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Lifewire / Jason Schneider
Unique, 3-in-1 build
Surprisingly good sound quality
Decent battery life
Cheap-feeling build quality
Lackluster mics for phone calls
The feature set here is a mixed bag, but if you like the idea of having wired and wireless options on your earbuds, this is your only chance.
Motorola provided us with a review unit for one of our writers to test. Read on for the full review.
The Motorola Tech3 headphones are possibly the most unique offering in the true wireless space. That’s because, in actuality, calling these headphones “true wireless” is not capturing what they actually are. In addition to truly wireless functionality, Motorola has managed to give you both the option for a “sport wire” to use the headphones like a standard pair of wired Bluetooth earbuds, and you can even connect a second wire to give you a plug-in pair of earbuds. This makes them an extremely versatile package in theory.
In practice, the transformation between these three modes feels a little clunky. There are other features at play here, like water resistance and decent battery life, but otherwise, these earbuds are fairly simple. I spent a few days testing the headphones in all their forms, and here’s how they worked in real life.
Motorola’s modern approach to products is interesting—the brand doesn’t try to fully embrace the premium, ultra-sleek design language of brands like Apple or Samsung, but instead tries to innovate. This means providing options like excellent, budget-friendly smartphones, flagship, folding-screen devices, and unique takes on headphones like the Tech3 Earbuds here.
In true wireless mode, the buds are larger than I’d normally like, with a fully circular design with the Motorola “M” covering the entire outside of the earbuds. These circles taper off into a small, classic-style eartip that gives the earbuds a fairly unbalanced look when they aren’t in your ears. I have the Titanium Black model, which is the most standard-looking of the bunch, but Motorola also offers the Tech3s in White and a unique dark-brown Cocoa color.
Motorola’s modern approach to products is interesting—the brand doesn’t try to fully embrace the premium, ultra-sleek design language of brands like Apple or Samsung, but instead tries to innovate.
The rest of the package is really what makes the design more interesting. The two cables that come with the set sport a nice, speckled, woven pattern that feels rugged and premium (more so than they would if the wires were just rubber). The battery case is perhaps the biggest departure from standard true wireless headphones. It’s shaped basically like a small hockey puck, mostly to accommodate the two wires. You wrap these wires around the case for cable management, meaning that the design of the case is anything but simple. I have some concerns about how easy it is to wrap the cables, and how cheap-feeling the plastic is, but I’ll get to that in later sections.
Overall, if you’re just wearing the earbuds without any cables, these won’t look that different than other true wireless buds. But when you factor in the rest of what’s included, you get a very sporty, very interesting look and feel.
The shape of the Tech3 earbuds makes them ideal for listeners who like their earbuds to sit very far inside their ears. On the one hand, this allows for a really tight fit, which has positive implications for the sound quality. On the other hand, this can feel a little stifling.
There are a few ear tip sizes included in the box, so you can adjust how much of a seal there is, but because the part of the earbuds that contain the ear tips jut so far out, you just can’t get around the fact that the earbuds sit pretty far inside your ear. I don’t personally like this feel for a pair of earbuds, as I tend to prefer something that lets my ear canals breathe a bit. But if you are concerned about true wireless earbuds falling out of your ears on a jog or when walking around, this style of fit is a great solution.
Because Motorola tends to lean toward the budget-friendly end of the product spectrum, it isn’t surprising to see less-than-premium materials at play here. The ear tips feel good but are certainly not as fancy as some nicer silicone. The cables used in the multi-function system do feel pretty good with a nice woven fabric exterior, but the connector plugs are very thin and could bend easily.
I’d have preferred a better build quality, but for the unique form factor, these earbuds definitely make for an interesting product.
The battery case itself is the part where the material choices leave the most to be desired. Because of all the ridges and compartments required for the cable management, Motorola chose a thinner, less-expensive plastic. The top lid that opens to expose the earbuds is particularly thin, so I don’t recommend putting a lot of pressure on this junction point.
Inside the case, there’s a clever little compartment that holds the ends of the dual connectors, which makes for simpler storage of the cables, but that lid is also very thin and cheap-feeling. There is IPX5 water resistance on the earbuds, meaning you’ll have no issue using these headphones in the rain or at the gym. All in all, there are some good aspects of the build, but the small points where the details matter do feel a little cheaper than I’d like.
One of the most surprising aspects of the Motorola Tech3s is just how good they sound for typical music listening. Motorola isn’t a brand known for audiophile sound quality, and the cheap-ish build paired with the sub-$100 price tag originally led me to believe these would sound like budget headphones. However, for most music (from top 40 and quiet folk to EDM and classical), these headphones sound rich and lifelike.
There isn’t much info on the box or on the website about what audio specs are at play here, so I can’t give you a frequency response or even a driver size. But if you want headphones just for music, these are truly impressive, and that’s just in Bluetooth mode. If you connect the wires and plug them into a more substantial DAC or headphone amp, they can sound even better.
One of the most surprising aspects of the Motorola Tech3s is just how good they sound for typical music listening.
It’s when you get into other uses that things start to get a little sketchier. The first time I tried to use the earbuds for a phone call, the microphones on-board sounded pretty rough to the other people on the call. And the headphones seem to struggle if there are a lot of people trying to talk on a call at once, say, during a Zoom video call. This isn’t ideal under normal circumstances but becomes pretty problematic these days with so much remote working. Disconnecting and reconnecting the earbuds seemed to fix this for a time, but the call quality still left a lot to be desired. And of course, there are no fancy codecs or active noise cancellation here.
