It’s been awhile since Apple’s AirPods first arrived at Apple Stores late last year. While they’re not exactly new, the highly coveted headphones have been pretty difficult to just walk into a store and grab until fairly recently when Apple finally cranked up production. A few weeks back, stock became readily available at Best Buy, Amazon and the like, so I figured I’d try my hand at Apple’s “true wireless” earbuds and see what the hype was about.
The funny thing is the hype surrounding the buds. If you were at all interesting in buying a pair, you’ve probably seen your share of reviews around the net. While more “professional” reviews tend to give AirPods a sort of average rating, consumer reviews tell a much different story.
AirPods not only have a nearly perfect 5-star review on both Best Buy and Amazon, but in my conversations with owners, most have had nothing but great things to say about them. The best part? Since they’re Bluetooth, they work on both iOS and Android. I’ve been using AirPods with my OnePlus 5 for the better part of 2 weeks now, and here are my thoughts so far.
What I love
At $160, AirPods don’t carry the unusually high markup you would normally expect from an Apple product. They’re surprisingly reasonable when you consider the competition. For example, Sony’s WF-1000X true wireless headphones are priced at almost $200, while the B&O PlayE8s are $300.
Painfully simple to set up
When you first take AirPods out of the box, they’re already nestled inside their charging case, fully charged and ready to go. All you have to do is take them out, and look for “AirPods” on your Android’s Bluetooth menu. Select them and they’ll pair right up, just like any other Bluetooth device. Doesn’t get any easier than that.
This part’s obvious but having true wireless earbuds is incredibly convenient. No wires to get tangled or snagged on things, making them perfect when going out for a jog, listening in a plane (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve got tangled up in my own headphone cords), or around the kiddies. The case itself is small enough that you can store them in a 5th pocket, coat, or purse where they’re easily accessible.
Unlike your traditional pair of dumb headphones, AirPods are actually pretty smart. They have a few neat tricks you definitely wont find on most wired headphones. Although most of the better features only work on a macOS or iOS device (thanks to the Apple’s integrated W1 chip), some things work on Android as well.
When paired up with your MacBook (or iOS device), AirPods pause the audio when you take one of the buds out of your ear and begins playing again when you place it back inside. Works great when someone is asking you a question so you don’t have to worry about fiddling around with your computer or phone to quickly turn off the audio.
Double tapping a bud will activate Siri or answer an incoming voice call on iOS or Mac. On Android, some of these features don’t work, but double tapping does allow you to pause/play the music — so at least there’s that.
UPDATE: Someone recently released an app that allows you to activate Google Assistant, making AirPods even better than before when used with an Android device. Right now it appears the only thing you’ll miss out on when using AirPods on an Android device is the battery status and auto pausing when removing one from your ear. Who knows, maybe someone will release an app for that too.
AirPods also have a built in microphone that allows them to act as a headset for taking calls. Special noise cancelling “beamforming” microphones help ensure that callers can always hear you loud and clear by filtering out background noise.
Another interesting part about AirPods is that you can pair them with a handful of devices, more than the usual two you get with other Bluetooth headphones. Pretty handy if you have a family of devices you’d like to pair them up with.
Light weight means you can wear them all day
I don’t know what kind of engineering wizardry Apple conjured up for the AirPods, but the size and weight of the pods makes them extremely comfortable to keep in your ears for extended periods of time. You’d be hard pressed to find any competition with a similar size/weight as the AirPods which definitely helps with fatigue. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world catches up but a few AirPod imitations have already begun popping on Amazon.
That’s not to say they’re perfect. Just like Apple’s stock EarPods that come bundled with the iPhone, it’s a one size fits all and lack of removable silicone tips could be a problem for those with smaller/larger ear holes.
Battery life is fantastic for something this small
Apple says their AirPods can last upwards of 5 hours at about 50% volume — which wipes the floor with most the competition — and the case itself provides around 4-5 additional charges for up to 24 hours of total listening time. This has to do with the ultra low-power W1 chip which, unfortunately, is only compatible with iOS and macOS devices.
That means when connected to an Android device, you’ll be using a standard Bluetooth connection which means slightly less play time. In my experience, I’ve hit 4+ hours while connected to my OnePlus 5 without exhausting the battery. It’s really hard to listen any longer than that without popping them back in the charging case so there’s a good chance you’ll never kill these before charging them up again.
The good news is that the tiny batteries in the AirPods charge extremely quick, with Apple saying that a 15-minute charge is enough for 3 hours of listening time. Can’t beat that with a stick.
Don’t listen to the haters: they actually sound great
Now, I’m no audiophile, so it’s easy to dismiss my critique when it comes to audio quality on the AirPods. I’ve seen more than a few reviews give AirPods a mediocre rating when it came to audio quality, and even come across those that claim they sound “like trash.” While I’m sure a lot of that has to do with the Bluetooth standard in general, I was actually surprised at how nice AirPods sounded when I finally tried them for myself.
I think for 99% of the folks out there, they’re going to sound better than whatever headphones came bundled with their smartphone so an upgrade is an upgrade. They’re altogether pretty crisp and there’s plenty of bass to produce a nice full sound. Not mind blowing, but certainly not terrible by any means. I think the overwhelmingly high ratings from actual users across the net attest to this.
What I don’t love
They look kind of silly
Ask just about anyone who isn’t on board with AirPods one of the first things they’ll tell you how silly they’d feel wearing them. The design certainly isn’t for everyone and I think we all can agree they’re the most un-sexy piece of wearable tech since Google Glass. The difference? These were made by Apple.
If anyone but Apple released this design first, it would have immediately been scoffed and shunned by the world, drifting away into obscurity. But Apple has always had a way with consumers, much like a designer fashion brand which can sell something that looks silly under the guise of sex appeal.
When it comes to AirPods, they’re much like a Prius. You wont win any style points, but who cares when it’s something that’s just so damn functional.
Some missing features on Android
Some features like being able to automatically pause music when removing a bud from your ear, or reporting the battery status doesn’t work on Android. Even with the latest Android 8.0 Oreo update which finally — after all these years — adds battery stats, for whatever reason AirPods aren’t compatible. Lame.
Originally, AirPods weren’t compatible with Google Assistant, but thankfully someone released an app that fixes that little problem.
And that just about wraps up my feelings on the Apple AirPods. As a self-proclaimed technology enthusiast, I have to admit — AirPods are extremely cool and a taste of the truly wireless future to come.
Yes, it’s only a matter of time before cheaper — possibly even better — knock-offs begin hitting the market. While you could always sit and wait, those who enjoy living on the bleeding edge of tech and have been eying these shouldn’t waste any more time — just buy them already.
Other than looking a little silly, I have no other real complaints with them and that’s saying a lot. Just cut the cords and enjoy the freedom of truly wireless earbuds. I can almost guarantee you wont be sorry.