Apple’s AirPods have officially reached ‘gold dust’ status, amid a 6-week minimum shipping delay online – and similar stock scarcity in store.
With this in mind, last week I decided to take the plunge and pony up a £50 premium to get my own hands on the company’s latest, truly-wireless earbuds.
Here’s what I’ve learned in the past 72 hours.
Although the unconventional design of Apple’s AirPods do take a little time get used to, it’s fair to say that without that initially weird-looking (and eventually, lovable) white stork that so obviously protrudes out of your ear, there is no question that the truly-wireless buds would be a far less appealing option.
That’s because, for a start, that eye-catching white stork houses a battery that results in an average 5-hours of continuous listening time on a bad day, and 7-hours on a good day. It’s also imperative for Apple’s AirPods to be able to pick up your voice when using the earbuds for Siri, or calls.
Of course, perhaps the most notable aspect of the AirPods design is that there are no wires. Zero. zilch. nada. Instead, each of Apple’s wireless earbuds connect to your iPhone through a persistent bluetooth connection.
Generally speaking, that thinking hasn’t worked out too well for bluetooth earphones in the past – as some audiophiles claim that the sound quality and reliance of bluetooth can never be matched to that of wired alternatives — but as you’ll see from this review, AirPods could just buck that trend.
Prior to AirPods becoming available to purchase, many were quick to cite the company’s EarPods as the basis for doubting AirPods ability to stay in users’ ears. The thinking behind this was that the current ‘snagging’ of EarPods out of your ears due to them being attached to a wire, would somehow also translate to Apple’s new wireless world – as activities such as running, jumping and other energetic tendencies were each outlined as possible future pitfalls.
Then came a dose of reality in the form of MacWorld’s Susie Och, who was one of the first to state -with certainty- that AirPods ‘may just stay in your ears’.
6-months on …and the latest figures suggest Apple’s AirPods have cornered the bluetooth earphone market to the tune of 40-percent. Here’s why I think that is deserved.
On Saturday I took a trip into Liverpool City Centre. I walked around the city for a good 40-minutes to an hour, stopped in a cafe, and caught two trains (one of which I had to run pretty heavily for) … and in all that time of stepping on and off trains, entering and exiting shops, sitting down for a bite to eat and striding over those street grids -any one of which could have meant the end for my AirPods- not once did they fall out.
Granted, I’m yet to try them in an intensive environment … such as in the gym, but initially at least, I am pretty impressed with their fit.
Did I check on them a couple of times? … Of course. Any sensible wearer of mid-to-expensive earphones would check to ensure a comfortable, safe fit.
The point here is that despite a barrage of media reports that all-but instilled the thought of AirPods being a put-in-one-minute, drop-out-the-next kind of deal – in the past 3 days never once have I had to pick them up off the floor.
Believe me when I say that Apple did its homework in regards to the overall fit of these things.
They don’t budge. At all.
I’ve heard from many who own AirPods that they feel they are just ‘marginally’ better than EarPods. I disagree — wholeheartedly.
Anyone who knows me well knows that my life is music. I breathe it … and so naturally, I own several different pairs of wireless and wired earphones. Everything from my high-end Beats Studio, to M6 Pro professional in-ear stage monitors, mid-range QCY, AirPods, EarPods and others.
I know what good quality sound is — and AirPods are exceptionally better than EarPods. Put it down to Apple’s acquisition of the technology that powers Beats, audio deflection trickery, or The Halo Effect.
To these ears at least, AirPods are a significant step-up.
It wouldn’t be right to review AirPods -and their new wireless functionality- though, without also giving you some insight on what you can expect from the connection.
It’s important to note that Apple’s AirPods link to your iCloud account – so connecting them to your iPhone means they’ll also show up as available bluetooth audio output sources on your iPad and Mac.
Right now, Apple TV requires manual pairing due to the device being designed for use by multiple users, but hopefully this small niggle is remedied in a future firmware update.
Initially, you might be surprised to read that I had some trouble with getting AirPods linked to my iPhone.
The setup process involving the opening of Apple’s supplied charging case -while advertised as seamless– was seemingly less so on a first try, seeing my iPhone throw up the on-screen ‘connect’ dialog multiple times before they eventually connected.
There was also a single time on Friday when the AirPods lost connection with my iPhone, causing me to have to jump into the quick bluetooth audio menu on Apple Music‘s ‘Now Playing’ screen and select them again.
Since then, thankfully, this hasn’t happened again.
One of the best parts of AirPods in terms of connection, is the way the wireless earbuds can automatically switch to use the audio output of the device you are currently using – to another.
For example, I sometimes found myself starting to listen to Apple Music on my iPhone – and due to low battery (likely fuelled by having to have bluetooth activated), switching to use iTunes on my MacBook Air.
This process was seamless – but it took a while to learn how it worked for the best result. In my own experience, I found pausing the music on the device I was switching from before trying to have my AirPods switch their connection to my Mac, or secondary device, provided the most seamless experience in terms of the audio/sounds that could be heard during the transition.
