Review: Motorola VerveOnes+

Earlier this year, Motorola and Binatone partnered to develop a range of connected products, dubbed VerveLife. The first of these products to hit the market is their range of wireless headphones, that all rely on Bluetooth and have varying levels of wireless capabilities. Here, we're taking a look at the VerveOnes+, the flagship of the whole range, and something that people have been looking forward to for years, if not decades. The VerveOnes+ are like something straight out of the movies, they stick out from your ears, have a button that when pressed makes you like a member of the Secret Service and they're totally, entirely wireless. There's no cable joining the two earbuds together here, there's a neat little charging case and they look fairly good, too. They promise deep, rich HD sound as well as dual mics for clear calls (this is straight from the packaging) so, let's see if they live up to these promises, shall we? For $249.99, they had better, right?

Features and Specs

The main attraction of these is of course, that they're totally wireless, and to do that, they rely on Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity with AptX codec support for improved sound. The official specs straight from Motorola and Binatone state that these have a range of 33ft, or thereabouts. For those really into their Bluetooth specs, the VerveOnes+ also feature A2DP v1.3 and HFP v1.6. On the music side of things, there's no frequency response or impedance listing by the official specs, but instead that "HD sound" feature is listed once again alongside the six different profiles the Hubble Connect app provides the VerveOnes+, which are Bass, Live, Brilliant, Balanced, Rhythm and Moto Sound. Just what Moto Sound actually is I'm not sure of, but we'll go over sound quality later on, naturally. Outside of all the Bluetooth and sound stuff, the VerveOnes+ carry an IP57 certification making them sweat and water-resistant, including submersion in 3 meters of "fresh water" for up to 30 minutes. The website does however, explicitly advise not use these while swimming. Measurements are 35mm x 35mm x 90mm for each earbud and they weigh 68g as well. It is a little strange not to see more information about the specs and features of the VerveOnes+ on their website, but we've been able to put them through their paces.

What's In The Box

Considering their $249.99 price tag, you'd expect something pretty nice to be included with the VerveOnes+, and for the most part you'd be correct, but the extras you might expect to be present, aren't. The box itself is a nice a little cardboard package that has been designed to be easily stacked on a shelf, and while it's not the best-looking box out there, it gets the job done. Then, there's a box within a box, one that doesn't have a pull-tab to make it easier to remove. This box is what has all of the goodies housed within, neatly displayed to boot. The earbuds themselves come inside of their necessary charger, which also doubles as a carrying case. Underneath all of this is a small microUSB cable for charging, some literature including warranty info and three pairs of single and double flange ear tips, in S, M and L sizing. That's it. There's nothing else to see here inside the box for the VerveOnes+ and while that will disappoint some, the majority of the action is to be had within those earbuds themselves.

Design & Comfort

How many ways can you realistically design a pair of totally wireless earbuds like the VerveOnes+? There are few different ways you can do this, and as we've seen with the Gear IconX from Samsung, the Bragi Dash and other contenders, they look pretty similar. The same is true here, and the black and orange paint job is perhaps really the only way these stand out from other similar products out there. The charging cradle is both a neat way to house the VerveOnes+ as well as a quality carrying case. This is the sort of neat carrying case that looks good on your desk and also slips into your jacket pocket, your bag or whatever else without feeling like your earbuds are still going to get crushed. This doubles as their charging dock, and there's a microUSB port on the bottom that makes it nice and easy to charge with whatever cable you have lying around. Taking the buds in and out requires some getting used to, I've had these for a few weeks now and I still feel like I am going to end up breaking them when I push them in to click in place and vice versa. Still, the whole package feels well-made and the soft-touch coating on the ear buds is nice and everything feels solid and well put together. Nothing feels cheap here and even though the design is fairly generic, they don't look too big when protruding from your ear and thanks to the orange touches, people should know you're listening to music or whatever when they see you, even without a cable making it obvious.

Moving on to comfort and sadly, this is where things fall apart. The overall problem with the VerveOnes+ is not that they're particularly heavy - because they aren't - and it's not because they're too big, either. It's because the ear tips themselves are just a bad choice. The design of the earbuds themselves means that nothing actually goes that far into your ear, and the shallow, short ear tips do not make this any better, they only make it a lot worse. As a result of their shallow design, the VerveOnes+ constantly feel as if they're falling out of your ear, and this has an impact on the sound as well, which sounds far away and a little tinny. I have a lot of ear tips here, and I put in a pair of ones I had here at home, and they were wildly better. The sound was improved and they felt a lot more secure in my ear, but why should I have to put something not designed for the VerveOnes+ in my ear to make them fit comfortably? The answer is that I shouldn't, and while there will be some people that find these a better fit than others, the bottom line is that Motorola dropped the ball on the design of the ear tip and the whole product suffers as a result.

Sports use is something else that the VerveOnes+ are advertised for, but in reality there's not a huge amount the VerveOnes+ can do here. I tried running with these a number of times, but they either popped right out of my ear or were just a constant discomfort which just goes to help you take your mind off of the task at hand. Some light, casual workouts will probably benefit from the VerveOnes+, they're very nice to go hiking with with your favorite book and they'll probably be okay riding a bike, should you be able to get a helmet on with out touching your ears. Basically, anything that's too intensive or sees you moving your head around a lot will upset these, but lighter stuff should be fine.

It's not all bad however, as the overall look and feel is pretty solid, and with some tips that Motorola could provide as add-ons, these would be a much more comfortable pair as well. I hate to say this sort of thing in reviews, but perhaps version two really will be better when it comes to how comfortable these are to actually wear.

