Friday, February 22, 2019

Under Armour UA True Wireless Flash In Ear Headphones Review - Rich Sound, Great Fit, Situational Awareness and Talk Thru

by Jeff Valliere

Under Armour True Wireless Flash In Ear Headphones $169.95
Available Now
underarmour.com
UA True Wireless Flash Headphones Features:
  • Easy to connect Bluetooth
  • JBL Charged Sound with rich bass
  • Bionic Hearing to hear surroundings with Talk Thru and Ambient Aware
  • Talk Thru - lowers volume and activates noise cancelling mics.
  • Ambient Aware - allows ambient noise to subtly enter earbuds
  • IPX7 rating ( highly water/sweat resistant, but not submersible)
  • Secure fit with interchangeable sized wing tips.
  • Up to 5 hours of battery life with an additional 20 hours from charging case  

Pros: 
  • Deep full sound with rich bass
  • Secure fit even during jostling technical terrain running
  • Wireless freedom
  • Great build/materials quality
  • Ambient aware adds level of safety
  • Easy and reliable Bluetooth connection
  • IPX7 sweat/splashproof rating
Cons:
  • Hard button press can jam headphones into ears causing discomfort
  • Even with ambient aware, plugged ears can feel isolating
  • No volume control on headphones
  • Button functionality could be much improved
Introduction/Unboxing:
The Under Armour True Wireless Flash in ear headphones ($169.95) are manufactured by JBL/Harman, a company known for their rich, high quality sound.  The headphones come packaged in a glossy, high quality box making it immediately obvious you are getting a high quality product.

Opening the case reveals the brushed aluminium charging case, surrounded by a lot of protective  padding.  Boxes on either side house the USB charge cable and extra varied sized ear pieces.

Accessories
underarmour.com
Slide open the clever charging case to reveal the headphones, which feel high quality to the touch.
Pairing:  I found pairing to be very easy with my iPhone 8, Garmin Fenix 5 Plus watch,  iPad and my Smart TV.  Simply pull the headphones from the charging case and they go into pairing mode ready to pair to a nearby device.
Fit:  Fit for me was perfect out of the box with the already installed medium wings.  I have had trouble in the past with truly wireless earphones bouncing out of my ears as I run or even just walk, but I never experienced any slippage with the Under Armour headphones.  The majority of my runs are on steep and technical trails, where the fast and jostling descents test the limits of secure hold. The UA passed this test with flying colors.
underarmour.com
Button Functionality:  
It took me a few runs to get the start/stop, skip, call and Ambient commands figured out, but I still find that there is too much functionality for just two buttons.  I respect the minimalist attempt at streamlining and simplicity, but I think these headphones could benefit great from having two separate buttons on either side, both side press.  The current center press button takes a bit of force, enough to uncomfortably jam the headphone tip into my ear. 

At first, I was also completely stumped  as to how you perform the proper button action to control volume, or if there was a clever little hidden button that I was somehow passing over.  Convinced I was missing something in the manual and certain that it must be possible, I contacted customer support.  Although in the back of my mind I suspected it, I was still a bit disappointed when they confirmed that volume cannot be controlled from the headphone unit and must be adjusted via the device to which the earphones are connected.  For casual use, it is not much of a bother to control from a smartphone or tablet, but if you are a runner or using for sport,  the target audience these headphones are marketed to, this is a huge oversight.  

When I run, my phone is always wrapped in a ziplock bag (to protect against sweat and downpours) and tucked into a pocket, a waist belt or running hydration vest. Digging the phone out each time to adjust volume is a real pain. When running, I find myself needing to adjust volume often for variations in sound between different podcasts, music and to accommodate for fluctuations in wind noise.  It is slightly easier to control volume from my Garmin Fenix 5 Plus, however it requires several button presses through the menu and a distraction from the trail.  Not sure how this passed final testing.

Sound:  
The sound by JBL with the 5.8 mm drivers is absolutely fantastic, with rich notes from across the spectrum and surprisingly deep bass from such small buds  Podcasts sound crisp and is easy to catch every little sound, while all different types of music, from Rock to Jazz to Hip Hop to Classical all sound accurate with no distortion.  Wearing these headphones is truly and immersive experience and the #1 selling point here.

