AirPods - Initial Impressions and Everything You Need To Know

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I received my Apple AirPods today and I’m truly impressed! Not only in terms of sound quality and build quality, but the functionality and Apple’s pricing. So, here’s my review of the AirPods and all the cool things that they do that nobody else has seemed to mention!

Case and Portability

The first thing you see when you get your AirPods is the “dental floss” case. It is super sleek! Yes, it’s plastic, but it has a solid construction and some nice weight to it. It just feels of quality and fits comfortably in my pocket. In fact, it’s easier to retrieve from my pocket than my wired ones since I don’t have to untangle them.

You can see Apple has even paid attention to the design of the case, something you’ll use for only a mere few moments every day. The lid flicks up, but is held on with a metal hinge. I’m not worried about snapping it off since the way you hold the case will ensure your finger acts as a buffer, but even then, it feels like you’d need to apply a decent amount of force to snap it off. I’m also not concerned about it accidentally open in my pocket. The magnet that holds the lid down is fairly strong, and even then, the AirPods themselves are held magnetically within the case.

From a user experience point-of-view, it’s a pleasure dropping my AirPods into their placeholders, it’s almost as if they retract down smoothly into the case. If you look directly down into the placeholders, you can see two gold-plated connectors for each AirPod, hidden away from typical view.

AirPod Connector Pins

I love how Apple have even hidden the regulatory stamps within the top of the lid, on the front-side, so you never see them in general use. This is also true for the AirPods themselves, which have the regulatory logos printed just behind the earpiece.

AirPod Regulatory Symbols

Battery and Charging

Now, I’ve only had these AirPods for around six hours and haven’t had the chance to conduct more scientific tests, but I can say the following. The AirPods came charged around 72% each, and the case was around 65%. I used the AirPods for a good two hours before they dropped to somewhere around 30-35%. That means I was losing just around 1% for every three minutes of playback, which matches nicely with Apple’s 5 hour battery life claim. Though, I suspect that the five hour number is a little conservative and probably closer to around 5 hours and 20 minutes.

Apple claims that for three hours of listening, AirPods require a fifteen minute charge. I got 70% (or 3.5 hours worth) of charge in under 20 minutes. This is just purely impressive!

Sound Quality

The common argument I’ve seen against the Apple AirPods is that $169 USD ($229 AUD) can buy you a much higher quality pair of headphones. I actually understand this argument, and agree to it to some extent, but I think it’s unfair to compare these two product categories with each other. Let’s be real here. The reason earphones are so popular is because most people want something convenient, portable and sound great. People like myself want something to wear while we’re out and about, perhaps commuting to work or uni. If you’re an audiophile and you want the best sound possible, you’re probably not going to use earphones, much less wear them in public due to all the environmental sounds that would interfere with your listening experience.

With that said, I’ve actually found the sound quality of the AirPods to be better than that of the typical wired Apple EarPods. However, you do have a little bit of that typical ambient “white noise” lingering around that you get with any Bluetooth earphones/headphones at low volume. Once you pass about the second notch on the iPhone’s volume, this disappears. It’s completely unnoticeable in practice, and quietens down if no audio is playing after about 2 seconds.

Unlike my Bose wireless headphones (which also sound great, by the way), I can’t notice any lag whatsoever with the audio. Everything syncs perfectly!. Videos play in sync. These things can go super loud too!

Won’t They Fall Out?

I tried shaking my head around like an idiot to see if they’d fall out, they didn’t. I will also be testing how well they work during exercise, and I will update this post in time.

However, if Apple’s standard EarPods don’t fit you well, then there’s a good chance you might accidentally flush one down the toilet. Though, I suggest you try them out, since being wireless, there’s no cable to accidentally pull on to rip them out of your ear. Don’t confuse poor fit with the hassle of the traditional cable.

The Apple Ecosystem

Switching between devices with AirPods is super easy, but there is a delay.

After iCloud automatically pairs the AirPods amongst all of your enabled devices, you can literally just hit play on any of your devices and the AirPods will automatically switch to them. No bluetooth menu required.

On the Mac, I had to initially select AirPods as the device I wanted to listen to. I did this via the iTunes AirPlay menu, but I believe this is the same through the Bluetooth menu. Now that I’ve done that, I can switch between listening to music/audio between my iPhone, Watch and Mac by merely pressing the play button on the device I want to listen to.

I am experiencing a delay switching between devices ranging from 2 seconds all the way up to 30 seconds (not hyperbole - actually 30 seconds). However, that 30 second delay occurred only once and it was also when I was listening to music on my iPhone via the AirPods and then attempted to play a song on iTunes on my Mac. Typically, delay is significantly shorter if I’m not playing music on a device while switching. Huge disclaimer: this could also be because I’m running iOS 10.2.1 beta. I’ll be conducting further tests to find out if the issue was with me/beta software or the AirPods themselves.

Switching between iPhone and Apple Watch only takes a couple of seconds - and by that, I mean actually streaming music directly from the Watch. Much faster than digging around for the Bluetooth settings, as you would with any non-W1 enabled headphones/earphones.

In practice, I don’t think the delay of switching audio source will be that noticeable since I don’t switch between devices the often when listening to music.

Apple’s Service

In the case that you do lose a single earphone, you can purchase a new one for $69 USD ($99 AUD). Even though it’s the popular thing to hate on Apple these days, this is actually the best offering I’ve seen from any wireless earphone manufacturer. I haven’t seen any other manufacturer even offer the ability to purchase a single earpiece, instead you have to buy an entirely new set. Even then, it’s a fair and expected price, being under half the price of an entirely new AirPods package.

Other Things to Note

  • I charged my AirPods from ~30% to 100% in under 20 minutes.
  • The casing has some weight to it, it just feels like quality, despite being plastic. There’s a metal hinge, so I’m not worried about the cap snapping off when I open the case.
  • They work well with the Apple TV, but there’s no fancy iCloud pairing. Understandably so, given the TV is a multi-user system.
  • Removing an AirPod while playing YouTube in Safari on the Mac will pause the video (presumably other HTML5 videos too).
  • I actually tried to grab the remote on my old EarPods to adjust the volume before realising they don’t exist. I am now getting used to using my Apple Watch as my remote control for AirPods.
  • Double-tap is a bit hit-and-miss, but I think that’s just a matter of me getting used to it. I’ve changed my setting to play/pause music, rather than activate Siri on my Mac.
  • Using Siri on Mac sounds heavily compressed, as in super-low quality. Hopefully this can be fixed in a software update.

Conclusion

Overall, I give the AirPods a 9.5/10. I’m extremely happy at how easy it is to switch between devices, and the audio quality is definitely a slight, but noticeable step up - as long as you’re listening above ~15% volume to hide that obligatory bluetooth white noise. The whole package just feels like quality. It’s Apple through-and-through, and I love how Apple have even hidden the certification logos within the case and under the AirPod’s ear piece. Very clean design.

Compared to what else is on the market, and given the comparatively low price, AirPods win hands-down in the wireless earphone arena.

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