Ever since Apple announced it was removing the headphone jack from its new iPhones, the world is going crazy for completely wireless earphones. Apple’s Airpods are both a trendsetter and the gold standard when it comes to wireless headphones or earbuds. But plenty of competitors have come on the market to compete with them. Most notably, Samsung released its IconX headphones for Android phones and devices. But there’s also another option. Rowkin makes a competing set of earbuds it markets as “the world’s smallest”. While Rowkin wireless earbuds are definitely small, and cleverly designed with a rechargeable case, how well do they hold up during real-life testing, and how do they compare to Apple or Samsung’s models? I received a pair of Rowkin earbuds for testing and review. Here’s what I found after spending several weeks with them.
These earbuds are definitely small. Built to be 100% wire free, these Rowkin Mini earbuds connect to your device via Bluetooth to allow you to listen to audio and video. They come in a small lipstick-sized case that doubles as a charger. You charge the case, then you clip the earbuds in for wireless charging on the go.
I’ll say that these earbuds were not intuitive to learn and operate. The first function I tried was to get a single earbud working. That seemed to work fine, but then I tried to pair the earbuds in stereo. The instructions aren’t super clear, but I’ve reprinted them below in the event others need them or will find this helpful. In numerous connection tests I ran, the Rowkin Mini failed to connect to my phone and/or to pair to eachother. Tiny LED lights are meant to provide instruction and guidance on the headphones.
Stereo pairing the instructions
“From power off, press and hold both control buttons for six seconds until both headset LED indicators blank white and red. Place earbuds close together. Headsets will pair to each other automatically in 10 to 30 seconds. The LED indicator of both headsets will stop until one headset blinks white and the other blanks white and red alternately. The white and red blinking headset is the master headset and will become the left channel while the white is the slave headset and the right channel. Select ‘Rowkin Bit S’ device (in your Bluetooth menu) to connect. You should only see one device on the list not two.”
In some cases the Rowkin wireless earbuds would both flash red and never pair. In other cases only one would light up. I’d say at least one-third of the time they wouldn’t connect properly in my testing. Sometimes I would see two earbuds in the phone’s Bluetooth menu (which it says above you’re not supposed to), but there’s no instructions about what to do if that happens, so I powered down and tried again.
The white and red blinking headset is the ‘master’ earbud and will become the left channel while the white is the ‘slave’/right channel. Often I’d remove the earbuds from my ears and they’d both be flashing white so if I set them down I wouldn’t know which one was the main one. Perhaps that’s supposed to happen after initial connection, but it wasn’t spelled out in the instructions.
I will say I liked the fact I was able to pair the Rowkin earbuds to two devices at once; my Apple iPhone and the iPad. It was very convenient being able to use them with two devices at the same time without having to disconnect from one and reconnect to another. I also liked the fact these earbuds would automatically connect to both those devices as soon as they were turned on, and would later power down into standby mode and disconnect from the phone/tablet when placed back into their case.
Rowkin Mini earbuds – sound quality
Once I finally connected in stereo, the sound was somewhat disappointing. I started out listening at a lower volume and found it sounded kind of muddy and fuzzy, and there’s not really any bass to speak of. I’d call the sound decidedly flat and there were no subtleties in the music. The sound doesn’t sound omnidirectional; it sounded though it was coming in via a straw. There’s no spacial feel, no largeness, no bigness.
Increasing the level to mid-volume there was kind of a low grade hiss (mostly only noticeable during lulls) and some very minor distortion, but the bass seemed like it was starting to come back in and was now more noticeable. Even so, the overall impression I was left with was that it was kind of staticky, particular the higher end/treble. But the sound felt better overall at this volume, which was kind of weird.
At three-quarters volume the sound came across as more booming, but the high end distortion was annoying.
Overall I found mid volume was the most pleasing from a quality standpoint, but I wouldn’t say I loved the sound quality overall.
Watching videos is irritatingly out of sync
Watching TV on YouTube I realized the video was desperately out of sync with the audio. The delay was anywhere from a quarter of a second to about half a second which made watching anything video related absolutely impossible.
It’s probably worth pointing out this is not unique to this earbud. I tested the Samsung IconX earbuds too and they had the same problems with video being out of sync. (Read that review of the Samsung IconX here.) I think this is simply a limitation of this kind of technology right now.
