Bottom line: Palm takes aim at pretty much anyone making earbuds in this price range, and yet, the Buds Pro probably stand out more for the phone call quality they deliver. The rest of the features and performance don't do enough to stand out.
- Decent sound quality
- Lightweight and comfortable fit
- OK ANC and ambient sound
- Excellent call quality
- Small charging case
- No auto-pause
- Mediocre battery life
- No app support
- Minimal water or sweat resistance
Some of you reading this may remember Palm as an upstart phone manufacturer that ultimately met its demise, beginning the day HP acquired it. It's a long story, but in any case, the Palm brand never really died once TCL bought it in 2014. After one attempt to bring it back with the Palm Phone, we now have a pair of earbuds to consider.
These earbuds aren't a TCL project but more likely a white or private label arrangement with a different unnamed Chinese manufacturer. Nor do they have any relation whatsoever to the original Palm of over a decade ago. Either way, they're out now, trying to compete with every other pair of earbuds that sell for around the same price. It's a bold undertaking, and while branding may pique interest, the results may not be convincing enough yet.
Palm Buds Pro: Price and availability
Palm launched the Buds Pro in November 2021, making them available for $99.99 directly from their own website, but that price goes up to $129.99 when Amazon starts selling them. These are the only earbuds to come out with Palm branding, but their existence bears no relation to the Palm of days gone by.
They only come in satin black, as there are no other variants.
Palm Buds Pro: What's good
I'm not sure what Palm paid Steph Curry to endorse the Buds Pro, but having one of the NBA's most prolific shooters of all time can't hurt the company's image. Branding has a lot to do with these earbuds because, if not for Palm's logo, they could just as easily be available under another company name. Adding Steph to its image is meant to lend further credibility to an otherwise unproven product. Regardless, they're supposed to be a quality pair, even if the outer design looks and feels like standard AirPods clones.
The Buds Pro use a stem design, and wisely, Palm chose to avoid an open-fit build like the regular AirPods (among others), going with silicone ear tips instead. It's the wise thing to do for the simple fact that it enables you to find the best fit for you by trying any of the three sizes that come in the box. When you do have a snug fit, it does wonders for Palm's earbuds, which also pays off later when you're on a call.
Palm's website alludes to a "competitor" that is very obviously the AirPods Pro, and when looking at the specs, there are impressive discrepancies. The Buds Pro use 10mm drivers to pump out sound, along with six microphones (three on either bud) and "environmental noise cancelation" to make calls clearer. They already have active noise cancelation (ANC) for audio content, but this works separately to block out background noise while also clarifying your voice to callers.
The two keys Palm tried to get right were comfort and sound quality. On the former, I found them to be very easy to wear for extended periods, and I suspect most ears will find them equally lightweight and comfortable. The feathery weight certainly helps, but so does the flatter contour of the earbud itself on the part that nestles into the inner ear (concha). Palm includes three pairs of ear tips, and odds are good you will find one that works. In the event you don't, these earbuds use a pretty standard mount, so you could always try a pair from a different manufacturer.
The fit is critical because you have no way to control the sound profile. Without app support and an equalizer, what you hear is what you get. And what you do get is a fairly balanced soundstage that brings in bass, mids, and highs in what sounds like a flatter EQ curve. It's not unlike what you might hear with the Pixel Buds A-Series or Jabra Elite 3, both of which offer little in the way of EQ tuning.
Palm says that the Buds Pro pump out great bass, and while I would agree that it's clean, it's not going to rumble the way other earbuds do. It's even more obvious Palm targeted the AirPods because that's exactly how those approach sound by default. Balance it all out, and don't skew far in any direction. That flatter sound may be ideal if you don't like too much bass or listen to genres that benefit more from the balance, but I'm not sure those who listen to bass-heavy music will appreciate the restraint Palm placed on the Buds Pro.
Turning ANC on helps edge the bass up a little, and I imagine this is probably how most would listen to these earbuds. They do a pretty good job of blocking out most noises, only that because the default volume isn't especially loud, you will likely have to raise it to hear the audio more clearly. Ambient mode does a respectable job bringing in outside noises when you want to hear them or talk to someone. The onboard controls are also good at managing both modes. Hold the left earbud to turn ambient on or off, or hold the right to do the same for ANC. The rest of the controls aren't bad, though they can be a little sensitive, so I had to grab either earbud from the stem to adjust when necessary.
