If you're in the market for new earbuds, you've undoubtedly thought about the Apple AirPods. The ubiquitous white, totally wireless earbuds are everywhere now—and they're actually pretty great! So much so we named them the best "true" wireless headphones.
But they're not for everyone. And for me, I would much rather put my money down on a much cheaper alternative: the (roughly) $20 Mpow Flame. Though I love the AirPods' design, the simplicity of connecting them to my phone, and the price compared to the other "true" wireless competition, the weaknesses really do add up.
The main ways the AirPods fall short? They aren't waterproof, they don't have any kind of hook to stay on your ear while working out or running, and they simply won't fit some people's ears. Though anatomically AirPods stay in my ears just fine, I wouldn't trust them while working out or doing anything more rigorous than yard work.
So why are the Mpow Flames so much cheaper than the AirPods? They're traditional wireless earbuds, in that they have a wire that connects the two earbuds, but not to your phone. Newer "true" wireless earbuds like the AirPods have no wires at all—each 'bud has everything it needs built right in, including separate batteries, speakers, and the radios needed to talk to your phone and each other.
The Flames aren't nearly as fancy, and the wire connecting the two 'buds means they don't need twice as many fiddly components that will inevitably fail. They also sound great, they fit wonderfully, and the earhook design stays on even through tough workouts and long runs. They were also easy to pair with my Android phone and my wife's iPhone, the battery life was good, and charging was simple enough.
For only $20, that's more than enough. With so few phones offering headphone jacks these days, the need for cheap Bluetooth earbuds is dire. Those little USB-C and Lightning dongles are way too easy to lose, the included wired earbuds aren't ideal, and you're going to need a backup pair at some point. For $20, these fit the bill beautifully.
But the Mpow Flames go above and beyond with exceptional water-resistance. We recently put them through their paces for our article on the difference between waterproof and water-resistant headphones. In that testing, we were able to submerge the Flames for a full 30 minutes—while playing music!—and they came out of the ordeal working just fine.
Durability is a major concern for us with any gadget, but especially wireless headphones. They just don't last that long, and we've found many retailers resorting to paid reviews and dirty tricks to hide the fact that their products frequently break in a few months. We're actually incredibly impressed with how well the AirPods have held up over time, but you can buy five pairs of Flames for less than the AirPods.
That's what makes the Flames a great buy; though they're as durable as any wireless earbuds we've tested—and I'm confident they'll last quite a while—they're also cheap enough that you're bound to get your money's worth either way.
And if the Flames and AirPods aren't your thing, I definitely suggest you check out our roundups of the best wireless earbuds, the best true wireless earbuds, and all our wireless headphone reviews to get to know all the best options you have. But even if you do want the AirPods, I'd recommend a cheap backup pair anyway.
Pick up a pair of the Flames, toss the case in your bag, and pop them in when you need them. Chances are, they won't let you down.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.