Apple cut the cords on EarPods and made them into AirPods. But then, a year later, can they still be considered the king of wireless audio?
AirPods one review: Two years later
AirPods are Apple’s endeavor to bring us a better, brighter wireless experience. They resemble the ends of Apple’s wired EarPods, but with the cord cut
off at the stems. The way they function, though… it’s magical.
I’ve now spent over two years with Apple’s $159 AirPods and used them day in, day out, in a range of situations and settings. And here’s my latest
For people who want
EarPods-flair look and fit
(Long battery life
Leading wireless technology
Great voice control
Not for people who need
over or on-ear headphones
Wired alternative should the battery die
If you need immediate access to a wide selection of physical controls, , or noise-canceling headsets for music or long flights, AirPods aren’t the best option for you. If,
As an alternative, you need latest wireless technology fit into one of the smallest, lightest headsets on the market, with a ingenious charging pack and really
great noise-canceling microphones, then AirPods are totally for you.
Similarly, if Apple’s one-size-fits-all EarPod design didn’t appeal good or feel good to you, then AirPods are more of the same. Almost. The lack of wires
make an unbelievable difference as it relates to how well and comfortably they fit in-ear. Whether having stems drop an inch down your jawline looks any worse than cables
dangling in front of your face, you’ll have to make a decision.
Generally, Apple sought to push the state of wireless headsets as far as they could, and do it as at a bargain price as the sensors and apple dedicated chips embedded in both
Buds would allow. And that they’ve done.
The top flips open like a vintage lighter and the action is every moment as addictive. Earnestly — I still have to compel myself to put it down so I don’t
end up flipping it open and closed frequently. (In any case it hasn’t come close to dropping off…)
A great part of that is its magnetic closure. It’s exactly the correct amount of magnet to make it click open and closed appropriately. Have
I mentioned how addictive it is yet? And how durable? After two years of flicking open and closed and open and closed and open and — put them down! — they’re
still working perfectly just as they did when I bought them.
This is also true with the AirPods themselves: The stems slip into and out of the case, but are also magnetic. That doesn’t just make them to stay intact within
the case but also draws them in when you go to put them away. It’s practical, so they don’t fall out in your bag and you don’t have to worry about pushing
them in every time, but it’s also fun.
When the case is flipped open, there’s a light between the AirPods. It’s green when the pods and the case are charged, and orange when they’re about to
Need a recharge. There’s a circular button on the back should you want to pair or re-pair them, if needed. You can do initial setup on your iPhone without it but need
to press it if you want to pair an iPhone not on your iCloud account or pair to a Bluetooth-only device such as an Android phone.
There is a Lightning port located At the very bottom of the case, so that you can charge the case with the same type of cable you normally use to charge your iPhone. That’s sounds
super-convenient. I frequently just plug my AirPods into my iPhone charger while at home, in the car, or in hotels when I pull my iPhone off in the morning.
Since the case is designed like a pod, it’s amazingly easy to slip into a pocket. I keep mine in my front left pocket with my wallet and keys and it’s
never felt at all bulky or bumpy. (I keep my iPhone in my front left pocket.)
The AirPods case is made of plastic, so it can get scratched if you put it in against sharp objects or if you drop it however, since it’s also just a case, you may not
worry about that too much. I did drop my original review AirPods case on a floor and banged them up however, my personal AirPods case, two years later, is still
in great form.
Except for the lint. The white color means you’ll see every dirt that’s picked up. It’s very easy to wipe off if you mind about their cleanliness. If you don’t,
it’ll pile up and you’ll need to intensify your cleaning.
Wireless charging option
Apple announced a new, optional inductive charging case for AirPods. Earlier this year, , you’re now able to buy the wireless charging case separately and charge
It on any inductive charging pads.
AirPods resembles Apple’s current EarPods with the cords cut off right below the stems. It’s fitting: In a very comfortable manner, Apple is using them to drop the
The left and right buds are mirrors of each other, but then virtually alike. One has a small L, the other a small R, so you can tell them apart,
but that’s pretty much it. Both have the same speakers, and both have beam-forming mics.
The shape looks the same as the EarPods as well, but because there’s no dangling cord pulling at them, they remain in your ears very well. My ears have been jumbled
by centuries of grappling, and traditional EarPods — like all earbuds — don’t stay in my ears at all. AirPods, so far, have never disappointed.
I’ve used them while walking, jogging, driving, even a little dancing — my living room, my business! — and they’ve stayed intact in fine. Day in, day out. I’ve been
out in the heat, the rain, the sleet, and really strong wind. Also the snow. So. Much. Snow.
The right one has never fallen off , far as I can recall, and the left one only a few times. (My left ear is far more jumbled than my right — blame grappling.)
