Smartphone accessory maker Anker is getting serious about audio with a new brand name and product line called Zolo. The company plans on selling its first product under the name, the Zolo Liberty+ wireless earbuds, as part of Kickstarter campaign that went live this morning. Although Zolo was first announced earlier this year, the Liberty+ earbuds will be the first product under the brand. The earbuds will be $79 for the first 500 Kickstarter backers, but the final retail price will be $149.99. The Zolo Liberty+ are slated to start shipping to backers in November 2017.
Anker CEO Steven Yang says the company is stressing three points with the Liberty+: price, smart features, and battery life. That last one makes sense — a healthy chunk of Anker’s business is in selling portable battery packs for smartphones, tablets, and pretty much any other device with a USB charging port.
To that end, Yang says the team of engineers behind the Liberty+ created a device with three and a half hours of standalone battery, with 48 hours of extra battery power stored in the Liberty+ carrying case. For comparison, Apple’s AirPods last up to five hours on a single charge, but the case stores only 24 hours of backup battery life. The Bragi Dash, on the other hand, achieves about three hours of battery life on its own, with up to 15 hours of backup battery in the case. (Bragi also makes a no-frills version of its wireless earbuds that last longer, but without extra charges in the carrying case.)
As for smart features, Yang says the Liberty+ is the first pair of wireless earbuds designed to work with all four major digital assistants: Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana. The company has also allegedly simplified the pairing process to the point that it works almost as seamlessly as Apple’s AirPods, which rely on the special W1 chip to better bridge communication between the phone and the headphones.
Yang says the company decided to go the Kickstarter route not because it needs the funding (Anker has hundreds of employees and a healthy business in the accessory market), but rather, the company wanted to gauge interest and ensure that it was developing a product consumers would actively want. Plus, Kickstarter allows Anker to incorporate feedback into the development process. “It’s not for the capital,” Yang says. “We want to really get a batch of loyalists and fans to grow together with the brand.”