Bionic Hearing -Talk Thru/Ambientaware:  
This feature appeals to me, as it is important to be aware of my surroundings while running and I have always preferred headphones that are non isolating.  I generally listen to podcasts exclusively while I run and keep the volume low.  With Talk Thru, press the left button once and the volume is considerably lowered and the mic picks up nearby sounds and voices clearly.  When running with a partner, I don't ever wear headphones, but where this comes in handy for me is doing dishes at night or house chores, where I'll often catch up on NPR, but as the wife and kids come and go, I don't need to always be pausing with my wet or dirty hands.  It is like having NPR playing lightly in the background without having to bother anyone.

The Ambientaware feature while running is a huge safety advantage, allowing in just enough noise when needed, without greatly compromising sound.  It took a little getting used to at first and sounds a touch like static, but you quickly get used to it and appreciate being able to hear what is going on around you.  For a true symphonic experience, you'll want to keep it off, but if you want to hear traffic, other people passing by without surprise, rattlesnakes, bears and mountain lions (well, maybe not mountain lions), this is a key feature.  Being completely wireless, I will one up my awareness by just wearing one headphone which works really well for me.  Sensitivity is remarkable, as I have often been surprised to hear train horns, sirens or other noises miles away.

Battery life/charging case:  
I have found the 5 hour battery life prediction to be accurate depending on volume levels, noticing a slight advantage if listening to low volume podcasts vs. higher volume music.  You can get an additional 20 hours of charge out of the USB charging case, but that means you have to carry it along with you which would be inconvenient on long runs.  I think 5 hours of battery life will suffice for many people under most circumstances, especially if used intermittently, but do find 5 hours to be on the low side, especially on occasions where I have an entire day worth of house projects and/or running planned.  
The charging case durable, protective and feels high quality.  Storing the headphones in the case automatically puts them into sleep/charge mode and pulling them out automatically turns them on and connects to the device you have paired 
Charging the case is very easy, a simple USB cable (included) to plug into a charger or computer.  There are 4 handy indicator lights to show charge level.

UA MapMyRun Ecosystem:  Included with purchase of the UA True Wireless Flash is a complimentary 12 month premium subscription to MapMyRun, valued at $29.99.  With the premium subscription, you get real time, in ear coaching. It also allows members to track and analyze advanced metrics such as stride length and cadence (with UA Record Sensor equipped shoes( , distance, pace and splits.  MayMyRun also provides a new feature that analyzes run data and provides real time gait coaching, along with in ear directions on running routes.  To complete this ecosystem for the stride, cadence and form coaching, you'll need a compatible UA shoe such as the 2019 HOVR road line (see review here) all having UA Record Sensor pod at no extra charge built in in, the MapMyRun app. connected to either a smartphone, and/or a Samsung Galaxy Smartwatch. 
Sam has posted a very descriptive video of UA explaining the features and advantages of the UA/MapMyRun connected ecosystem while at The Running Event back in December, where now these metrics and data will integrate with the True Wireless Flash Headphones for real time data.
 
Conclusions:  
The Under Armour True Wireless Flash In Ear Headphones have some very compelling features that will appeal to a runner or active person looking for completely wireless headphones.  

They have excellent fit, sound, IPX7 water resistance rating, safety through the bionic hearing and especially if one is looking for more in regards to in ear training and MapMyRun/Under Armour UA Record Sensor pod integration.  

For my primary trail running usage, I appreciate that I have the option to use just one ear bud, instead of using the Ambientaware setting, or in conjunction with, so that I can be fully aware of my surroundings.  I love the rich and clear sound and the fact that they are IPX7 for hopefully robust long term sweat resistance or for getting caught out in a storm.  

I am however a bit frustrated about the button functionality, particularly the lack of volume control from the headset, which I find to be problematic for my use. Additionally,  5 hours of battery life is not super competitive by today's standards.  My long time go to headphones, the Plantronics Backbeat Fit, for example provide 8 hours of listening time and they are equally small (well, except for the connecting cord), so increasing battery life by a few hours would be a nice improvement.  Overall, they are a very nice set of headphones.

Shop for the UA True Wireless Flash at Under Armour here

Jeff Valliere is a former pro cyclist who now runs and climbs the mountains of Colorado. He has been top 5 Masters, top 25 overall, at the Pike's Peak Marathon several times, finishing 3d Masters this year. Jeff loves vertical accumulating more than 500,000 vertical feet per year, has climbed all the 14's and 200 of the 13's and has held FKT on several.  He often runs and climbs at night. Passionate about the sport but also the gear he has reviewed hundred of shoes for various magazines and sites and participated in product testing for many brands.  Formerly a bike mechanic he has recently worked in Satellite Imagery. He has twin 8 year old daughters who keep him ever busier yet.
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.

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