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I can't decide if JBL's new AirPods rival looks incredible or terrible

They might be everywhere now, but there was a time when Apple's AirPods were mercilessly mocked for their design. The world wasn't quite ready for those floating stems back in 2016 – but judging by AirPods' ubiquity in 2022, the world has come round. I'm not convinced the same fate awaits JBL's new wireless earphones.

JBL's Tour 2 Pro look very similar to Apple's AirPods Pro. From the silicon tips to the dental floss-esque case, these could easily be mistaken for Apple's own high-end earphones. Except for one detail – there's a screen on the case. (Check out the best AirPods Pro deals if you're in the market for a new pair.)

JBL Tour 2 Pro

(Image credit: JBL/Future)

Dubbed "the world’s first smart charging case" (by JBL (opens in new tab)), the case features a 1.45-inch LED touch display. This will allow users to manage music, customise the earbuds, receive calls, messages and social media notifications "in real time without touching your phone". 

On one hand, the product certainly looks innovative. While we've heard all sorts of weird and wonderful rumours about the AirPods Pro 2, these have mostly been confined to the buds themselves. Whacking a computer into the charging case is a bold move, and it's easy to see how it could prove useful, offering easy access to essential information and audio control.

JBL Tour Pro

The Tour 2 Pro will be available in black and champagne (Image credit: JBL)

But there's a fine line between cool and downright gimmicky – and innovation can easily slip into the territory of "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." For one thing, this is another device that you're probably going to need to pull out of your pocket – so is it really more convenient than reaching for your phone?

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And then there's the issue of how it looks. That screen is very, very small – and it will certainly have its work cut out to prove its usefulness. The Apple Watch Series 7 features a similarly-sized display, and millions of people swear by it. But shoving a screen where a screen isn't needed can be a recipe for disaster – the MacBook Pro Touch Bar wasn't exactly Apple's finest hour

Still, when it comes to headphones, it's what's inside the ears that really counts. With 50 hours of playtime, 10mm dynamic drivers and adaptable active noise cancellation, the buds themselves sound pretty great – although we won't know until they arrive in January next year, priced at €249. But let's face it – there's only one thing the Tour 2 Pro will be remembered for, and time will tell whether that screen lands them in the tech design hall of fame, or shame.

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Daniel Piper
Senior News Editor

Daniel Piper is Creative Bloq’s Senior News Editor. As the brand’s Apple authority, he covers all things Mac, iPhone, iPad and the rest. He also reports on the worlds of design, branding and tech. Daniel joined Future in 2020 (an eventful year, to say the least) after working in copywriting and digital marketing with brands including ITV, NBC, Channel 4 and more. Outside of Future, Daniel is a global poetry slam champion and has performed at festivals including Latitude, Bestival and more. He is the author of Arbitrary and Unnecessary: The Selected Works of Daniel Piper (Selected by Daniel Piper).