Even a year on, Apple’s AirPods (Best Buy, eBay) are largely unrivaled. They may look a bit funny to wear, and only come in one colour, but it’s hard to argue anyone else is close to matching Apple in the truly-wireless headphone space.
AirPods are dead simple to use and intelligent enough to be helpful, without being annoying. They aren’t even expensive compared to the competition.
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It dawned on me that AirPods are now almost a year old. They were announced alongside the iPhone 7 in September, but a couple of production delays meant they didn’t go on sale until the 13th of December.
Apple hasn’t revised the hardware since they launched, in fact they only resolved supply constraints with the product a couple of months ago. The earbuds themselves are very light and fit into a tiny charging case. It’s almost impossible to tell that the buds — which look just like EarPods with their wires cut — contain tiny batteries, antennas and Bluetooth chips.
The buds can last five hours of music playback without needing a charge. Drop them in the carrying case and mere minutes later they are topped up to full again. The case can recharge the buds fully about four times, so you can get more than a day’s worth of total music playback in your pocket. (I know some people have seen battery life degrade over time, mine still perform as well as they did on launch day.)
The W1 chip offers seamless pairing with all your Apple devices and the Bluetooth range is impressive. The buds have gone out of sync just a couple of times since I’ve owned them, and only for a few seconds at most. AirPods are a perfect complement to Apple Watch, especially with the watchOS 4.1 update with iPhone-free Apple Music streaming.
AirPods symbolise a quintessentially Apple product. Simple, elegant, and futuristic.
If you look at the competition, Samsung pushes its Gear IconX earbuds. These are price competitive with AirPods but fail at the most basic level; they are so much bigger. The case is much more bulky than the AirPods case. A big reason why people love AirPods is their incredible portability — I can fit mine in the change pocket inside my jeans pocket. Apple also beats Samsung on price by about $50, although the new IconX have some calorie tracking fitness features that Apple doesn’t offer with AirPods.
The other main contender is the Bragi series of earbuds. They aren’t terrible, but their cheapest model is priced the same as AirPods are and their other models are priced much higher. Reviews are generally mixed on their comfort and reliability.
There are a lot of other brands trying to make competitive wireless earbuds, but they are either really expensive or just not very good. AirPods are easily the best choice for Apple device users (and arguably the best option for many Android users too). I think eventually Apple will expand the lineup with tweaked designs to fit more ears (some people simply can’t use AirPods because they fall out) and offer different color options. I really want a black pair.
However, no question in my mind, Apple deserves praise on this product. They executed really well, even a year later it’s tough to argue another brand is superior. Apple will be improving the AirPods experience in 2018 further with a wireless inductive charging case that works with the AirPower mat, for even more convenience (pricing unknown).