JBL Tour Pro 2 hands-on: Putting earbud controls on a touchscreen case

All of the features of the company's app without touching your phone.

Billy Steele/Engadget

JBL is showing off several models of true wireless earbuds at CES, but perhaps the most interesting is the Tour Pro 2. This premium set comes with a "smart" case that features a touchscreen display on the outside. That 1.45-inch LED panel gives you access to the core features of the JBL One app, including noise cancellation modes, EQ presets, volume and track controls. The display will also show you battery info for each earbud and the case individually, along with the current time. Those four items line the top while the other tools are available by swiping across screens.

The display turns on when you open the case or when you tap it, and then you unlock it with a swipe. As you might expect, the touchscreen automatically turns off after a few seconds and JBL has thrown in brightness and wallpaper customization for good measure. Another item the Tour Pro 2 case offers is message and social notifications, but the display doesn't actually show any text for those. It will just let you know you have something waiting.

The touchscreen case is on the larger side for a set of true wireless earbuds, but not drastically so. It's noticeably bigger than most of JBL's lineup, but definitely not the largest I've seen. Of course, the larger stature is understandable since the company needed more room to accommodate a bigger battery for the display. Despite the extra power consumption, JBL is still promising battery life you'd expect in active noise canceling (ANC) buds: up to 8 hours with it on, up to 10 with it off. Plus, the case offers wireless charging and the quick-charge feature gives you four hours of listening in 15 minutes.

JBL is touting the convenience of not having to look at your phone for the "smart" case with the Tour Pro 2. Of course, you'll still have to carry the case with you and you'll have to stay within Bluetooth range of your connected device. I think the concept could have potential, but I'll need to spend some time doing "regular" everyday things to properly gauge the utility. There are things available on the display that you can't access directly on the earbuds and that you will otherwise have to tap into JBL's app to change, so it could conceivably save you a few seconds.

I'll have to wait until the $250 Tour Pro 2 arrives this spring to judge the audio quality as I wasn't able to do so during a brief CES demo. However, the company has a solid track record in that department so I expect its latest premium set will handle listening habits just fine.