Battery is normally a huge category to consider for true wireless earbuds. This category of product has to maintain a small size, and therefore the batteries that manufacturers can fit into the device have to be small. As a result, when a brand is able to offer excellent battery life for true wireless earbuds, it makes the package pretty impressive.
The Tech3s give you 7 hours of playback with the earbuds alone, which is really solid. You’ll only get 11 additional hours with the battery case—not the best total, but definitely not the worst. You can also charge the headphones quickly with the MicroUSB port on the case, allowing for up to 3 hours of listening with a quick 15-minute charge.
However, the real differentiator here is that you can plug these earbuds into a 3.5mm headphone jack. This isn’t available on any other Bluetooth earbuds I’ve ever tried. Because these devices have to be so small, brands usually can’t fit a headphone jack as you’ll find on over-ear Bluetooth headphones. The fact that you can set up the Tech3s to plug in means that you technically don’t have to ever worry about battery life.
Once your earbuds run out of juice, just plug in the included cables and keep listening to music hard-wired. With so many phones doing away with the headphone jack, this is really only a use case for some people, but it works well on laptops too. That said, the presence of this three-mode system (Motorola calls it TriX) makes the battery conversation a bit more complicated.
I alluded to the full connectivity and functionality of the TriX system above, but it’s worth further explanation here. In my opinion, it's the chief reason you’d consider these earbuds over others. When in true wireless mode, with no cables connected, these headphones use Bluetooth 5.0 to stream music from your device. This gives you about 30 feet of range, all the modern headset protocols, and only the basic SBC codec. It would be nice to see the higher-quality Qualcomm aptX on offer here, but it isn’t a dealbreaker.
By including a wired option, Motorola allows you to bypass Bluetooth and use whatever device you want to listen to music, as long as it has a headphone jack.
When you attach the single, dual-wire to each earbud, the headphones still communicate via the same Bluetooth method, but they now have a multi-function button remote. As discussed in the comfort section, this “sport” mode also gives you some peace of mind when using these headphones for workouts because the wire can be draped behind your neck to prevent the headphones from individually dropping and rolling away.
It’s when you connect the third piece and move these headphones into a fully wired mode that you unlock their full sound quality. Bluetooth connectivity inherently results in a lossier sound quality because this means of transmission requires your music to be compressed to quickly stream. By including a wired option, Motorola allows you to bypass Bluetooth and use whatever device you want to listen to music, as long as it has a headphone jack. This allows you to use higher-definition music players or even an external DAC, giving you much higher-quality file playback. If you have a lossless library of audio, this is huge, but it also means that battery life won’t be nearly as much of a worry for you.
While there aren’t a whole lot of the typical bells and whistles, there are plenty of tricks available here. Instead of active noise cancellation or sensor-controlled functions, Motorola has off-boarded a lot of the Bluetooth function to their Hubble VerveLife app. This allows for some customization of the EQ of the earbuds, but it also unlocks all the voice assistant functions. Motorola has given particular attention to the Alexa features, giving you the option to use Alexa’s growing library of skills right through your earbuds.
We’ve already gone over the reason for including all the physical extras above, but I wanted to spend some time talking about the actual use of the package. Motorola has designed the battery case with cable management in mind. Normally, I’d give high praise to this, but how you wrap each of the cables doesn’t work seamlessly the first few times you do it.
The earbud connectors are tiny and buried in their slots, making it difficult to fish them out with your fingers sometimes. And, when you wrap each of the wires, you have to do so with just the right tension so they fit into their slots and grooves. When you figure it out, it works okay, but there is a learning curve, and it’s definitely important to remember here.
Something that shouldn’t be overlooked about the Tech3s is how low Motorola has managed to get the price point. When even mid-tier true wireless earbuds cost well over $100, you’ll find the Tech3s’ $99 price point very refreshing. This is kind of the perfect price for any decent-sounding pair of true wireless earbuds, and when you factor in the decent battery life and super-unique, three-way form factor, it is a great value. Some of those savings result in cheap-feeling materials, but that isn’t the worst thing in the world as the package is light and portable. Overall, the value offered here is a real selling point.
It’s really hard to compare the Tech3s to anything else because they truly are a singularly unique product on the market. The closest comparison on sound quality and price is between the Tech3s and Apple AirPods. Right around $100 gets you decent true wireless performance on both headphones.
The AirPods have a much better build quality and better connectivity with Apple products. And because AirPods are so ubiquitous, there are plenty of third-party accessories, some of which aim to give you silicone wires to make them feel like sports earbuds. So you can get closer to the three-in-one functionality of the Tech3s, but not fully there. Basically, if you want the wired options, you’ll have to go with Motorola here.
A truly unique pair of headphones.
In the true wireless space, I’m used to comparing headphones to lots of competition, trying to help buyers weigh pros and cons. Sure, there are some comparisons to be made with the Tech3s, like the 7-hour battery life, the IPX5 water resistance, and the sound quality. But, honestly, the first and last thing you should think about here is the three-in-one form factor. If you want your true wireless earbuds to have the option for plugging them into a music player if they run out of batteries, you simply won’t find it anywhere else. I’d have preferred a better build quality, but for the unique form factor, these earbuds definitely make for an interesting product.
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