I've used Apple's original AirPods since the fall of 2017. About two months ago, in June of 2019, I found a good sale and upgraded to the second generation. I knew the sound wouldn't be any different, but I was intrigued by other features. I wanted the Hey Siri support, the reduced latency, the better connection, and the automatic speaking of new messages.
Now I'm here, ready to tackle the big question: is it worth upgrading? To make things a little easier, I'm going to call the two models AirPods 1 and AirPods 2 from time to time.
First, let's review what didn't change between the two models. Here is everything I can think of that is the same, or almost the same, so isn't worth considering if you're trying to decide whether to upgrade.
- The two models sound identical to my ear. I'm no audiophile, but I can usually pick out differences between headphones' sound signatures. I can't tell any difference here.
- The physical shape, of both the case and the actual earbuds, is the same. In fact, I've seen ads for AirPods cases that work with both generations. This also means the fit is unchanged, so if the first AirPods didn't fit your ears well, neither will the new ones.
- Battery life is the same: five hours per charge, with the case providing nearly five recharges. In practice, I had to charge my first-generation AirPods about once every five days, and that hasn't changed with my new ones.
- AirPods 1 came in white, and only white. AirPods 2 is the same, being offered in the same white as the first generation, and that's it. If you want colors, you'll have to turn to third parties, regardless of which generation you choose.
- Both generations support only double taps for controls. The new ones don't offer triple taps, or any other new control mechanisms.
- Core features are the same. They power on and connect when you put them in your ears, they pause your audio if you take one out, they stop it and shut off when you take both out. Pairing, battery checking, even using iOS to locate them are all unchanged.
The only minor difference in the two cases is where the LED is. On AirPods 1, it is inside the case, between the earbuds themselves. On AirPods 2, it is on the outside of the case's front, just below the lid, so it can be seen more easily.
So Why Upgrade?
With all the similarities, it's fair to ask why anyone would upgrade. Below, I'll touch on each new feature, and what I think of it, having now used it for two months.
If you pay extra, you can get AirPods 2 with a QI-compatible case. You can then put the case on any QI pad, and it'll charge right up.
I opted for this model, though I don't currently have any QI products. I did so for two reasons: I'm likely to get wireless charging pads in the near future, if and when I upgrade my iPhone; and I can now charge my AirPods more places, if I need to. I no longer need to find someone with a Lightning cable, just someone with the more ubiquitous QI charging technology.
It's worth pointing out that you don't need new AirPods to take advantage of this. You can buy just the case for $79, and let your first generation AirPods enjoy wireless charging.
Apple promises a thirty percent reduction in latency with AirPods 2. I've heard people say this is true, but I haven't really found it. Not to say that AirPods are slow, because they're not at all. They respond faster than the Aftershokz Trekz I use as my other set of wireless headphones. But the difference between the two AirPods models is hard for me to detect. If I were to upgrade based on latency alone, it wouldn't be a big enough deal to make me want the new AirPods.
Similarly, Apple says the new H1 chip in AirPods 2 makes switching between active devices faster. I take this to mean that when moving from, say, iPhone to Apple Watch, I should find less of a delay. This seems to be the case, though I'm not entirely convinced the increase is worth it. It's not like connections are now made instantly or anything.
I know that this was in my "things that haven't changed" section, but there is one difference we should touch on. AirPods 1 last about two hours when being used to talk. AirPods 2, though, last up to three hours. I haven't tested this, as I don't often use AirPods to speak that long, so I can't personally speak to it. (Speak to it? Do you get it? Hey, this is me, and I haven't written here in a while. You knew I'd have to put in a terrible pun somewhere, right?)
If you do talk using AirPods a lot, it is worth thinking about whether an extra hour would be useful. I just can't say how accurate that "extra hour" claim is going to be.
Now we come to the main reason I upgraded: AirPods 2's Siri support. I'll cut the suspense and just say it: this is worth the upgrade all on its own.
First, having Hey Siri support is great. I can tell Siri to start a workout without having to raise my Apple Watch. I can issue playback commands without trying to double tap an AirPod (especially useful with my hands full or in the winter.) I can tell Siri to send messages, or turn on my air conditioner, while I'm doing something else. I can even ask Siri if I have new messages, to have them read aloud, then reply should I need to. I know accessing Siri through AirPods is nothing new, but Hey Siri lets me use the assistant without taking one of my two double tap commands. I can leave those commands set to pause and fast forward, and still have hands-free access to everything Siri can do.
Hey Siri isn't perfect, though. The speech recognition isn't great in loud environments, and Siri can sometimes take quite a while to respond. This latter problem isn't Siri being slow, from what I can tell, it's another noise issue. I believe Siri is set to stop listening when a certain sound threshold is reached, below which it assumes I am no longer speaking. If background noise is loud enough, it can trick Siri into listening longer than I'd like. This doesn't cause extraneous input, but it can mean Siri can take quite a while to finally decide it's done listening and actually do what I asked. Still, it's better than having to juggle things around to pull out my phone, or stop and release my guide dog's harness to raise my Apple Watch. Despite the occasional difficulty, I'm still happy to have the feature.
Let's go back to checking messages with Siri. Doing this by speaking a command is nice, but I won't have to manually ask at all once Apple's previously-announced automatic speaking of incoming messages arrives in an upcoming iOS update. When you are using AirPods 2, new messages can be spoken automatically as they arrive. Your audio pauses, Siri says "new message from name. Message." Where "name" is the sender's name if you have it in your contacts, or the email address or phone number if you don't, and "message" is the actual message you received. Once Siri finishes telling you the information, your audio resumes. You can then use Hey Siri to reply if you want to.
While this feature has been removed from iOS for now, it made an appearance early in the iOS 13 beta cycle, and I got to use it for a few weeks. I can't tell you how helpful it was to hear my messages. I knew if I have to respond, or if it could wait. I got timely information, like that my ride was here, with no effort. I didn't need to worry about forgetting to check an incoming message anymore. If I did need to respond, I could do so, all with just my voice. I'm annoyed that the feature was pulled, and I'm very eager for it to return.
Is It Worth the Upgrade?
If you want to upgrade for connection/response latency, battery life, form factor, or color, I wouldn't bother. Of that list, only latency improved, and that not to an extent that is worth the price of upgrading. Maybe you'll notice a difference, maybe you won't. It's nice to have, but not the huge jump you may be imagining.
Siri, though, is what makes the decision a simple one. You can hear incoming messages, and perform Siri tasks hands free. Plus, if you use a double tap to invoke Siri, you might be able to replace that with hey Siri and get an AirPod control freed up. The convenience of having anytime access to Siri is huge, and if you're a user of text or iMessages, the advantage is even bigger.
Share your thoughts below! Did you upgrade? Were AirPods 2 your first set, or are you still using the originals? Have you experienced both, and now find it was or wasn't worth getting the new ones? Did I miss anything in my assessment?