Beats Flex review: Great alternative to AirPods for just £49

Beats has launched a new pair of wireless headphones to coincide with the launch of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro.

Despite Apple acquiring Beats back in 2014, the street smart brand has continued to thrive independently. It’s also benefited by quietly taking on board plenty of Apple’s tech to make it play especially nice with iPhones and iPads.

But, like Apple, Beats gear has always come at a premium. Until now.

The Beats Flex keeps a very similar design to the (now discontinued) BeatsX. But rather than costing £130 like the BeatsX, the Beats Flex comes in at £49. Which is also plenty cheaper than Apple’s own £159 AirPods.

I’d say it’s no coincidence the Beats Flex have arrived just as Apple has ditched the practice of bundling headphones in with its new iPhone.

And, of course, if you have an iPhone then the Beats Flex will be a much more compelling choice than if you use Android devices (you can download the Android app to carry across some functionality). The headphones contain Apple’s W1 chip, meaning it’ll one-touch pair with your iPhone and also sync pairing across devices on your iCloud account.

Even though the Beats Flex is from the Apple stable, it still charges via USB-C rather than Lightning. Beats quotes around 12 hours from a single charge and I found that to be accurate during my testing over the course of a weekend.

The Beats Flex will run for 1 ½ hours on a ten-minute charge, which is a step down from the two hours the BeatsX gets from just a five minute charge. But considering the price difference, I’m not inclined to quibble over that.

I like the design of the Beats Flex, which consists of a soft, rubberised ‘Flex Form’ cable that sits around the back of your neck and takes the weight. It means the buds themselves don’t pull on your ears in any way. They can also be left to hang down in front of your chest and magnets keep them attached. It’s great if you want to just knock one or both buds out of your ear but aren’t able to put them somewhere – which is an issue with completely wireless independent in-ear buds.

Something to be wary of though is the Beats Flex aren’t graded for sweat or water resistance. If that’s what you want, you’ll need to look at the Powerbeats Pro. However, I put the Beats Flex to test during a bike ride and I took them out in the rain. I didn’t notice any problems with moisture stopping playback.

The in-line remote holds a single function button for pausing songs and skipping forward or back. There’s also a volume rocker and a small grille that hides the on-board microphone.

So, how do they sound? To my ear, pretty good. There’s a silicone tip to help mask environmental noise although not the same kind of impressive ANC you’ll find on the AirPods Pro, for example. As you’d expect, there’s a decent amount of bass, but I didn’t find that it overshadowed the treble too much. Obviously, they aren’t offering as richer or detailed sound as more expensive models – but the quality is great for a pair of £50 in-ear headphones.

If you really want to know what’s behind the sound, Beats says the Flex have a ‘proprietary layered driver with dual-chamber acoustics to achieve rich, balanced sound with outstanding stereo separation.’

So, there you go. In my much-less-technical description: they sound punchy, have plenty of volume and will certainly satisfy the vast majority of us.

All told, I was very impressed with the Beats Flex. I’m a fan of the neckband design (no messing around with charging cases or panicking over losing a bud) and the battery life will get you through the day without any troubles. I like the fact it charges via USB-C and that if you use an iPhone, it’ll pair nice and easily.

And the fact it doesn’t carry the usual astronomical Beats price tag just makes it even better.

You can buy the Beats Flex headphones here.

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