Technology

Moto Buds-S ANC Earbuds Review: Motorola Could Do Better

Rating:
4/10
?

  • 1 – Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 – Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 – Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 – Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 – Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 – Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 – Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 – Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 – Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 – Absolute Design Nirvana

Price: $149.99

Kevin Bonnett

Motorola’s latest pair of earbuds—the Moto Buds-S ANC— looks undeniably good on paper, with plenty of high-end features like wireless charging, active noise cancelation (ANC), and 18 hours of battery. Despite these advantages, though, the Moto Buds still struggled to actually be good.

Here’s What We Like

  • Great battery life
  • Has active noise cancelation
  • Stable connection

And What We Don’t

  • Uncomfortable fit
  • Poor isolation
  • No companion app
  • Audio is quiet

Judging by the buds’ physical design, Motorola was clearly interested in making a less pricey AirPods competitor. And looking at the specs, the Moto Buds are almost on par, but they just don’t stick the landing. They weren’t comfortable, isolation was lackluster, and while audio for calls and videos was decent, they didn’t sound good while playing music. It feels like Motorola was trying to tick as many boxes as possible without actually ensuring that all the individual pieces added up to a solid whole, and I think it can do much better.

Specifications

  • Drivers: 10mm
  • Frequency Range: 20Hz-20kHz
  • Earbud Weight: 6g
  • Case Weight: 48g
  • Solo Bud Mode: Yes
  • Bluetooth: 5.0
  • Supported Codecs: SBC, AAC
  • Battery Life: 18 hours total (6 earbuds, 12 case)
  • Wireless Charging: Yes
  • Touch Controls: Yes
  • Additional Tips: 3 sizes
  • IP Rating: IPX5

Earbud and Case Design

The Moto Buds sport an AirPods-esque design for both the buds and their charging case. The tall yet slim form factor makes them easy to fit in your pocket or bag without taking up too much space; likewise, the case and buds weigh only 54 grams, and you won’t have to worry about them weighing down your gear either.

The Moto Buds in their charging case with the lid popped open and the packaging behind them.
Kevin Bonnett

The case does have some wonky features, though. I don’t love that the USB-C charging port is on the bottom of the case, as it’s reminiscent of Apple’s Magic Mouse. Having the USB port on the rear of the case (as opposed to the bottom) makes it a little easier to access, in my opinion, but this is no dealbreaker. Motorola instead placed the wireless charging ring on the rear; you’ll lay this case down on its back to charge it that way.

The earbuds sport a stem, just like AirPods do. I’m not the biggest fan of this design style, as it makes it even easier to knock them out of your ear—something I’m always trying to avoid. The speaker grill is also super close to the edge of the gel tips instead of being set further back, which will make it easier for ear wax to clog things up. You’ll be cleaning out ear wax more often with these than you would with other buds, which is super annoying.

Overall, the buds and case feel premium and durable. The case has barely any give when you give it a reasonably hard squeeze, and I love the four LED dots on the front that let me see the case’s charge level at a glance. The magnetic closure feels nice and secure, and the hinge feels well made and like it won’t loosen up or break over time.

The buds have a small white LED light on the stem, which signifies that the buds are on and in use. I get this functionality, but it disrupts the aesthetics and doesn’t add anything valuable to the buds. And with an IPX5 rating, you won’t have to worry about getting a little sweat or light rain on them.

The Fit

Person sitting outside in a city at night wearing the Moto Buds and looking at their phone, smiling.
Motorola

Fit is the biggest issue I have with the Moto Buds. I could never get a good seal, no matter which size of gel tips I used or how I maneuvered the buds. They were also pretty easy to knock out, like when I put on a hoodie while wearing them, for example. You can avoid this by being careful, but this just isn’t an issue for better earbuds.

The buds never felt 100% comfortable or seated, either; they always felt slightly loose, like they were on the verge of popping out. They never did, though, even while I did yoga and went for brisk walks while wearing them. Other buds I’ve tested—like the Sony WF-C500 and the Jabra Elite 3—were instantly comfortable, offered a great seal, and stayed securely in my ears all day.

Because of this poor fit, isolation wasn’t great, and neither was active noise cancelation—the supposed main feature of these buds (it’s in the name: Moto Buds-S ANC). At one point, I had these buds in with ANC turned on while I was listening to music. My partner turned on a TV show in the same room, and I could hear the TV show with pretty decent clarity. I could also hear fans, air conditioning, footsteps, mouse clicks, keyboard clicks, and all the other little things good ANC can usually tune out. That’s a big downside for these buds (and really, any buds at this price point).

Sound Quality

The audio for these was a bit of a mixed bag. What’s good about them? For one, call quality sounds absolutely terrific on both ends, and I’d expect nothing less from Motorola. Sound quality all around is crystal clear. The buds also support solo mode, meaning your audio will keep playing even if you take one out. This is great if you want to stretch your battery or hear what’s happening around you without toggling ambient mode.

