Do the various ways to use these earbuds mean that they are great at any of them?
The Bottom Line
Being able to use these wired, sport loop, or true wireless makes these fantastic earbuds for most users in most situations.
Where To Get It
When you consider the features that you get with the Tech3 earbuds compared to the price, these earbuds are a no brainer. While the Controls are a little unfortunate, and create a steeper than average Learning Curve, it is easy enough to overcome with a little time.
The unique Design of the Tech3 certainly sets them apart from other true wireless earbuds on the market. The most obvious aspect of the design is the ability to use them in three modes: true wireless, sports buds, and wired earbuds. While the standard true wireless mode isn't particularly special, the additional usages certainly are.
The ability to add a wire between the two earbuds makes it perfect for active sports like running. If an earbud happens to fall out, it won't be lost because it is still connected to the other one. There is also the benefit of being able to loop the cord over the top of your ear to reduce strain on your ears. The design that makes it happen, though, is even more interesting. It is done with a 3-pin plug, where one pin is offset from the others. This keeps you from plugging it in incorrectly. In addition, the Left and Right labels match up to keep things easy.
The wired usage is the truly unique part of the design. In the center of the cord that connects the earbuds is a magnetic connection with two magnets and 4 connectors. The paired cable has a 1/8" headphone plug on one side and a matching set of magnets and pogo pins to pair with the connectors. Through this connection you can use the earbuds with any device with a standard headphone jack, though standard headphone jacks are less prevalent these days. This can come in handy when you have exhausted the Battery Life of the earbuds, or for devices that do not support Bluetooth.
Additional design focus comes with the case. Because of the collection of unique cables, the case has been designed to carry all of them in one disc. The connection cable and the headphone cable both fit snugly into the disc without overlapping or getting in the way. Most importantly, they will not snag on an item in your pocket or backpack and get damaged. A lot of thought was put into how to protect the cables and the earbuds together.
There are three design elements that make the Tech3 feel like it was in the works for longer than Motorola had hoped. The first is the charging port, which is a Micro USB and not a USB-C. As everyone but Apple switches to USB-C for mobile devices, these earbuds will mean you'll have to keep a Micro USB around longer. The second issue is the missing option to use USB digital to connect to a phone. The pogo plug design for the cable means that, in theory, they could have made a Lightning, Micro USB, or USB-C option, as well.
The last, and most important, is the design of the charging indicators. When charging the puck, the indicator light is so small that you have to look directly into it to see if it is on. Before reading the instructions, we weren't even sure there was an indicator, despite searching for it. Worse yet are the charging lights for the earbuds. You can only see whether the earbuds are charging by opening the lid on the puck and tipping it down to look for an equally small LED indicator. If the lid on the puck were transparent and the lights were slightly larger, the problem would be entirely solved.
The Tech3 offers two different ways to listen to music: a standard headphone jack and Bluetooth. Both offer benefits and challenges, and each has its own unique Sound Quality.
The analog headphone connection offers very clear sound reproduction. While the sound quality varied slightly between different devices playing the same songs, it has a lot to do with the audio processing of the device. The variations between devices did show the wide range of sound available on the earbuds. While the overall tone of the music may have changed between devices, the clarity of the music never did. The music always sounded good, notes were individually distinguishable, and the voice never sounded distorted. This also demonstrates that the earbuds are not trying to do any major equalization, meaning you should be able to listen to a recording the way the musician intended, without any added bass. The earbuds were also tested for vocal reproduction during an episode of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology, and resulted in such a positive monitoring and editing experience, they may become a permanent part of the studio.
While Bluetooth is known for degraded sound quality, the Tech3 manages to avoid most of it. Some of this can be attributed to Bluetooth 5, which adds additional bandwidth, allowing for more complex audio transmission. However, Bluetooth receivers can also cause audio loss, and Motorola seems to have chosen or designed a quality transceiver for these earbuds. The sound isn't quite as deep in Bluetooth mode as it is when plugged in, but the difference is not enough to be a disappointment.
The Connectivity options on the Tech3 far exceeded our expectations. Unlike other earbuds, these offer three different options for usage. Two of them are Bluetooth, and the third is wired through a 1/8" headphone jack. While the idea of wired and wireless options is common for headphones, it is unique among earbuds.
