They’re here; they’re finally here!
At their event in September, where they presented the iPhone 7, Apple also showcased two tiny earphones they called the AirPods.
Offering a truly wireless experience, these Bluetooth earphones claims to simplify our life by offering a seamless integration to Apple’s other line of products, especially the iPhone 7 without the headphone jack; and no, this does not come with the new iPhones. You have your Lightning headphones and adapter for that.
They were scheduled to be launched in October, but got held back because of issues with both pods communicating with one another.
Anyhow, they became available in December, and I managed to get my hands on a limited pair within the first week before they went out of stock. The estimated delivery time is now 6 weeks, so if you order now you would have to wait until 2017.
Before you order however, I hope this review will help you decide if you should.
Unbox and setup
It comes in a small square white box with 2 embossed AirPods on the lid, which is a nice touch.
Opening it up, you get the user manual. Under that is the charging case for the AirPods and finally a Lightning USB cable to charge the case.
The AirPods themselves are inside the case.
Once I opened the lid, my iPhone detected them and ask if I wanted to connect to them, which was very cool; no need to fiddle around with pairing buttons.
It took two attempts to get them connected, the first few times saying that there was an error connecting. After they’re connected, a tone is heard in the AirPods and all audio is now directed to the pods.
These look exactly like the wired AirPods, but obviously without the wires. Imagine someone chopped off the wires of your wired AirPods, leaving a little bit on the end, and that’s it; so the design could be better.
When wearing them, they do look a bit odd, and one person confused them for hearing aids, especially when I was using a single one.
I had some initial issues when using them, when I wanted to summon Siri, I’d perform the double tap on the right AirPod but Siri came up on my phone’s speaker instead, furthermore it didn’t respond to any of my commands. This was solved by me using the best solution to any tech support, turning the phone off and on!
After that slight hiccup, the AirPods functioned fine, I was able to listen to music, hear Voiceover, make calls, and talk to Siri.
To summon Siri, I just had to double tap either of the AirPods, and I could ask my normal questions about the weather, set up meetings, request an Uber, and one extra command to check the battery on the AirPods; just ask, “What’s my battery level?”
These small earphones has no physical buttons, and every control has to be done via Siri. You have to ask Siri to turn up the volume and play the next track.
Answering incoming calls is simple, just use the two tap on the pods as if you were summoning Siri and it will pick the call up; repeat this if you wish to end the call.
What Did You Say?
At any point you’re listening to music or watching a video, and you pull out one of the pods to hear something, it will automatically pause the media, just pop it back in and it will resume playing.
You can still listen to your phone with one pod in, just hit play after it automatically pauses.
If you take both out, it will automatically disconnect from your phone, very convenient as it allows me to use my phone without messing around with Bluetooth settings or turning them off.
With both AirPods in my ears I can just about shut out the outside world, I can still hear the rumble of a London tube as they do not have noise cancelation. This really depends on the level of volume, and whether you’re listening to a song or a book, but they are really audible!
The quality itself sounds better than the wired version, with a bit more kick to the bass, but it’s far from perfect, and you can get cheaper options for the same quality.
Siri understood me perfectly, even in noisy environments, this is achieved by the two beam-forming microphones located on each long end of the bottom of the pods, this technology allows AirPods to filter out external noise and focus on the sound of my voice, which is pointing towards my mouth.
I have to say though, with one pod in, Siri had issues understanding me when I’m walking on the street.
When on the phone people noted the better quality, they said it didn’t sound like I was using headphones, it sounded like I was talking through my actual phone.
Using third-party apps such as WhatsApp and Skype seems to be a hit and miss, the quality will vary, like if it was encoded in a lower sample rate
If you want a sample of the microphone quality you can take a listen here, but it’s not brilliant, but with phone and FaceTime calls, they sound fantastic.
There is no way to have a private conversation with these in public due to the position of the microphones. You won’t be able to put your mouth close to them like the wired AirPods, and they aren’t really close to your mouth so whispering won’t be an option as well. Any phone calls, or command to Siri will be heard by people near by.
“Play Justin Bieber!”
Are They Secure?
For me? Yes. Instead of using earbuds with interchangeable different sized tips, Apple’s adopted the one-size-fits-all approach, which means due to the size it should fit the majority of people.
If you have issues with the wired ones staying in, there is a good chance you will struggle with these as well.
Just a heads up if you decide to sleep with these on, on the first night, I was listening to an audio book, and by the morning one had fallen out, ended up in the gap between the bed and the wall.
This might be my notorious tossing and turning, but when in contact with something like a bed or a coat hood, they do shift.
Once in though, they are really comfortable, at times I hardly notice they were in, and as much as I tried they just wouldn’t come out!
Lost & Stolen
One thing I have to say is how easy they come out when pulled, someone can very easily come up to you and yank them out and run off with them, and not promoting any theft here, there isn’t even any deactivation procedure to make them useless to thieves, but I would expect you need the case for them to pair to a new device.
Replacing one of these isn’t cheap too.