And now for the bad news. For whatever reason, these buds are super quiet. To achieve a decent volume, you’ll need to crank up the volume higher than you would for other buds, even if you use different ear tips or connect them to different devices (I tried both gel and foam tips and connected them to a variety of Android and Apple devices, all to no avail). What’s worse, the bass is practically nonexistent which makes me genuinely sad. Of all the things to skip out on! The midrange sounds understated regardless of what you’re listening to, but the soundstage is far from large and leaves a lot to be desired.

If you do decide to crank up the volume, the sound quality rounds out ever so slightly. Just remember to turn the volume back down if you’re switching to another pair or speaker. Overall, the audio sounds just fine—if not slightly underwhelming—but I would hesitate to call it great or even just good. At this price point (and even well below it) there are plenty of better sounding buds you should spring for if you care about audio quality.

Battery Life & Charging

I was thrilled with the battery capacity of these buds—18 hours total. The buds alone give you six hours, enough to get you through most of your workday. Then, the case supplies another 12 hours or two more full charges. I consistently found that the buds lasted the full six hours (if not more) per charge when listening to music or podcasts at a moderate volume with ANC on; you can probably squeeze a little more juice there if you turn off ANC.

The USB-C charging port, located at the bottom of the case
Kevin Bonnett

The case offers you two methods for charging: USB-C and wireless. While there isn’t a quick charge feature here, the case charges pretty quickly, so if you throw it on the charger over lunch or in the mornings, you can get a little extra juice to get you through a workout or your morning commute. The case also has outstanding standby capacity, and you won’t have to worry about it draining super fast even when you don’t use the buds every day.

Four LED light indicators at the front of the case show you how much battery it has left. Four LEDs on means it has at least 90%, three LEDs on with one blinking means it has between 75-89% left, two LEDs on with one blinking means it has between 50-74% left, one LED on with one blinking means it has between 25-49% left, and only one blinking LED signifies that there’s less than 25% battery and you should plug it in.

Thankfully, the Moto Buds are fuss-free in this department and work precisely how you’d expect buds at this price point to work.

User Experience

The most notable talking point for these earbuds, as far as the overall user experience goes, is that they lack a companion app. These days, many earbuds have a mobile app that you can use to tweak settings, adjust the EQ, download updates, remap touch controls, and more. While an app isn’t requisite for earbuds, it certainly dampens the experience; omitting a companion app is uncommon at this price point.

The Moto Buds also use touch controls instead of physical buttons. While I usually prefer touch controls, they didn’t feel like the right choice here. For one, the touch area feels too small. While it looks spacious enough visually, it’s hard to find when you’re fumbling around. Additionally, there is no feedback when you tap this area, so you’re never really sure whether or not your taps registered. When I was careful about tapping the multifunction touch area, the commands were always reliable and reasonably prompt in response.

You will have a handful of taps and long-presses to memorize here to access basic functionality. Tap either side once to play or pause your audio, and do the same to take and end phone calls. Tapping the right bud twice skips to the next track, while tapping thrice takes you back a track. If you hold either side for two seconds, you can turn the buds on; likewise, holding for six seconds turns them back off. To toggle between ANC and transparency mode, tape the left side twice, and to access your voice assistant, hold the right side for two seconds . But, of course, with no companion app, you can’t customize these taps to your liking.

The Moto Buds laying on a colorful table.
Kevin Bonnett

One thing I intensely disliked about the Moto Buds was the “Hello Moto” greeting followed by Motorola’s classic Hello Moto ringtone noise that plays every time you get ’em out of the case. It is SO LOUD and abrasive; and again, it’d be nice to have an app wherein I could disable this or at least turn down the volume. This loud announcement is also proof that the earbuds CAN get super loud, so I’d love to see Motorola address this in an update or at least for any buds it makes in the future.


Final Thoughts

Despite their stylish design and decently-impressive specs, the Moto Buds offer a lackluster experience and a rather expensive one at that. They’re far too pricey for what you ultimately get. Yes, their battery is excellent, and they have a few other nice features like wireless charging and an IPX5 rating, but they aren’t exciting beyond that. They fail to stand out from the crowd.

If you like the look of these buds or you’re a fan of all things Motorola, you may find that these buds are worthwhile. After all, they work just fine, and they do everything they say they’ll do just fine. But you can find other earbuds that do all this and so much more for about the same price, and I’m content to recommend you keep shopping if you’re in the market for sub-$200 earbuds.

Rating: 4/10

Price: $149.99

Here’s What We Like

  • Great battery life
  • Has active noise cancelation
  • Stable connection

And What We Don’t

  • Uncomfortable fit
  • Poor isolation
  • No companion app
  • Audio is quiet



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