The first and most natural option is true wireless. The earbuds pair together and operate as one, like the many true wireless earbuds available on the market. These use Bluetooth 5, which is backwards compatible, but gains range and clarity when used on a modern device. Staying in the Bluetooth realm, you can add a cord between the two earbuds to turn them into sports buds. This is popular for runners because, if one falls out, you won't lose it. Also, it gives you the ability to loop the cord over the top of your ear, taking some strain off your lower ears.
What really makes the Tech3 unique is the wired option. Connecting to the middle of the sports loop with a magnet is a standard headphone plug. This gives a couple of major benefits. The first is that they can be used with devices that are not Bluetooth compatible, like the mixer in our studio. The other major benefit is that you can use the earbuds when the Battery Life has been exhausted.
While there are many options available for these earbuds, there is one that is missing that would be appreciated - USB digital. As more devices are abandoning headphone jacks (iPhone, Samsung Galaxy S20, Microsoft Surface Duo), the option to use USB digital would make these earbuds usable on any new device. Theoretically, Motorola could add this option through the magnetic pogo pin system, though it does not seem to be an option currently.
The Range of the Tech3 earbuds is beyond what a standard user would need, but does not quite live up to the technical possibilities. The range was tested using an iPhone 12 Pro Max.
In my two-story house, with the iPhone in one corner, I am able to use these earbuds in the entire house without reception issues. When leaving the apartment with the phone inside, I was able to get a short distance from the building before experiencing reception problems. Exterior walls are traditionally the enemy of wireless technology, but the Tech3 managed to break through in a small way.
Line of Sight
Bringing the iPhone outside, the earbuds were able to remain consistently connected at a distance of 490 feet. As the Tech3 supports Bluetooth 5, as does the iPhone 12, the maximum range is 800 feet. While these earbuds did not live up to that theoretical extreme, they performed admirably. Unlike full, over-the-head headphones, wireless earbuds do not have the ability to use the strap as part of the antenna array, which means your head will be part of the limiting factor.
The Battery Life of the Tech3 earbuds is very high for true wireless earbuds, and the case makes charging quick and easy. However, they fell somewhat short of their advertised battery life.
Formal Test (HTC 8x)
The advertised battery life is 7 hours, which we never actually hit, though we got within 4 minutes once. Running our formal test on the Tech3 earbuds, we averaged 6 hours and 35 minutes of playtime, recorded across three tests. There was some fluctuation in the battery tests, with one coming in just under 5 hours and another almost at 7 hours. The majority sat right in the 6 hour 35 minute range, with a single statistical outlier, which we attributed to the charging case.
On the other hand, the charging case exceeded the advertised battery life. While the packaging says that the case should add 11 hours of life to the earbuds, we got just over 12 hours added to our time. Usually, it was in 2 relatively equal portions, but did provide our highest and lowest battery life in one session.
As part of a normal workday, I listen to music, watch Hulu and YouTube, and participate in conference calls. I used the Tech3 earbuds during one of those workdays instead of the speakers on my computer. They almost managed to make it through the day, cutting out less than an hour before I left the office. 6 and a half hours is enough to cover most peoples' days, and the quick charging capability of the case would allow you to top them up during a lunch break, or while driving to the gym.
The Call Quality on the Tech3 earbuds is generally fantastic. In fact, the quality is on par with talking directly into the phone.
This is the sound quality for the person the wearer is calling. The quality was nearly identical to that of talking directly into the phone. The receiver was able to tell when the call changed from the phone to earbuds but was not able to tell which device was active when a call was initiated while using the earbuds. This indicates that the difference between the two was minimal. Our tester said she would be happy to talk to someone who was using the earbuds.
For the wearer, the sound quality is slightly better than directly on the phone. This is partially due to the fact that, because of the nature of fitted earbuds, outside noise is minimized. When paired with the Sound Quality of the earbuds themselves, it makes for a great call experience. In fact, I would prefer to use these over a more expensive headset designed specifically for phone calls.
