LG TONE Free HBS-FL7 hands-on: Fully wireless earbuds with UV LED bacteria deterrent and Google Assistant

LG has been making Tone series wireless headphones for years, primarily with a neckband form factor. It's latest LG TONE headset is a fully wireless Bluetooth headset, the LG TONE Free HBS-FL7, with Google Assistant integration and UV LED cleaning capability in the case.

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With 3.5mm audio jacks no longer appearing on phones, tablets, or even on computers, Bluetooth wireless headsets are becoming the default solution. LG just announced its new LG TONE Free wireless earbuds (model HBS-FL7) and I've been testing them out for the past few weeks.

Most of the Bluetooth fully wireless earbuds I use are designed for exercise and are tested while running outside. However, as a daily commuter and person who enjoys jazz music while focusing on work, I also like to use headphones when I'm not running outside. The new LG TONE Free earbuds have IPx4 water resistance, but they are a semi-open earbud and will likely not remain in anyone's ears while exercising. 

These earbuds are not optimized for exercise, but are focused on premium sound with Meridian audio technology, providing clean earbuds through UV LED exposure, enabling easy access to Google Assistant, and all-day comfort with a semi-open mounting design.

Also: Jabra Elite 75t wireless earbuds review: Solid audio and call quality with long battery life, Best Headphones of 2020 (CNET)

The LG TONE Free wireless stereo earbuds are available now for a MSRP of $199.99 and work with Android and iOS devices, as well as PCs through a Bluetooth connection. An Android smartphone offers an optimal experience, as discussed below.

Specifications

  • Microphones: Two dual MEMS mics with noise reduction/echo cancellation in each earbud
  • Bluetooth profiles: HSP, HFP, A2DP, AVRCP
  • Water resistance: IPx4 rating
  • Battery life: Up to 6 hours of play with charging case providing another 15 hours of music playback. Five minutes of charging provides up to 60 minutes of battery life.
  • Wireless connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
  • Earbud weight: 7.1 grams each

Hardware

The retail package includes the two wireless earbuds, a charging case with integrated battery, a short USB-A to USB-C cable, and small/medium/large silicone gel earbud tips. There is no support for wirelessly charging the battery/carrying case, but it is great to see the standard USB-C port and ability for fast charging.

The charging case is covered with black soft touch material that makes it easy to hold and keeps the case from sliding off a table. It is a small round puck a couple inches in diameter and just over an inch thick.

There is a pairing button on the left side of the case, in case your phone doesn't automatically pick up the earbuds when you open the case. The USB-C port is on the right side of the carrying case. Lift the lid to see the two earbuds resting on three gold charging pins and magnetically held very securely in place.

One feature I have never seen on a wireless headset is the embedded UVnano system. UV LEDs are installed in the bottom of the case on the outside of the earbud in the lower compartment. When you have your charging case connected to USB-C these lights are activated and work to kill or inactivate microorganisms. According to independent testing conducted in October 2019, UV LED light built into charging case reduces Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli on tip of the earbud closest to the ear canal. UVnano is a compound word derived from the words UV and its unit, nanometer.

Also: Jabra Elite Active 65t review: Better than the AirPods and designed for active users

The earbuds are identical in design with an outside touch pad, two MEMS microphones (one at the top and another at the bottom), same charging terminals, and battery capacity. They have an oblong top/outer shape with an earpiece that extends down from one end. A silicone tip attaches to the earpiece with an opening for the speaker.

Unlike many earbuds built for exercise, these buds are designed for a semi-open design so that they rest on the lower part of your ear. They stay secure while you are sitting or walking, but can fall out with lots of head movement since they are not pushing against any sides of your ear to maintain a secure fit. This means I could never run with them, but they can also be worn for many hours with zero discomfort.

While the user manual shows the right earbud as the main earbud and the left is labeled a sub-earbud, I was able to get on a call and remove each earbud, one at a time, and maintain the call flawlessly. The microphone and speaker work on both earbuds and the hand-off between earbuds is flawless. After hanging up the call, music picked up just where I left it as well. Unlike some other recent earbuds, the LG TONE Free appears to have advanced software for perfect audio management.

The outside touchpad on each earbud is used to control your media, phone, and Google Assistant experience. While listening to music, press once on either touchpad to pause/play the music. Tap one of the earbuds three times to toggle through the various equalizer settings. These include bass boost, flat mode, treble boost, and normal. The LG TONE Free have automatic ear detection so your music pauses when you take them out. Your phone also connects automatically once you insert them in your ears.

To receive or end a phone call, tap the touchpad twice. To reject a call touch and hold on one of the touchpads. In order to initiate Google Assistant, touch and hold on one of the touchpads. You must keep holding your finger on the touchpad while speaking your command. Release your finger to let Google carry out your requested action. There is no automatic voice-controlled support for any assistant.

Google Assistant can be used on Android or iOS and can perform functions related to your audio experience, such as changing your music or controlling volume levels.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

I honestly never thought much about wireless earbuds that I couldn't also use for exercise, but after trying out the LG TONE Free I understand why someone may want something with such an amazing audio experience in this form factor. These earbuds were designed with Meridian audio technology and I've been blown away by the level of bass, crisp clear sounds, and overall amazing audio enjoyed with these earbuds in place.

There is no active noise cancellation, which might make these more compelling for some. I've been very impressed with the volume and quality of the music that I didn't even notice there was no ANC.

It's hard to say what the impact of the 275nm LED cleaning cycle has on the overall experience, but anything that can reduce the levels of bacteria in today's world is a positive and worthy feature.

There are not an overwhelming number of button options on these earbuds and that's a good thing. When there are too many options I end up just using a couple of key ones. The focus here is on using Google Assistant to handle more complicated actions while keeping it simple with single, double, and triple presses along with extended holds. I found the earbuds very easy to use and control.

Using the LG TONE Free with an Android phone is a bit better experience thanks to having volume and equalizer settings right on the smartphone display. You can also customize notification settings and use the find my earbud function. There is also a cool Google Translate option that can facilitate speaking with someone talking in another language. This requires the Google Translate app on your phone and works through Google Assistant.

The LG TONE Free is a wonderful option for a fully wireless headphone solution and offers a couple of unique functions not seen by others. They have performed flawlessly and provided a music experience that has me using these earbuds every day. If you are looking for high quality audio for music and solid phone call quality, definitely consider the LG TONE Free earbuds.