Skullcandy banks on hands-free voice control for its new earbuds and headphones – CNET

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The new Skullcandy Grind Fuel.

David Carnoy/CNET

With so many new wireless earbuds and headphones being released on what seems likely a weekly basis, it’s not easy for companies to differentiate their products in the marketplace. Skullcandy hopes its new voice-driven platform, Skull-iQ Smart Feature Technology, will do just that. Similar to the Apple AirPods’ “Hey Siri” feature, Skullcandy’s version allows you to say “Hey, Skullcandy” to issue hands-free voice commands without touching a button. Skull-iQ debuts on the Grind Fuel ($100, which converts to roughly £70 or AU$130) and Push Active ($80) true-wireless earbuds, which will be firmware updatable via the Skullcandy App. The new earbuds are available now.

I tried out the new buds and the voice commands work smoothly with little delay. The number of commands you can issue is limited and focused on music playback, accepting and rejecting calls and toggling on the earbuds’ Stay-Aware transparency mode. One of the key differences over the AirPods hands-free Siri is the ability to access Spotify by simply saying “Hey Skullcandy, Spotify.” The AirPods don’t have voice-activated Spotify Tap access.

More earbuds will gain hands-free voice control in the near future, but Skullcandy is the first to offer it at this modest price. The Utah-based company has always appealed to younger and more “active” people: It hopes the voice features will be a hit with folks who do sports like snowboarding, mountain biking and skateboarding, and who’ll appreciate having hands-free control. 

Both the Grind Fuel and Push Active True earbuds are equipped with Bluetooth 5.2, are IP55 splashproof and have built-in Tile Finding Technology. The Grind Fuel is rated for up to 9 hours of battery life at moderate volume levels and its case charges wirelessly. The Push Active True is rated for up to 10 hours of battery life on a single charge at moderate volume levels. 

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The Push Active are $80.

David Carnoy/CNET

In all, I was more impressed with the new features than I expected to be (Skullcandy says additional features and new voice-command options will be added via firmware updates). I’m less of an ear-hook guy and prefer the design of the Grind Fuel, which delivers decent sound for the money and seems like a good value at $100. At $80, the Push Active True is a more affordable alternative to the Beats Powerbeats Pro.

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