Bose’s already impressive QC35 headphones get friendly with Google. But is the addition of an Assistant worthy of an upgrade?
The first rule of Bose headphone ownership is do not let a five-year-old child near them. The second rule of Bose headphone ownership is DO NOT LET A FIVE-YEAR-OLD NEAR THEM. Unfortunately, I had broken both of those sensible rules and it was time to replace my trusty old Quiet Comfort 15 headset because children are generally a bit sticky and do not mix well with expensive audio equipment.
Bose headphones have been a trusty companion of mine over the last decade or so, keeping me sane during 10-hour flights and shutting off the outside world with a flick of a switch. Active noise cancellation technology works with passive methods, in the form of memory foam to envelop the ear, to give excellent sound quality. I have used the original Quiet Comfort 3, the 15 and so was interested to see what the Quiet Comfort 35 II headphone would have to offer.
In The Box
First impressions are good. The headphones fold neatly into the included carry case, which conceals how large these things are. The ear cups are trimmed with soft foam that moulds itself to the shape of the user’s head to assist with passive noise isolation. The top of the headset is trimmed with the soft Alcantara fabric so beloved by computer manufacturers these days and it will be interesting to see how that degrades over the years. Also in the box is an audio cable (for those who like plugging things in) and a USB cable to charge the non-removable battery (more on that later).
Firstly, the sound quality is excellent. The headphones are activated at a flick of a switch and the active noise cancellation technology is quick to do its stuff. Bluetooth pairing is simple and different Bluetooth devices can be selected using the hardware switch. The microphone does an excellent job of picking up audio for hands-free calling and the user’s own voice can be heard in the headphones during a call so there is no need to shout. Volume controls are accessible, and an additional button sits between them to pause or skip tracks or take calls.
So far so good. Unfortunately, there is some bad news on the way as well. Firstly, and most seriously, these headphones have a non-removable battery. In the past, I was able to carry around a spare AAA battery or two, or find some in an airport shop in an emergency, but no more. The headphones must be recharged using USB (Bose provide a ridiculously short cable) and provide around 20 hours of normal usage. 15 minutes of charging will add 2 hours or so at a time. If the power runs out, the headphones can still function using the included audio cable, but without the active noise cancelling functionality. I understand the need for a beefier battery to feed the new functionality, but will miss the flexibility of a removable power source. The second bit of iffy news is what is arguably the big feature for this device, the Google Assistant button.
I suspect that there will be 2 types of Bose users. The majority, who use the Bose app to remap the Assistant button to control the active noise cancellation and a smaller group, who will enthusiastically use Google Assistant. In my testing, the Assistant worked for simple things such as responding to requests to find locations or general queries concerning the mortality of elderly celebrities. As with most of its ilk, using it to set reminders, deal with messaging or play some specific music was a bit hit and miss. Siri (on IOS devices) can also be accessed using the action button, but remains a clunky thing to use. This is, of course, not the fault of Bose and should improve over time. Right now, however, I am in the group that uses that button to select one of the three levels of noise cancellation.
Things have moved on since the days of my Quiet Comfort 3 and 15 headphones and Bose now provide an app for recent IOS and Android devices to configure the headphones and apply firmware updates. The app itself is a little basic, comprising a music player and a few configuration options including the toggle to switch the Google Assistant button to control the noise cancellation level instead, and a setting for a timer to automatically turn off the headphones after a period of silence. A handy product tour is also provided to go through the headphone functions, which is a nice thing to have since the Quiet Comfort 35 is a bit more complicated than its predecessors.
It is good to see an old favourite getting an upgrade, and the materials and build quality remain top notch. Competitors such as Sony and Sennheiser may subjectively offer similar levels of sound quality, but the Quiet Comfort 35 II remains an excellent bit of kit. The loss of the removable battery is a shame, but understandable and with the integration of the Google Assistant, the Quiet Comfort is well placed to enjoy the benefits as the Google’s AI improves over the years.