After unexpectedly receiving my AirPods two days earlier than the scheduled delivery date, I’ve been enjoying them for the last few hours. The AirPods, which were first unveiled back at Apple’s iPhone 7 event in early September, endured a delay, but still managed to ship before the end of the 2016.
Our own Benjamin Mayo has already written a hands-on AirPods first impressios post, so I thought I’d put together a post that highlights some of the top features for Apple’s groundbreaking wireless earbuds. Watch our hands-on video walkthrough inside for the full rundown.
The most obvious top feature when it comes to the new AirPods is that they are truly wireless. That means that each AirPod is its own separate entity that features no cord or cable to connect. This lends a greater amount of freedom than standard EarPods, and it’s also better than the so-called “wireless” bluetooth earbuds, such as those from Beats’ PowerBeats line.
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While five hours of battery life for the AirPods might not seem like much, you have to remember that the unit comes with a rechargeable Charging Case. The Charging Case provides enough extra juice to recharge the AirPods several times over, which greatly extends the overall battery life of the buds while out and about. Unless you plan on keeping the AirPods in your ears for more than five hours straight, the battery life should be more than enough.
Speaking of the Charging Case, it’s by far one of the best features of the new AirPods. Often mocked in early reviews for looking like a dental floss container, the Charging Case, with its metal contacts that interface with the metal ends of each AirPod, is the secret sauce that makes the long battery life a possibility.
Not only does the case provide you with a great way to store your AirPods while not in use, it allows the buds to be small and light since they don’t have to bear the brunt of the battery duties.
The AirPods Charging Case provides up to 24 hours of battery life, and can be easily recharged via the Lightning port (Apple includes a Lightning cable inside the box).
In just 15 minutes the AirPods can be charged via the Charging Case to provide up to three hours of battery life. This means that, as long as you keep the Charging Case on your person, you’ll rarely be without music while on the go.
Small and light
Like the EarPods, the AirPods are small and light, which means that wearing them for extended periods of time shouldn’t be an issue. The fact that the units lack a cord makes the whole setup feel even more lightweight while in your ears.
They don’t fall out of the ears (as easily)
The lack of a wire contributes much to the AirPods’ ability to stay firmly planted in your ears. One of the contributing factors to the EarPods fit conundrums had a lot to do with the weight of the wires tugging at the earbuds in your ears. Now that the wires are long longer there, it’s easier to keep the units in the ear.
That’s definitely not to say that some users won’t have problems with the AirPods falling out, because they will. I did a simple jogging-in-place exercise and I noticed the left AirPod beginning to slip out.
Compared to the stock Lightning EarPods, the AirPods sound slightly better. You shouldn’t expect a massive increase in sound quality, but the AirPods do sound clearer than the EarPods. The difference is subtle, but it’s there. Usually you would expect wireless headphones to feature reduced audio fidelity, but I didn’t find that to be the case when comparing the AirPods to the EarPods.
Pairing and switching devices
Thanks to Apple’s W1 wireless chip, the AirPods feature the same handy pairing features as the previously released Beats Solo3 headphones.
The W1 wireless chip makes pairing simple and easy, all you need to do is place the AirPods in the Charging Case, and place it next to your iPhone. A Pairing sheet will automatically appear, which allows you to pair your AirPods with a single button tap.
Best of all, once you pair to your iPhone, your Apple Watch will automatically be able to connect to your AirPods, along with any Mac or iOS devices connected to the same iCloud account. And switching between devices is simple and easy with no Bluetooth-related hoops to jump through.
Apple provides a very impressive battery status details via special popovers that appear on your iPhone’s screen. Users can gain quick access to the battery life of individual AirPod units, and the Charging Case. You’ll also find battery status via the Battery widget within Control Center, or by asking Siri.
Auto pause, resume, and mono playback
When you take one of the AirPods out of your ear, audio playback will automatically pause. When you place the AirPod back into your ear, the audio playback automatically resumes.
