AirPods

AirPods

Introduction

When Apple first announced the AirPods back in September, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them. For years I’ve been using JayBird Freedom headphones as my primary bluetooth headphones, and switching between EarPods and Bose SoundTrue headphones for carry-around earbuds. There are things I liked about both of these. The JayBird headphones were fantastic for working out. They are sweat proof and have a reasonable battery life[1]. Their bluetooth range was not good however – I would frequently hear audio cutoffs with my iPhone on the other side of my body from the right earbud, which is where I assume the antenna was. The Bose headphones and the EarPods both were about the same in terms of features. Both are corded headphones and both have the same inline controls and microphone. The Bose did have rubber eartips which prevented them from ever falling out of my ears. The EarPods however did not have this, and for me at least would fall out of my ears if I moved my head.

JayBird Freedom wireless earbuds
JayBird Freedom wireless earbuds

 

All of my headphones shared a common issue: wires. I don’t find wires inconvenient at all, in fact I do enjoy the utility and ease of plugging them in to whatever device I happen to be near[2]. My issues with wires are two-fold: wires in my pants pocket tend to break, and the wires pull the headphones from my ears when I work out. I’ve lost 3 pairs of EarPods to the cable breaking off at the plug from being in my pocket while I walk, and my Bose pair are headed the same way. All of the wired headphones and the JayBird ones share the workout issue – the JayBird ones have a wire that goes behind my head, and as I run the wire bounces and pulls them from my ears. I end up having to push them back in every 5 minutes while running, which is annoying. Neither of these are complete deal breakers, which is why I never jumped to buy a totally wireless offering before[3].

The AirPods seemed like they would solve these issues for me. They have no wires, reasonable battery life, and good[4] sound quality. I ordered a pair as soon as they were available, and received them on launch day.

The Experience

AirPods Packaging
AirPods Packaging

 

The AirPods are packaged exactly how you’d expect. In the box you get the AirPods in their charging case, the instruction booklet, and a lightning cable for charging. Pairing is simple: just open the charging case near your iPhone and hit connect on the screen. That’s it[5].

AirPods unwrapped
AirPods unwrapped

 

Once paired they work just like headphones. You can press play on audio and just start listening. You can switch to another device, select them as an output device, and start listening. The switching between devices is fast and easy, and is truly some Apple magic.

Listening on an iPhone, the AirPods appear on the Mac in the audio menu with battery status for each earphone
Listening on an iPhone, the AirPods appear on the Mac in the audio menu with battery status for each earphone

 

The sound quality is a little better than the EarPods, but the sound signature is largely the same. I’ve done comparisons between the two and I can tell a slight difference, but nothing worth writing home about. Phone calls on them are crystal clear. You can use one or two earbuds for calls, and they will automatically select which earbud’s microphone is better to use. You can of course configure it to always use one or the other but its auto selection has never failed for me.

One of the less talked-about features that I absolutely love is the ability to use just one AirPod at a time, and have it route truly mono audio to that one ear. Normally with wired headphones if you remove one earphone then you only get one half of the audio, so anything being played over the other channel gets lost. The AirPods don’t have this problem. If you take out (and put away) one of the earphones then the phone will switch and route mono audio over to that one ear. This is fantastic for podcasts and music, and is indispensable when wearing them walking around stores or cleaning up the house.

The AirPods (for me) effectively always have 100% battery. Since I always store them in the charging case in my pocket they’re always charged when I go to use them. I haven’t gotten them below 50% in my use so I suspect they will last a full few days or more of my typical use. Awesome.

Control

Control is a topic of contention with the AirPods. EarPods and other wired headphones typically have a volume rocker and a play/pause button, which can also be used to fast forward and rewind in certain apps. The AirPods don’t have these controls – they have only play/pause (and Siri). Siri can be used on them to change the volume and skip tracks as well as playing and pausing the audio. She can be invoked by a double tap on the earphones. You can however remap this double-tap gesture to play/pause instead, which I have done for convenience. Audio can also be played and paused by simply removing one of the earphones form your ear. I find this feature awesome. Usually if I’m listening to something and someone comes to talk to me I’ll pull out one ear anyway, and have to manually pause my podcast or music. Combining this into a single gesture is perfect for my use case.

I don’t have an issue with not having any volume or skip buttons on the headphones. My JayBird headphones had one button that could be used for play/pause and skip, but using it for skip was so unreliable that I gave up and only used it for play/pause. It did have volume buttons but the adjustment was not great (and also not reliable) so I always ended up setting them to max volume and changing the volume on my iPhone. I realize that for some people not having these buttons will be a problem, but I don’t mind them myself.

Exercise

I love using these for exercise. I ran 4 miles today with them in and I can say they’re the best exercise headphones out there. As I said before my older exercise headphones tended to pull themselves out of my ears with their connective cord[6]. These stay out of the way and are just perfect for running or gym workouts. Their range is also incredible, meaning that if your phone is on the floor while you lift you should have no issues with audio cutting out or disconnecting. Their battery life seems long enough that you should be able to do several workouts without having to recharge the case [7].

Fit

I really only have one issue with the AirPods. The fit in my ears are better than the EarPods, but they still fall out of my ears if I move around too much. Apple’s “one size fits all” design for these really doesn’t work. I wish they had different sizes of them. For me they’re too small, meaning that they don’t fit snugly in my ear and bounce around as I move. If they were just a few millimeters wider they would fit in my ear and stop slipping out. Perhaps the next generation will have multiple sizes.

I have found a potential solution to this problem (at least for running), but I haven’t yet received the solution in the mail. Earhoox makes a Bose-style rubber tip attachment for the AirPods called the Earhoox 2.0. These will hopefully solve the problem for me while I run. I did try them running with a winter hat on to hold them in and they are perfect for running.

Final Thoughts

My new favorite headphones
My new favorite headphones

 

I love these headphones. They fit pretty much every use case I have for them, unlike the other headphones I have used in the past.

They are pricey. At $159 they are much more expensive than a wired pair from Apple or any other earphone manufacturer. For bluetooth though they are in the middle of the pricing pack. The newer JayBird and Beats earbuds are more expensive than these, and these have more features (and that sweet W1 chip).

The AirPods are the most Apple-y product in a while. They’re dead simple to use and all of the interactions with them are extremely well-polished in a way that a bunch of Apple products haven’t been lately. They’ve really knocked these out of the park, and I can’t recommend them enough.


  1. Usually I was able to get somewhere around a week of battery life, working out 1 to 1.5 hours per day. They didn’t have a battery meter of any kind, so the only battery level I knew about for sure was completely dead.  ↩
  2. I don’t have an iPhone 7. I’m still on a 6s.  ↩
  3. Like the $300 Bragi Dash or the Here One.  ↩
  4. I know they’re not as good as the Bose headphones I have (or a similar offering from one of the other audiophile brands) but I personally have never had an issue with the sound in the EarPods.  ↩
  5. The W1 chip is a fantastic device, and I think it’s seriously underrated. I previously tried the PowerBeats3 that have the W1, and the pairing experience was the same. It immediately syncs to your other devices and lets you play from any of them. It’s magical. I hope they bring it to more things in the future.  ↩
  6. I also occasionally yanked them out by getting them caught on weight benches.  ↩
  7. On a 45 minute run with volume high enough so that I can hear music over traffic noise, they drained 18%.  ↩