I am not brave enough to put them through gruelling tests, but I have dropped them from head height before and they worked fine, after trying to find them.
They aren’t officially sweat proof, but I notice they can take a bit of water, I got them wet before by walking home in the rain and they worked okay.
For a more thorough durability test, check out this video from YouTuber EveryThingApplePro.
The small case that it supposed to sit in when not being use act as a charger too, so when you’re not using them they are charging.
From a full charge, the AirPods lasts roughly for 5 hours which is impressive given their size. Once they are dead you can pop them back in the case for only 15 minutes and it will give you 3 hours of use.
Obviously the case itself needs charging as well, and when full will give you 24 hours of charge.
For those who can see it, you can check the battery status of your AirPods by checking on the tiny LED light between the slots where your AirPods sits, and they will give you an idea how much life you got left, green means it’s fully charged, amber meaning it’s still charging, just take them out and the lights reflects the battery life of the case and not the AirPods.
For a more accurate report, just ask Siri “How much battery do my AirPods have?” or you can look at the Notification Centre.
For the case itself, just open the lid near to your iPhone and it will automatically display the battery life of the case.
Probably the most common question I get ask by blind users is, “Is there lag when using Voiceover?”
Yes, but hardly noticeable. These are using Bluetooth so no matter what Apple does, there is no way to provide the same latency as wired AirPods.
The latency is maybe 0.2 seconds maximum, and certainly a smooth experience.
Just like the wired options, Voiceover works really well, but I have noticed a slight bug with selecting audio destination via the Voiceover rotor, once you set the audio to your phone, you can’t flick to switch back and would have to connect via the Control Centre again.
These are Bluetooth headphones so as long as your other devices have Bluetooth, they should work with these, all be limited.
There will not be the instant initial setup found with your Apple devices, and you won’t be able to control music as there are no physical options and Siri won’t be there to help; but you can still listen to audio fine.
To connect them you will need to hit the paring button found at the back of the case, it’s tiny so it might take some time to find, hold that down and it will start to allow other devices to connect to it.
What Is The Range?
These have great range, I can leave my phone charging in the Living Room and move freely around in the adjacent room, my kitchen, without any loss of quality or cut-outs to phone calls and music.
They do start to struggle if I go upstairs though.
How Much Do They Cost?
They cost £159 in the UK, $159 in the US.
To replace either an AirPod or the charging case, Apple will charge you £65 – or $69 – for each item.
I would not be keeping mine, despite its great features, there is one deal breaker for me.
I mentioned that there are no physical way to control your playback, and everything needs to be done via Siri.
I love Siri but as a voice assistance software it is lacking behind competitors such as Alexa on the Amazon Echo. I’m not sure how you’re like speaking to Siri in public, personally I don’t mind, I get a few looks my way when I suddenly start talking, but with the wired AirPods I am able to place my mouth closer to the microphone, it would not be possible with these, and from a passerby’s point of view, not sure how I would have felt if the person who was quiet a minute ago, out of the blue just burst out with a command! Also there is a point where using Siri might not be as sufficient, for a basic command such as volume up, do I really need Siri? What about skipping tracks, do I really want to be sitting there with the person next to me hearing “Next, next, next”?
However, the main issue is connectivity. As you know, Siri requires an internet to work, without Wi-Fi or cellular it will not function. I commute to university and work on the London Underground, and unlike other cities, our subways have limited coverage in the stations, and non-existent connectivity in the tunnels. This mean throughout most of my journey I would need to be reaching into my pocket for my phone to raise the volume and change the song which somewhat defeats the purpose.
One more little thing, it wasn’t as integrated as I expected, I was expecting that I could raise my wrist to check the time on my Apple Watch whiles using my phone, and audio will be streamed to my ears, but no. You would have to go into the Control Panel and select the AirPods via AirPlay.
Currently it only supports streaming from one device at a time, and without automatic switching doesn’t really do it for me.
It’s still early days, and I look forward to software updates.
To conclude, these are fantastic earphones giving me the sense of freedom and movement only wireless earphones could achieve. They are comfortable, and work extremely well with your Apple products.
There is no noticeable lag with Voiceover, and audio quality is great for music and books.
They do not fall out easily, and would make excellent earphones for sports such as running.
These are the best earphones I have tried out so far, the price might be a bit steep, but it’s certainly cheaper than current high end earphones.
If you been holding back in going wireless, or tried Bluetooth earphones with bad results, I would get these, you will not be disappointed.
I just wish it wasn’t so dependent on Siri; also a physical way to control my music would be nice. Looking forward to the next generation of these!
Obviously it’s different for everyone, so I would recommend going into an Apple store to try them out. Don’t worry, they sanitise them after each person is done with them, and they will also allow you to pair them to your personal phone.
Another option is to buy them, and try them for 14 days, as long as you return them within this period, Apple’s return policy allows you to give them back.
I hope this review has helped and answered your questions, if not drop me a comment below and I will answer them.
Please do share your experience as well. I would be very interested to hear them.
Happy New Year!