A little over six months ago, I was sitting in my office watching the same announcement that millions of people around the world were — the Apple iPhone Event. It happens every September and we can usually expect that a new iPhone will be unveiled along with some smaller updates to other devices in the Apple lineup. On September 7, 2016, Apple held their annual event and announced a brand new accessory — the Apple AirPods.
This wireless version of the popular EarPods that accompany every iPhone and iPod was Apple’s first dive into wireless headphones. When they were unveiled, the public was expected to have access to the AirPods some time in October. Unfortunately, Apple delayed the release until late December and many people are just now able to get their hands on them. I lucked out and found some at a big box retailer that happens to sell Apple products, but I’ve been on the hunt for them for several weeks now. If you check the stock available in Apple Retail stores, they are still showing a 6-week turnaround time for orders. They are popular, to say the least, and now that I have a set, I can understand why.
The Apple AirPods are truly a revolutionary, innovative product that has grossly been overshadowed by other products within Apple and outside Apple. I’ve tested dozens and dozens of wireless earphones in the past couple of years and one thing remains true — the connection is key. With most wireless headphones, you have to set the device into pairing mode and then fumble through your phone’s Bluetooth menu to select the correct Bluetooth connection. On top of that, you have to worry about competing for wireless signals between devices.
For example, I have a set of wireless on-ear headphones that can be connected to both my MacBook Pro and my iPhone at the same time. The unfortunate thing is that with competing signals sometimes the connection gets muddied and breakups while I’m trying to listen to music. This usually means you have to manually disconnect the headphones from one of the devices. Apple saw both of these issues as problems that the AirPods could fix. AirPods automatically connect with all your devices and offer seamless switching between them. Apple made the connection super easy. The AirPods ship inside their beautiful white charging case. When this case opens, you are given a prompt on your unlocked iPhone screen that tells you to connect. That’s it. The set-up is done.
Listening to music or talking on the phone is just as easy as the setup with the AirPods. Apple included a special chip inside to detect when the AirPods are in your ear, when you are talking, or when you are listening to music.
The all new Apple W1 chip enables the groundbreaking innovations in AirPods, with dual optical sensors and accelerometers in each AirPod that work with the W1 chip to detect when AirPods are in your ear, so they only play when you are ready to listen. Simply remove them to automatically pause the music, or just remove one to have a conversation and automatically resume when you put it back.
The W1 chip doesn’t just make those function possible, but it also provides a more solid wireless connection between the AirPods and your devices and it also improves the sound quality you experience. The chip is also responsible for exceptional battery life. With it, you can listen for 5 hours (2 hours of talk time) on a single charge. As a basis for comparison, the Jabra Elite Sport Wireless Earbuds have a music/talk time of approximately 3 hours. Thanks to the AirPod charging case, you can recharge your AirPods at any time. With 15 minutes inside the case, you will recharge your AirPods with approximately 3 hours of listening time. The case holds approximately 24 hours worth of charges.
You have complete control of Siri with the AirPods, too. The earbuds are touch sensitive and if you double-tap them, you access Siri. She helps you controls the AirPods with simple commands like:
- “Turn Volume Up/Down”
- “Battery percentage”
- “Find my AirPods”
- “Play My New Music Mix”
- “Pause music”
- “Resume music”
- “Skip song/track/album”
- “Play Podcast”
With this new direct connection to Siri, you can really make the most of your digital personal assistant. AirPods provide you with high-quality AAC audio sound and dual beamforming microphones that filter out background noise when you make calls or talk to Siri.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about what the AirPods are, now I’d like to discuss my personal experience with them. As I mentioned above, I finally tracked down a pair at a local store earlier last week. By this time, I had heard a lot of positive and negative reviews based on real user experience and not just the news releases from Apple. So, I wanted to give myself several days to test out the modern marvels before publishing a review.
One of the things I was really concerned about with the AirPods was their design. While they look great and futuristic, they are based on the standard Apple EarPod style. I personally have never had good luck with Apple EarPods staying in my ears. Some say it’s because Apple makes these as “one size fits all” and because of that they just don’t fit everyone perfectly. Robyn can put them on and shake her head around and they stay in perfectly. I, on the other hand, can just be listening to music and the left one will just randomly fall out. Now, I will say without the cable dangling down, the AirPods do stay in better for me than the EarPods do. That said, I do notice my music pausing from time to time because the left AirPod slips out of my ear while just sitting in a chair. I love the AirPods but it’s a total shame they don’t fit me better.
The sound quality is top-notch. I’ve had wired earbuds that sound less punchy. I mentioned that because I’ve found some wired earbuds sound better because they are wired and have a consistent connection to their connected device. The AirPods have a clear and punchy sound but are not of Audiophile quality in my opinion. This could be because they don’t fit me quite right as Robyn said, “This is what earbuds should sound like,” when she tried them out.
I can live with having to adjust them every so often and with the sound being slightly above average in order to have the convenience that the AirPods bring. I love how quickly they charge — I’ve found the 15 minutes time estimate for 3 hours to be pretty accurate — and I love how easy they are to work with. The set-up couldn’t have been easier and switching from my iPhone to my MacBook Pro has been such a simple process that I am willing to forgive the shortcomings I’ve experienced.
On thing I want to point out is that it sort of feels like Apple is trying to recreate the status symbol that the original Apple EarBuds brought. When the first iPod was released with white earbuds it was the cool thing to have dangling out of your ears. So many people could be seen walking, riding the bus, and sitting in coffee shops with the white cable hanging down their cheeks and chin. Looking at the design of the AirPod, with the white tube hanging down out of the ear, I feel like Apple is trying to restart that movement. So many companies have created wonderful wireless earbuds that don’t have the white tube hanging down, which leads me to believe that design decision may not be for function. I understand that the AirPods have more touch sensitivity with Siri and the ability to pause your music and video when taking one AirPod out. But again with that slight dangle of the white cylinder, people know that it’s Apple AirPods the person next to them are rocking.
No matter what your decision is for wanting the AirPods — a status symbol or great wireless earbuds — you won’t be disappointed. If you have the chance to try them out before you buy them — say a friend has a set and you can see if they fit your ears ok — I would suggest that. You don’t want to spend the $160 for the set and then find they don’t fit you well. Despite any issues, I found the with the AirPods, I am thrilled to have them and find myself using them as my primary listening devices now. With them being so hard to find, the Apple AirPods are a runaway hit for sure.
For more information, visit apple.com/airpods
Originally published at macsources.com on March 14, 2017.