutes before tapping out. When the Skybuds' battery gets low, a nice British woman chimes in to notify you of the fact.
The Skydock houses a built-in battery, keeping the Skybuds charged while they are docked. It can recharge the buds six times for a total of 24 hours of charge, and it takes about two hours to charge the buds. If you download the Skybuds app, you can see the exact battery percentage of each earbud and the Skydock as well as the status of the dock, whether open or closed.
The Skybuds are a solid pair of truly wireless earbuds. For $199, you get a pair of buds with a stylish design, decent audio quality and a dock that provides up to 24 hours of charge. However, there are issues with connectivity, and the problems with fit and overall comfort prevent me from awarding them a higher score. If you're looking for a pair of wireless earbuds with a near-seamless connection process, great audio quality and nearly five hours of battery life, I recommend the $159 Apple AirPods. Overall, the Earbuds are a solid choice for music lovers who want to cut the cord for good and want a few app-controlled features to boot.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Tom's Guide