Handset makers are slowly taking steps towards ditching the dedicated 3.5mm headset jack and providing a wired connection through USB-C instead. The latest USB-C-only smartphone to cross my path is the Huawei Mate 10 Pro.
Wireless headsets are nothing new, of course -- I've been using them for both work and leisure for years. But the rise of USB-C connectivity is giving wireless audio a boost. The big trend here is 'true wireless' -- like Apple's AirPods -- rather than the wireless headsets where the left and right earbuds are connected by a cable.
The Avanca Minim True Wireless Earbuds are a case in point: two small, entirely wire-free, earbuds that will cost you £89 (inc. VAT), or 99 euros. They're compatible with iOS, Android and Windows, and an integrated digital microphone caters for voice calls -- and for anyone who uses Siri, Google Now or Cortana.
The earbuds come with an aluminium storage capsule that both protects them in transit and incorporates a 400mAh charger. Avanca says that the mix of 60mAh on the earbuds plus the charger will provide 12 hours of life. Connectors on the earbuds line up with those in the capsule when the buds are stowed, so that they charge automatically. The capsule itself is charged over MicroUSB, and a charge light is illuminated while charging is in progress. There's no fast charging here: it'll take two hours to fully charge the storage capsule.
The buds are small and don't have much by way of on-board controls. There's a relatively large round button in the centre of each earbud that you use to turn the earbud on or off, pair, play and pause music, answer or reject an incoming call, redial the last outgoing number and trigger whatever voice assistant you're using. Above and below this button are volume up/rewind song and volume down/next song buttons. This minimalist approach is a boon: there's no need to remember what button to press, and no fiddling around trying to find the right button by touch.
Because the earbuds are completely wire free, both have to be paired. One is designed as the 'main' earbud, and this is the one you pair with your handset. Pairing the 'main' bud to the handset is standard stuff. Once this is done, the 'partner' bud needs to be connected to the main one -- not to the handset. This just involves long pressing the 'partner' earbud's button. Throughout these processes the buds provide audio confirmation. It doesn't matter which of the earbuds you choose to be the main one, and indeed it's easy to swap them around by re-pairing.
There's no need to power down the partner earbud if you don't want to use it. Just removing it from your ear and stowing it in the storage capsule is enough to cause it to automatically power down. The 'main' bud will let you know this has happened by saying "TWS disconnected". If you forget which bud is 'main', and which is 'partner' and put the 'main' one away by mistake, the connection to your handset will be broken. The system lets you know you've done by regaling you with a double-beeping 'busy' tone before making its "TWS disconnected" statement.
It's all pretty straightforward to work with.
The fit is pretty good and I found the earbuds comfortable for extended wear. There are three silicone ear tips that help you get a snug fit. Still, I found I sometimes pulled an earbud out accidentally, and once one of them fell from my ear to the floor. I might be reluctant to use them outdoors. There is also the blue flashing light on the 'main' bud that indicates a live Bluetooth connection which might be slightly off-putting for some.
I found that while sound quality was within my acceptable range, it wasn't what I'd call great. There will always be some lipsync delay with true wireless headphones, because information has to get from handset to 'main' earbud, and from there to the 'partner' bud. Even though the Avanca Minim True Wireless Earbuds have just a very tiny delay I did notice it, and was irritated by it.
Voice calls worked perfectly well, although I have yet to try the headset out in a truly noisy public environment to fully test its noise-cancelling credentials. They will have to be good. Because the microphone is on the earbud it's a long way from the mouth, there's plenty of opportunity for ambient sound to be captured.
The Avanca Minim True Wireless Earbuds certainly have allure, although they are not likely to be a complete solution for everyone. The lack of secure over-ear fastening means they're probably not suitable for sports wear, as they might pop out of sweaty ears. Not everyone will be able to acclimatise to the lipsync delay. And they're yet another thing to remember to charge -- although to be fair that's something all wireless earbuds have in common.
4.2 + BR/EDR
10 meters / 32 feet
Rechargeable battery earbud
Rechargeable battery charging capsule
Charging time earbuds
Charging time capsule
< 2 hours
Audio time single charge
up to 4 hours
Talking time single charge
up to 4.5 hours
Audio time with charging capsule
up to 12 hours
Talking time with charging capsule
up to 13.5 hours
Standby time with charging capsule
up to 40 hours
4.5g / 0.16oz (single earbud)
23.6 x 16.5 x 26.7mm / 0.93 x 0.64 x 1.05" (single earbud)
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