I know enthusiasts freak out when they hear about AirPods falling out. I’ll point out again that regular earbuds never stay in my ears for me at all. Most often
I’ve to hold my hand over them, over my ear, to keep them in. Same is true for most in-ear headphones.
Therefore, trust me when I say I’m elated with how well AirPods have stayed in. It’s my first time I’ve ever been able to use headsets that didn’t hook
over my ears.
Yet, I’m not a big fan of the “one design to rule them all” slogan. It’s neater as a product and I’ve lost plenty of the interchangeable for
years to fill a small jar. But, even with all of Apple’s testing, even with a universal design , they’re just not going to fit as many people as they should
if there were a variety of tips included in the box. It’s not as stylish a solution, but it’s one that could, for example, let me use a different sized
tip for my more-jumbled left ear than my less-jumbled right.
Initially, I was worried about loosing my Airpods. In an attempt to ease my worries, right when I first baught a pair of AirPods, I intentionally dropped one, hit play to
restart the audio, cranked up the volume, and listened to see if I could find it. And I could.
Apple has long since added
Find my AirPods
Feature to the mix. I can’t recall the last time I had to use it. Yet, it’s calming to know it’s there for when I inevitably will.
I’d be thrilled if Apple would add some color to the AirPods product line. It’s over two years and we’re still limited to one color option. Where’s Jet Black? Where’s Product
[RED]? Since we’re out from under the extreme AirPods restraint, it’d be beautiful to see Apple get a little bolder with the product palette. Especially
with Apple’s recent attention on fashion and lifestyle.
As well-designed as the case and headphones are, the real AirPods “magic” isn’t how they look — it’s how they function. Bluetooth has improved over the years.
Formerly, there were often weird button maneuvers needed to set Bluetooth into pairing mode, codes required to facilitate the pairing, and small miracles
to get and maintain a decent connection. AirPods crack all that.
Bring the AirPods case close to your iPhone, open it, and a connection interface slides up. It shows the AirPods case. If the AirPods aren’t paired or
are paired with someone else’s iPhone, the pop-up indicates “Not Your AirPods”.
Tap the Connect button and boom! you’re paired.
Seriously. That’s pretty much it. Not just with your iPhone, but all your devices connected to iCloud: Apple Watch, other iPhones, iPad, your
Mac, and as of iOS 12and tvOS 12, as well as your Apple TV.
It’s very easy. Ideally, I’d love a passcode or even iCloud auth to approve pairing with already-paired-with-someone-else’s AirPods. That’d cut down
on AirPod pilfering, I fancy.
What makes the pairing — and everything else about AirPods — so easy is all the technology packed inside the silicon by the W1 chip. There’s one in
each AirPod and they essentially work like mini computers to keep everything in sync, even absent a hardwire cable between them or to the device.
W1 was Apple’s initial wireless chip. Apple Watch Series 3 is now bandled with W2. They’re both part of a growing line of Apple silicon: The A-series system-on-a-chip,
M-series motion fusion hubs, and S-series system-in-package for the Apple Watch, the T1 coprocessor for Apple Pay in the MacBook Pro.
It’s here where Apple continues to show just how far and fast they can push state-of-the-art silicon. And it makes you get curious about the next product line.
AirPods in Action
The AirPods interface show the charge level of both the case and the earbuds. Take one or both out, and you see the individual battery levels. Pop one in
your ear, and the infrared sensors recognizes they are in your ear and start to play mono audio. Pop the other one in your ear, and it’s detected as well.
Then, the audio will seamlessly change to stereo. Take one out, and the audio pauses. Tab the play button on your iPhone or Watch, or tap the AirPod to
Command Siri to continue your music, and your tunes will resume in mono.
As you may have noticed, I did mention Siri: Your AirPods are hooked directly into Apple’s personal voice assistant. It can be launched with a double tap
of either one of your AirPods, Her-style. If your Apple Watch, iPhone or iPad is near by, you can also voice-launch with the usual “Hey, Siri!”
Siri is the main way you interact with the AirPods — there aren’t any minuscule play/pause, volume, or track controls on these earbuds. As an alternative, you
ask Siri to pause your music, raise the volume, or go to the next track.
If you wish, you can go into settings and customize the double-tap shortcut to play/pause, next track, or previous track, instead of Siri. It does
make starting and stopping easier, but it sacrifices the full width of controls that Siri enables. I’ve tried switching them around but I always revert
to Siri in the end.
Since the AirPods offer beam-forming microphones that engage when they detect your jaw movement, you can speak very softly — not quite sub-vocally, but close — and
still get Siri to understand and activate commands. During my testing, they do an excellent job isolating your voice. I’ve used Siri in the car, around the house,
on the streets, and in relatively noisy surroundings with no problem.
By default, the AirPods automatically switch between the two microphones as needed. You can configure them to use either right or left in settings, though, if you prefer.