All Controls are done through rapidly pressing the Multi-Function Button (MFB), or holding it for a period of time. To turn the earbuds on or off, you press the button for 2 or 4 seconds, respectively. While they are on and connected, pressing the button for 2 seconds will trigger the Bluetooth Command action, which varies by device (Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana, camera shutter, etc.).
When receiving a call, pressing the button once will answer the call, while pressing it twice quickly will hang up. When not involved with a phone call, pressing the button once will start and stop music playing. Pressing it twice rapidly will skip to the next track, while three times rapidly will go back a track. The scheme does create a semi-steep Learning Curve. Unfortunately, there's no control capability for adjusting the volume of the connected device.
In Bluetooth mode, the MFB is available on the flat surface of each earbud. This allows you to control the music or phone call from either ear. While in wired mode, however, the button moves to the center connector. The good news is that all the same commands work, except for the power on and off, since it's not needed.
I tested the earbuds for phone use with a couple of everyday household background noises. The first was a fairly loud fan, which can often be heard using my computer on Microsoft Teams or Slack calls. Until sitting less than a foot away from the fan, the other party was not able to hear the sound at all. Once I was close to the fan, it took a few seconds for the system to identify noise from voice, but once it did, it was almost entirely eliminated.
On the other hand, the earbuds were unable to eliminate the sound of talking and laughing on television. This is likely because the human vocal range is fairly limited and trying to remove any voice would remove all voice. We have experienced the same thing when trying to clean up audio at CES because most of the background noise there also falls within the human vocal range.
The Learning Curve for the Tech3 is a little steep, but not unusual. The biggest issues come from the usage of a single multi-function button (MFB). All Controls are done through rapidly pressing the same button, or holding it for a period of time. This command scheme is not intuitive and requires experimentation or actually reading the instructions (which is the smaller document). The good news is, if you use the earbuds regularly, you'll remember the commands easily enough.
For earbuds, the Tech3 earbuds are surprisingly comfortable. Like almost all modern earbuds, these comes with three sizes of eartips that fit on the end of the earbuds themselves. This allows for a variety of fit options for different sized ears. I generally have trouble finding an eartip that fits properly, having only found a small handful over the years. While the eartips for the Tech3 are not perfect for me, the middle size still managed to stay in and remain comfortable for an entire episode of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology.
While in true wireless mode, since there is no wire, the earbuds do suffer from the same problem as all true wireless earbuds - unaccompanied weight. However, because of their lesser Size & Weight, they do not put as much strain on the lower ears as heavier earbuds do. In either of the wired modes, however, you get the benefit of being able to pull the cord over the top of your ears to remove some of the strain.
The Build Quality of the Tech3 is incredibly high. None of the injection molding seams are sharp, a common problem with injection molding. That's made even more impressive due to the sheer number of seams, corners, and gaps on the earbuds. In the Design of the case, for example, there are a lot of seams for moving lids and gaps for charging and cabling, as well as the magnetic slots for the earbuds. The earbuds themselves don't have many exposed seams, as they are mostly folded into the design.
The plastics used are also of a high quality. Because the case has several moving parts, the possibility of breaking is higher than a case shaped like a tube. However, the hinges do not feel flimsy or easily breakable, though with some pressure you could eventually damage the doors. The exterior door would be easier to damage than the interior door, and, as such, the hinge is reinforced.
Most importantly, the charging port itself is solid. The electronic portion of the charger is strong, which is important because it is in the middle of the case, not near the bottom surface. That creates some pressure on the port, but it doesn't feel like it will break off of the board. The plastic surrounding the port is also thick, so you won't experience cracking around the port, a problem that has become common on even flagship phones.
Size & Weight
The overall Size & Weight of the Tech3 is below average. The earbuds themselves are about the physical size of traditional true wireless earbuds but are fairly light in weight. They do not feel empty like some of the cheaper earbuds but are not so heavy that they cause strain on the ears.
In sports earbud mode with the middle cord connected, they really shine in both size and weight. The cord that runs between the earbuds is extremely thin and lightweight but is braided to prevent damage. Compared to other sports earbuds we have tested, the Tech3 are far lighter and more comfortable.
In fully wired mode, despite the earbuds being slightly larger than the average quality wired earbud, they weigh less.