Failing to do this resulted in sporadic audio jumps from one source to another, before the AirPods eventually connected to the new device.
Apple’s charging case for AirPods could be mistaken for an alien egg.
With a high-polish finish, and quick charge time at around 40-60 minutes, the charging case oozes a sense of premium style – whilst serving as a near-perfect companion to Apple’s wireless buds.
There’s a few things you need to know in order to get the most out of it, though. The first is that taking the AirPods out of this charge case can -initially- be a little tricky. This is largely down to the gloss plastic material that Apple has chosen for the buds, and it’s at this point that you need to be most careful about dropping them – especially if you’re out and about.
Once you’ve gotten used to how they sit and the strength of the magnet/connector that ultimately holds the buds in place while they charge – though, you should be golden.
In my experience, the case appeared to lose roughly 5-7% of its charge overnight when left idle at 100% – with AirPods retaining their 100% charge ready for use in the morning.
It also appears to be important to make sure that you take both earbuds out of the case at the same time, placing them in your ears together (if you wish to use the two), as during my first few tries of using them, only one bud appeared to register.
I now know this is down to the way I took AirPods out of their case, and that same ‘clunky’ removal process I just described is actually an integral part to being able to use AirPods on a single basis.
Taking one bud out of your ear and returning it to the case, then resuming the audio or music you were playing will see AirPods recognise that you only wish to use one of the buds, and automatically disconnect the other to save battery … handy if you, say, want to use one as a hands-free bluetooth earpiece whilst driving.
One largely unexpected benefit of owning AirPods is how much more I’m using Siri. I hardly ever use Apple’s virtual assistant on iPhone and my use of her on Mac is pretty low – only reserved for searching out document types, when needed.
AirPods double-tap gesture being able to be configured to invoke the assistant, though, I predict is going to serve as a widely welcome addition – especially if you happen to be subscribed to Apple Music.
The sheer convenience of invoking Siri and asking her to “add this to my library,” and then be greeted with confirmation from the assistant that she had added what I was currently listening to, to My Music – I’m not going to lie, that has completely revolutionised my Beats 1 listening experience.
Of course, much of the Siri-powered functionality offered by Apple’s AirPods is available directly on the iPhone, Mac or Apple Watch. But the convenience of having the assistant at your beckon call -with results of commands issued sent directly to your ear- really has to be experienced to be understood.
Plus, using Apple’s double-tap gesture looks (and feels) like pure science-fiction in this respect – if a little hard to get used to where to tap, at first.
Which leads me to gracefully segway onto the topic of control.
Having truly-wireless earbuds in your ears poses a few issues, the main one being staying aware of your environment when needed. This generally requires control over your earbuds’ volume – and given AirPods feature no physical controls, you’re left with either manually adjusting volume from your connected device – or using Siri.
This is one of the major pitfalls of the product for me, personally. While I enjoy the ‘gimmick’ of using Siri to adjust volume, it shouldn’t be needed – and the lag introduced for a once ‘simple’ interaction is borderline unacceptable.
I’m not sure how Apple would solve this issue — perhaps introducing a ‘single tap’ gesture that could be programmed, set and used for increase and decrease of the volume level in the future? … I’m not sure, but I’d wager that would definitely work better than Apple’s current volume control implementation.
Owning an Apple Watch helps negate this step, somewhat.
In addition, I loath having to choose between using Siri – and being able to easily and quickly pause and play what I’m listening to. In this regard, I agree with the reviewer in AppleInsider’s recent video look – who suggests the separating out of these actions to each of the two earbuds, could help this aspect of the AirPods experience.
Apple’s truly-wireless world is here — and it’s clear that AirPods signal the beginning of something that could be huge, going forward.
That being the ridding of wires from almost all aspects of the technology we use on a daily basis.
Yes, wireless earphones are not new.
But what Apple is trying to do here is admirable and there is definitely evidence of some serious thought having gone into the development of the AirPods.
However, they’re not perfect. At least, not yet.
One firmware update in, and I can sit here and tell you that AirPods are great for everyday tasks – such as listening to music, podcasts and even voice recording (if that’s your thing). But if you’re looking for flawless listening – you sadly won’t find it here.
Apple’s AirPods are suffering from the very thing that makes them what they are: Being wireless.
Quite simply, bluetooth technology today hasn’t advanced to a level where it can be relied upon for flawless listening and/or connection in a ‘truly wireless’ environment.
But if you’re thinking of buying Apple’s AirPods for the convenience factor, and the thought of having access to Siri with just a double-tap on something in your ear excites you, there’s no question that -even with Siri’s current slight lag- AirPods will do what you want them to do.
As with everything Apple, this is version one … and for Gen 1, AirPods are pretty good at what they do. In time, I’m sure they will improve.
Right now, they’re good at some things and not so good at others.