If you don’t want to, or it wouldn’t be socially acceptable to use Siri, you have an option to control everything from your iPhone or Apple Watch. I thought I
would miss the remote dongle on my traditional, wired headphones, but I don’t: I only ever used the remote to play or pause tracks, and I can perform that easily
enough with Siri.
You can answer calls on the AirPods, as well. To do this, When a call comes in, tap either one of the pod twice to answer — or hang up, if you’re already on a call.
As with Siri, I tried out calling in a variety of rooms and environments; everyone I asked said they hand a great sound quality.
If audio starts playing on your Apple Watch AirPods will automatically switch to them. You can switch to them manually on iPhone or iPad from the
audio source setting in Control Center as well. On Mac, you can switch from the volume icon found in the menu bar.
Your impression about AirPod controls will depend on how you listen to audio. If you like physical controls that are easily accessible for volume and skipping between
songs or chapters, Siri is going to feel very, very cumbersome. If you’re more of a set-it-and-forget-it type listener, who starts a podcast or audiobook
or playlist and then lets it go, Siri will be okay.
It’s for everything further than audio that Siri really comes in convenient. Yes, it’s a complete pain in the neck to have to ask Siri to bump volume or play the
next song, but it’s future-in-your-face-fantastic to tap twice and unleash Siri on everything else. Especially thanks to the new Siri apps.
Tap. Tap. “Message Brian the review will be done on time.” Tap. Tap. “Call Tom on Skype.” Tap. Tap. “Turn my lights blue50%.”
As far as basic playback is concern, it’s painfully slow compared to buttons. For everything else, though, it’s blazing faster.
AirPods Audio Quality
I’m not an audio jankie, so the refinements of the sound quality are lost on me. To my unappreciative ear, though, AirPods sound as good as the EarPods
Apple’s been hustling with iPhones for years. That might sound like damning with faint praise, but it’s way better compared to what many Bluetooth earpieces offer
In terms of sound quality.
They’re not noise-canceling, which is not suitable for airplane flights however, they are awesome for hiking out on the street. Additionally, they are loud and clear enough that I can hear
podcasts, audiobooks, and music comfortably , even when cars are zooming by.
In two years since I’ve been using them, I haven’t suffered much if anything in the way of audio dropouts. I’ve used them when recording both audio and video
podcasts and they’ve been solid always.
Even when in the car ride or out for a stroll, the microphone sounds perfect enough that nobody I’ve engaged in conversation with on the phone or over VoIP apps could tell that I was using
AirPods. When I switched to them, some even thought I’d switched back to my iPhone, assuming that would be better.
Whatever tec Apple is assembling, the company is doing it very well.
AirPods and Battery Life
When I used AirPods for the first time, I figured the battery life would never be enough and that refilling them all the time would be a hassle. I was wrong
on both counts. I mostly use one AirPod at a time for listening to podcasts or audio books, or taking or making calls.
In that regard, I can switch them back and forth, and get double the battery life when and if I want to. I haven’t really needed to, though. Even on long flights,
I’ve never run out of charge, and because the case charges through Lightning, I can plug it in at home, in my car, even into my portable battery pack, to recharge refill
if and when I want to.
The battery life of an AirPod is also displayed on the Today View widget in iOS, so it’s easy to keep track. Over the last year, I’ve never run out of power. I’ve always
ended up plugging in way far before I needed to.
I recently called
the best product Apple had ever made. To put that into perspective, prior to iPhone X I would have contended the new iPad Pro was far better than iPhone 8. And, last
year, that AirPods were better than iPhone 7 Plus. And I liked iPhone 7 Plus and it’s dual-lens camera set up very much.
There’s just something about the beauty of the way AirPods pair and the freedom AirPods provide that are genuinely revolutionary. Not having a cord between
phone and earbuds is one thing. It keeps them from pulling or being pulled out. Not having a cord between earbuds is another. It makes them not feel like
earbuds at all but like part of your ears. Like bionics.
We’re in an era of augmented reality (AR) and, while video gets all the focus , same way, audio will be just as significant. Similarly, while video is still struggling
to be unobtrusive to our eyes, AirPods have already made it unobtrusive to our ears.
For the last two years, I’ve been using AirPods for my exercises, when I’m driving, when I’m flying, when I’m out for strolls — basically any time I require headphones.
I’ve used them with my Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV. I’ve even used them, occasionally, over standard Bluetooth pairing on non-Apple hardware.
And, in all cases, they’ve worked perfectly.
At $159, AirPods may appear costly. Especially for the sound quality . But you’re not paying for the bugs. You’re paying for a dedicated wireless chipset and
the sensors. Apple’s pricing them to move and if they could go down , I’m guessing they would.
However, two years later, this still holds true: If you’re looking for the best integrated, portable, and top-notch audio experience for iPhone and
all your other Apple devices, look no further than AirPods.