A similar thing occurs when listening to music via your iPhone’s speaker. If you remove the AirPods from the Charging Case and place them into your ears, playback will automatically start via the AirPods.
It’s also possible to use only one AirPod at a time for both phone calls, Siri control and music playback. And the AirPods are smart enough to pipe mono sound through a single AirPod, and stereo sound through two AirPods.
You can quickly access Siri via a double tap on the area above either AirPod stem. You can then use Siri to playback songs from your Apple Music library, ask for directions, or use Siri for anything else that it’s capable of doing.
The AirPods are just as polarizing in person from a design perspective as they were when they were first revealed at the iPhone 7 event. The bright white casing coupled with the shiny metallic ends makes the AirPods stand out that much more while in your ears, and it almost looks like jewelry or some sort of bizarre-looking earrings. I’m not a fan of the look to be honest, and I’d much prefer if the AirPods came in a darker color. Of course, this is just a personal observation, and looks are highly subjective, so you may not agree with my sentiments.
Outside of the looks, I’m largely impressed with the AirPods. They’re extremely well built, and the pairing process couldn’t be easier. The AirPods are the best wireless earbuds that I’ve tried so far, and it’s not even close. Sound quality is also much better than any truly wireless earbuds I’ve tried by a long shot.
The thing that really makes the AirPods shine is the Charging Case. The fact that you can have more than 24 hours of battery life by means of a Charging Case that literally fits in the palm of your hand is the AirPods’ killer feature. I also like the way that the AirPods magnetically snap into the case for charging, and how the case’s lid is perfectly weighted to snap closed and flip open on its metallic hinge.
Opportunities for improvement
Despite the superlatives, the AirPods aren’t perfect. The biggest issue (for some) will revolve around fit. It’s a one-size-should-fit-all product, and as such, some users will still experience issues with the AirPods falling out of their ears. The lack of a wire pulling on the earbuds definitely helps, but it’ll still be an issue for some users.
Sound quality, while better than the EarPods, is still limited, primarily by physics. The AirPods sound good, with clear highs and mids, but the low end is obviously limited in such a form factor. If you desire lots of thumping bass, you’re going to need to look elsewhere. I’ve found the W1 chip-enabled Beats Solo3 to be an excellent performer as far as overall sound quality is concerned, and they sound much better than the AirPods, but they are also more expensive, heavier, not very conducive for workouts, and more difficult to travel with.
My biggest gripe with the AirPods is the lack of almost any tactile control whatsoever. You have to invoke Siri to do just about anything. You can’t even change volume via the AirPods without invoking Siri, and that’s just plain silly.
Apple does allow you to change what happens when you perform a double-tap gesture on the AirPods, but it’s limited to pausing/playing music, using Siri, or having the double-tap gesture disabled altogether.
I guess Apple figures that many users will be controlling music playback and volume via an Apple Watch, but the lack of any sort of control on the device itself, outside of Siri or play/pause, makes using the AirPods without an Apple Watch a bit cumbersome.
Overall, I’m happy with the AirPods. They definitely won’t replace my Beats Solo3 Wireless for at-home listening, but they’re perfect when listening on the go, while traveling, while lying in bed, and for any other activity where it’s better to have lightweight, truly wireless earbuds. Depending on your ear fit, they may not be perfect for exercise and workouts, but that will largely be a case-by-case basis.
I’m not yet sold on the look of the AirPods, but I’m hoping that they’ll grow on me over time.
But outside of looks, the AirPods are an impressive piece of tech that works seamlessly with the Mac, iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch. It’ll even work with Android devices, but you don’t get access to Siri, and you don’t get the easy pairing and seamless switching afforded by the W1 wireless chip
Are the AirPods worth $159? If you want the best truly wireless earbuds on the market, then I’d say yes. What do you think? Sound off in the comments below with your thoughts and experiences.