A couple of times watching TV or videos I only had one working earphone. Often if I paused and started again the sound would come in via a different earbud. I’d have to shut the headphones down to get both channels working and wait about 30 seconds for it to reconnect.
Taking calls was frustrating. The earbuds would alert me to an incoming call via a voice prompt, but when I’d accept the call, the earbuds would stop working (I’d been listening to either music or a video beforehand). It required manually loading up the phone’s Audio menu and selecting the earbuds from the list. I’m not sure if that’s an Apple problem or a Rowkin issue.
It’s fair to say after the first couple calls, I had this quirk figured out. The call sound quality was surprisingly good. I could hear calls just fine and on the other end, I was told I sounded great (“Wireless earbuds sound like this on the phone? With a mic built in? Wow!”) on the other end of a call. Surprising and impressive.
Cool & unique Portable Charging Case
The Rowkin Mini charger is interesting. You charge up the tube-shaped case, and then it keeps the earbuds charged. While the earbuds snap in with magnets, it feels though they’ll fall out. Don’t worry too much though, in my weeks of testing, they never once shook loose.
It’s hard to know when the buds are charged. While in the case the earbuds LEDs will flash red. The instruction pamphlet says the lights will stop flashing red when the buds are charged, but in some cases I had them in there for anywhere from a few hours, to overnight, and sometimes they never stopped flashing (but they did still turn on so there must have been some juice there).
Battery life — Rowkin Mini earbuds
If you’re after longevity, 100% wireless earbuds are not for you. The Rowkin wireless earbuds’ batteries only last for one to two hours of listening. You’ll need to stash them back in the case for charging. Rowkin says the “Rowkin Mini by itself has a talk time of up to 60 minutes, the portable charging device provides up to 6 hours of talk time on the go. If not used, the Rowkin Mini can last for up to 80 hours with the power on. The standby time with the power off is up to 60 days.” In my testing I was able to get a bit more than an hour routinely.
Again, this kind of performance is not unexpected in wireless earbuds. (Samsung’s IconX gets a similar battery duration of about 2-3 hours.) Great for an hour long commute, but they’ll need charging every day.
You’ll want to take a few minutes to get the right size eargels on these earbuds. With the wrong size, you’ll be constantly adjusting them and wiggling them in and out of your ear canal. The earbuds come with three different sizes so make sure to select the right one for you.
You’ll need to take care when making adjustments to the earbuds’ fit. The control buttons are on the top of the earbud, so if you try to push them into your ear you’re liable to hit the play/pause control.
I didn’t find these buds entirely comfortable. I found my ears getting achy after about 30 minutes. Not to make too many comparisons, but the Samsung IconX buds have a curved gel that locks them softly in place in your ear ‘concha’ so all the pressure of the fit isn’t in the ear canal, which with the Rowkin earbuds it is.
Overall review of Rowkin Mini wireless earbuds
I like the idea of these earbuds and considering the way technology is advancing, fully wireless mini earbuds are definitely the way of the future. The Rowkin Mini earbuds definitely look slick and are the smallest wireless earbud I’ve ever seen for certain.
I didn’t like the finicky connection and operation of these earbuds. They do definitely take some getting used to to know when they’re connected. Take my advice and just follow the voice prompts and don’t try to figure out the light patterns.
I didn’t like the fact the battery life is so limited and it takes so long to recharge. But again, this is the norm for this type of earbud at this stage of the technology game. The sound was also not great in my estimation. Again, in an earbud so small and compact, you can’t expect to get a full symphonic sound.
I think these earbuds are great for early adopters who want the full wireless experience, and have the patience and ability to keep these charged up between commutes. These are not your pick for a long haul flight however.
The fact that you really can’t watch videos with these is also a limitation for me. The issue of the audio being so out of sync from the video means you’ll go mad trying to watch anything at all.
I was surprised at the phone call quality from both a speaking and a listening standpoint. My callers had no idea I was even using wireless earbuds to make or receive calls, so this was a pleasant surprise.
Overall, these wireless earbuds are a work in progress. It’s tough technology to get right at this stage of the game. I wouldn’t get a pair of these for myself for now, with the hope that a Generation 2 Rowkin earbud sounds better with a longer lasting battery.
The Rowkin Mini Earbuds are $99USD, but perhaps not surprisingly they’re on sale and are currently priced at $59/69 USD. Maybe Gen 2 is on the way sooner than we think?