I mentioned phone calls earlier, and Palm is right to boast a little about them. The Buds Pro proved to be solid for both audio and video calls, where I didn't get a single complaint. My only gripe was the weird Bluetooth cutouts that would sometimes occur during calls or listening to music. They were random, and it didn't matter if the phone was right next to me or in the next room.
Palm Buds Pro: What's not good
It's unfortunate Palm didn't include auto-pause as a staple feature in the Buds Pro. Take either earbud out of your ear, and the audio keeps playing. That's an oversight that just shouldn't be in earbuds like this, and it's not the only compromise you have to make.
Battery life tops up at six hours per charge with ANC off. Since you're also likely to raise the volume on top of using ANC or ambient mode, your mileage will vary considerably. I got about four hours per charge based on those factors, which is mediocre for any pair of earbuds, even if they do undercut more expensive competitors. The charging case is great, given its small size and three extra charges, though, unfortunately, it doesn't support wireless charging.
The lack of app support to offer users a way to customize the Buds Pro is also vexing. Apps are readily available for earbuds at the same price — or even less — so it's a shame there's no way to shape the sound profile to truly get more out of these. And the connection cutouts I noted earlier may be because the Buds Pro use Bluetooth 5.0. Newer earbuds use 5.1 or 5.2, both of which improve connection stability.
Palm plays up the Buds Pro as being perfectly adept for sweaty runs and workouts, but I would caution you on that. An IPX4 rating is hardly rugged, so the only way to really ensure they don't break down is to clean them afterward so that salt or water don't creep in somewhere.
Palm Buds Pro: Competition
Palm priced the Buds Pro to compete in a tight class. Just looking at the cheap AirPods clones out there, not to mention that good options come in varying prices among the best wireless earbuds. Some offer better audio quality or considerably more custom options through app support or color variances.
Under that premise, the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro take a similar design principle (stems) and apply more to each feature. Even if the Buds Pro might be more comfortable, you can do a lot more with Anker's earbuds. If audio quality is your primary motivation, the Sennheiser CX True Wireless focus on that at the expense of things like ANC support. And if budget is a real concern, the Creative Outlier Air V3 are an excellent alternative.
Palm Buds Pro: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if...
- You hate dangling cables
- You like Palm
- You want clearer phone calls
- You want active noise cancelation
You shouldn't buy this if...
- You want better battery life
- You want an equalizer
- You want more durability
- You can get more for less money
It's nice to see the Palm brand doing something new, even if times and circumstances have changed. It's just that the Buds Pro don't move the needle enough, as is, to stand out from the crowded pack. They don't sound bad, nor are they poor performers; it's just they don't offer enough to differentiate themselves in ways we haven't seen or heard before. As a value proposition, they're an interesting choice, albeit one that has many others who can credibly vie for your money.
3.5 out of 5
It would be different if there was an app for more than just an EQ because that's how Palm could release firmware updates to improve upon or add new features, but it's not clear if that's even on the road map. If you're nostalgic for all things Palm, you won't feel like you made a mistake with these earbuds so long as you recognize what you give up in the process.
Palm Buds Pro
Palm's foray into wireless earbuds is something of a mixed bag, but that doesn't make the Buds Pro a total loss. They do sound good, fit comfortably well, and offer excellent phone call clarity. It's just that you have to give up some features and performance to get the good stuff.
Ted Kritsonis loves taking photos when the opportunity arises, be it on a camera or smartphone. Beyond sports and world history, you can find him tinkering with gadgets or enjoying a cigar. Often times, that will be with a pair of headphones or earbuds playing tunes. When he's not testing something, he's working on the next episode of his podcast, Tednologic.
Yes I remember PALM of old. Had my PRE and knew even with not having the hardware this is where it was all going. Now PALM is just a name with no substance. TLC has it but really doesn't know what to do with it. This white label attempt isn't helping. Some nostalgia nuts will bite at this. Still won't be enough to matter.
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