Sound Quality

Considering that the idea behind such a pair like this is to make sure that you can go anywhere without the hassle of wires weighing you down and to generally make it much more enjoyable to listen to your music, they need to sound good as well. Again, this is an area where Motorola have missed out on a number of things. The overall sound is tainted by a sort of fuzziness, almost like there's radio static happening all of the time, and while this is practically unavoidable when it comes to Bluetooth, these seem to be a pair that are particularly susceptible to it. On top of this, the sound quality just doesn't sound well, good. They're not bad or horrible, but they're a long way off from being $250 good, regardless of how much you enjoy your music.

The bass is fairly flat and tubby with the VerveOnes+, there's no real punch or presence when listening to anything with a powerful bass line in it, and on top of that the treble and high-end struggle to appear clean or have any texture to them at all. This is when using the balanced mode from within the app, mind you. Sticking with this mode (which is ironically the best one to use overall) it appears as though Motorola and Binatone have created a pair of Bluetooth earbuds that only have mid-range, and a muddy one at that. Detail is practically wiped out in amongst a crackly mush of sounds fighting for space from a driver that just can't handle it all. This is depressing, and things don't get any better when you try out some of the more adventurous EQ modes. Brilliant just makes these sound like they're trying to give ear fatigue with a high-end focus and while the other EQ modes have similar traits to them, none of them are really worth using, aside from perhaps Moto Sound which does give listeners a cleaner, yet fuller and warmer tone to music. This too, however, for all of its plus points gives vocalists a blunt and muted sound to them. Adele sounds as if she is far away and singing to me from the floor below me, not as if I am in the recording studio with her, as it always should do.

It's a shame that these don't sound as good as their price tag suggests, but it's not all bad. This is the type of pair for someone that's not really massively involved in their music and a pair for those that are just happy to have a pair to take with them wherever. They sound okay, but you won't be having the best time of your life with these, and if you need good music in your life to get you through the day, to make that commute on the way in acceptable, then these might not be the pair for you.

Battery Life

If you want to get the advertised 12-hour battery life out of the VerveOnes+ you're going to become very familiar with the charging case. The 12-hour battery life is dependent on you using this cradle to top them up throughout the day. I managed roughly four hours or so on a single stretch, but I had to recharge them to get a further four hours or so. This will be annoying for some people, but they don't take too long to charge, and each time you place these into your ears, you are told about how much battery life you have left to listen with, which is nice. Could it be better? Of course it could, but it could be a lot worse. The charging case solves a problem while offering you a nice way of keeping things safe, and the microUSB connector ensures easy charging no matter where you are.

Connected App and Wireless Performance

Marketed as "Smart Earbuds", it was inevitable that a connected app would become available for these, and the Hubble Connected app is that app. Available for free in the Play Store, it's a fairly straightforward affair that has few bells and whistles, but helps to complete the experience somewhat. It doesn't get off to a great start however, as many people will be wondering just what "Hubble Connected" has to do with a line of products dubbed VerveLife? Well, things get even worse when users find out that the app is actually called VerveLife in their app drawer.

Users can only use the app when the earbuds themselves are in their charging cradle, which doesn't really make any sense, and when changing the EQ settings to try them out this becomes an annoyance. Let's say you're trying to find something close to "your sound" and you want to try one after another, this would require you to change the EQ setting, test, put them back, change the EQ setting, take them out again and so on. It's a little strange, but it does work and I had no issue connecting with the app. The app does also have some other niceties such as updating you of battery life - in increments of 25% for each ear - where the buds were last seen (again, this is only when they were connected with the cradle) and settings for auto-detect and pass-through.

This app is fairly useful, and while the location options is fairly nice, the pass-through option is basically useless. The earbuds don't provide enough isolation to make you completely oblivious to the outside world, so this should only be used for those hard of hearing or those that just like to listen to everything at super-high volumes.

Wireless performance, is just not as good as it should be. I constantly found the right earbud disconnecting for what I could only see was no reason at all. I always keep my phone in my right pocket, so the right earbud is closer to my pocket, and even if it's being fed the signal from the left earbud, my head isn't that big. Walking with these I would occasionally get dropouts from the right earbud, but even worse than that I would sometimes have trouble getting the right earbud to even connect. Leaving me no choice but to take them out of my ears and plug them in over and over until it all finally connects properly. Aside from these connection issues, they do work and stay connected for long periods of time, it can just be a little hit and miss, which is fine, but for this sort of price, you would expect a lot better than this.

Conclusion

Of course, for all of its bad points, the VerveOnes+ are totally wireless, and right now that means that there has to be some trade-0ffs. No matter how expensive or how many years a pair of these have been in development for, no pair will sound as good, or perhaps even close to a pair of wired headphones. The technology just doesn't exist yet, and that's a pain for right now, but without products like these, there would be no incentive to work on things for the future, would there? Taking this into account, the VerveOnes+ sound okay. They're pretty good for listening to podcasts or audiobooks, and some music sounds good with these, but anything with a lot of instruments and an energetic beat is going to be lost, sadly. Whether or not these are the pair for you depends on just how much you dislike the idea of wired earphones in the first place, if the answer is a lot, then there are far worse options out there than these. There will however, be better options in the future, and that's a problem that anyone eyeing up something new will have to weigh up, sadly. The fact is that these do not sound anywhere near as good as their price point would suggest, but then again they're fully wireless and have a nice carrying case to go with them, if you're more about portability and convenience than you are anything else, then the only-just-adequate sound quality of the VerveOnes+ might not bother you, and at the end of the day, ignorance can be bliss.

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