AirPods – A Review

- 10 minutes -

I bought myself these little guys last Friday and used them over the weekend. Here are my thoughts.

Straight off the bat, I have to mention that AirPods are far from perfect. They aren’t always reliable – sometimes tapping for Siri doesn’t activate – and they aren’t always seamless – pairing sometimes isn’t automatic. But when they are those things, they’re every bit as amazing as people say they are.

 

Initial pairing

I was in a hurry to get these things paired as I was running late for something when I purchased them. I quickly realized that the AirPods involved learning new habits that weren't immediately obvious. For example, to check the battery on both the case and AirPods, you need to bring out the case and flip it open within close proximity of the iPhone.

Thankfully, I think these will be easy habits to learn. AirPods have to become intuitive, but they are intuitive eventually.

 

Reliability

These are my first wireless headphones, so I’m not familiar with the friction points with other Bluetooth headphones. Complaints I’ve heard are sound quality being subpar and connectivity issues standard of anything Bluetooth. 

There are latency issues now and then – some delay between the left and right AirPods have occurred – but they’re very minor and don’t bother me in the slightest.

What does bother me is when key functions fail to work – and this happens much more frequently. I already mentioned one example: Siri failing to activate on the double-tap. There’s reason to believe this is the primary reason the optical sensors are in the AirPods to begin with, so it’s really disappointing this doesn’t work as often as it probably should.

Another thing is taking off one AirPod to pause. It works often enough that I rely on it to play/pause, but either a) it doesn’t pause (the other AirPod that’s still on continues to play audio), or b) it does pause but holding the removed AirPod a certain way tricks the sensors into thinking it was put back on, so it plays audio again.

I’ve learned to circumvent this by holding the removed AirPod upside down so there’s a smaller chance of it sensing it’s been put back on. Still, for the times it doesn’t pause for some reason, I have to take off both AirPods. Again, you’d think Apple would make this more reliable if they went through the effort of putting sensors inside these to begin with.

 

Seamlessness

I think Apple did better in this department.

The pairing process every time after the initial process is button-/tap-less. You put them on, you hear the chime indicating it’s connected, and you’re good to go… most of the time (again). Although, even when it isn’t automatic, just go into Settings > Bluetooth, tap your connected AirPods and they’ll connect within 3-5 seconds – faster than any other wireless device I’ve connected to with my iPhone or Mac.

Same with connecting to the Mac. (There is no initial pairing process with the Mac thanks to iCloud.) Tap the Bluetooth icon, locate your AirPods to connect, and it connects instantly. Switching between devices occurs in similar time.

 

Comfort

The fit and feel of AirPods are completely identical to that of EarPods to me. So any problems you might have with EarPods in that regard, you’ll most likely have them with AirPods. (On that note, sound quality is also identical.)

You wouldn’t think it at first, but simply removing the AirPods from its case can be an issue – again, something that has to become intuitive. John Gruber of Daring Fireball has this solution: 

 
 

 

I’ve mentioned before my skepticism regarding tapping on the earbud as an interaction method. I can now confirm that skepticism – it’s pretty uncomfortable. On top of it sounding and feeling weirdly invasive, it distorts the audio being played. And, again, sometimes there isn’t any payoff cause it fails to work.

All the negatives aside, dealing with them doesn’t steal enough of my attention to have me stop using the AirPods, because most of the time, I end up forgetting that I’m even wearing wireless headphones. While there are habits to unlearn with wired headphones – like using a controller for volume and play/pause – there actually aren’t that many.

Bear in mind also the inconveniences – many of them grating – that are taken away along with the wires. You can now distance yourself from your device without taking off the headphones and putting them back on again. There’s no cable for the doorknob to tug on anymore. If you often wear multiple bags or layers of clothing like I have to, there’s one less step in the “take everything off” dance.

 

Magic

“Magic” is a word I’ve seen tossed around when describing the experience of using AirPods. I personally wouldn’t use that word. I’d use “normal”, and that’s not bad.

Once you understand all the interaction methods, you suddenly just start using it naturally. It’s kind of surprising. You start minding the annoyances less, as with any new device. I might not be at the stage where I’m wondering how I even dealt with wired headphones in the first place, but I could see myself getting there.

 

Miscellaneous

  • Connectivity is pretty good – better than my mediocre Bluetooth speaker, at least. I can walk across my studio apartment without the connection dropping on either my iPhone or Mac (although walking into the bathroom severs the connection).
  • In classic Apple fashion, battery life is better than advertised – much better. Apple claims the buds have 5 hours of battery life – I think I’m pressing on 8 with my current charge and they’re both at 40+%. I think it’s possible to go two days without charging via Lightning, even with heavy use.
  • Removing one AirPod to pause works with YouTube videos on both the iPhone and Mac.
  • I’ve had one of my AirPods fall once (the day I got them… sigh) thinking I still had my EarPods on. So yes, there’ll be a bit of babying them in the beginning, but I’ve stopped worrying about it already. Expect nicks eventually, but don’t worry too much about functional damage.
  • Checking the battery on the iPhone is great, but what about the Mac, where that information is tucked away in the Bluetooth dropdown menu? Why can’t I open the case near my Mac and have a pop-up tell me the battery? Or have it in the Today tab of Notification Center like on my iPhone?
  • Also, it’d be nice if the battery life of the case could be displayed in the Today tab widget.
  • While it’s a bit annoying not having physical controls anymore, I’m strangely okay with telling Siri to adjust the volume and play/pause. (Although sometimes it tells you it’s sorry that it can’t do that. Then I’m annoyed again.)
  • Siri understands my words noticeably better thanks to the mics – just bear in mind, again, it’s still as bad at knowing what to do with those words.
  • Speaking of mics, taking calls on AirPods is pretty cool – like, futuristic cool. They’re pretty good at phasing out external noise and picking up on my voice even in low volume.
  • AirPods being another thing to charge isn’t much of a problem. If you’re already used to charging more than one device, this will easily become habitual.
  • I like the heft of the case, with or without the AirPods. Definitely premium-feeling.

 

Verdict

Problems aside, this is a seriously astounding v1.0 product.

 

There's now a computer in my ear. We live in the future.