Review: Phiaton BOLT Wireless Earphones

There is no denying that Apple's AirPods ushered in a revolution in wireless audio. Unfortunately, AirPods still cost the same price today that they did when first introduced nearly two years ago. This has given rise to a number of competitors able to offer alternatives at nearly half the AirPods' current price. One such alternative is Phiaton's BOLT earphones. Currently available on Kickstarter with starting pledge levels at $89, the BOLT is expected to ship to backers by the end of this year.

Related: Buyer's Guide: Best Bluetooth & Wired Headphones of 2018

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In addition to providing great wireless audio quality, the most unique aspect of the BOLT is its charging case, which doubles as a small, cylindrical external Bluetooth speaker. The charging speaker is slightly louder than those found in the new iPhone XS models, but the fact that such a feature even exists is a bold design choice on the part of Phiaton. The addition of this speaker does add considerable bulk to the charging case, especially compared to competing wireless earphone cases. As such, the BOLT charging case isn't exactly pocket-sized. Rather, it's best carried in a purse or backpack. Still, it's nice to have a spare external speaker to project audio at meetings or a small gathering of friends. And while the external speaker greatly enhances the utility of the charging canister, it's too bad Phiaton didn't spend additional engineering effort on the case lid. I dropped the earphones several times when placing them into the charger due to fiddling with the lid. It's flimsy plastic construction and its inability to easily open wide enough to guide easier seating of the earphones into the cradle was frustrating at times. At least earphone recharge time was on par with other wireless earphones of this type.

The audio quality of earphones is typical of other non-Apple earphones I've reviewed. But what makes the BOLT stand out is the ability to deliver such capabilities at nearly half the cost of competing earphones. I also found that the BOLT's battery life was better than other wireless earphones in the same category that I tested. Unfortunately, just as I have with other similarly designed earphones, I was able to cut out the left audio channel by turning my head to the extreme left or right. At least the signal was able to quickly re-acquire and correct itself once my head returned to a normal front-facing position. Call quality was excellent thanks to the BOLT's dual microphones. The BOLT earphones are also IPX4 sweat and water resistant, making them ideal for workouts and other sweaty activities.

One concerning aspect that I have found with other earphones with this design configuration is a persistent chemical scent that permeated my throat and sinuses after a few minutes of use. While this scent wasn't as sickening as with other earphones I've worn, it is still concerning that whatever manufacturing process is used to produce such earphones leaves this noxious residue. Who knows what kind of long-term health effects such chemistry has on the body, not to mention the fact that the radios in these type of earphones in general are so close to the brain.

Pros

  • Great sound from both earbuds and speaker
  • Amazing price
  • Good battery life with quick recharge


Cons

  • Bulky charging canister/container
  • Initially leaves chemical taste in mouth and sinuses

Final Verdict

The BOLT earphones provide a significant Swiss Army knife-style value of features for consumers of audio content. While the charging tube containing the earphones in their dormant state may not be the easiest to use and the built-in speaker not impressively loud, the fact that these previously stand-alone features have been mixed together into a single product is compelling. Yet the BOLT's most remarkable aspect is its price. What was nearly two hundred dollars less than six months ago is now less than a hundred dollars is a stunning reset of wireless earphone price per feature expectation.

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Mike Riley is a frequent contributor to several technical publications and specializes in emerging technologies and new development trends. Mike was previously employed by RR Donnelley as the company’s Chief Scientist, responsible for determining innovative technical approaches to improve the company’s internal and external content services. Mike also co-hosted Computer Connection, a technology enthusiast show broadcast on Tribune Media's CLTV.