Apple’s AirPods: What we think of them
Tech Tools: You will lose one of them and will have to scour eBay for a replacement
Five hour battery life is good, but with no passive option, it rules out a long haul journey.
Product name: AirPods
Where to buy: Apple.com
If you are a fan of the Apple EarPods, the AirPods will likely fall into one of two categories: 1) you love them and use them every day or 2) they’re uncomfortable, don’t fit properly and you’ve had to replace them with regular headphones. If it’s the former then we have good news: the wireless versions, known as AirPods, will go on sale this Friday.
At its simplest, the AirPods look like you took your old EarPods and hacked the cable off, leaving only the two ear pieces. These fit inside your ear and are supposed to stay put as long as you need them to.
If you are using iOS 10, the set-up process for the AirPods is simple. Open the case and, provided there is battery power, a pop up featuring your AirPods and their case will show up on your iPhone’s screen.
Everything is automatic, which puts an end to the scanning for devices and pairing process that we have all become so used to. You have to have the AirPod case close to the phone for the pop-up to appear – far closer than the regular range of Bluetooth devices. That eliminates the risk of your AirPods popping up on everyone’s iPhone when you crack open the case.
It’s a slick system and it works well; you are easily up and running with the AirPods in a matter of minutes.
During set-up, the system automatically named my AirPods with my nickname stored on my phone, so when I tried to pair them with another phone, they were easily identifiable.
And once you signed in with your Apple ID, it will automatically pair the headphones with any other device you are signed in on. That means you can move from your MacBook to your iPad or iPhone and you won’t have to keep re-pairing the headphones.
The AirPods are designed to work seamlessly with your iPhone. Once they are connected, they’ll start playing music as soon as you pop them in your ears, adjusting the volume so you don’t accidentally damage your hearing.
You can pair the AirPods with any Bluetooth compatible device, with a small manual pairing button on the back of the case for this purpose. That includes Android phones – we paired the AirPods with a Sony Xperia X – and your MacBook. If you decide to use them with an Android device, it won’t do all the fancy things it does with the iPhone – if you take out an earphone, it will keep playing the audio, unlike the iPhone, and the tap for Siri, predictably, makes no difference here.
Speaking of Siri, the AirPods will also give you a direct line to your voice assistant. Tap the outside of one ear bud and Siri kicks in. The only thing you have to get over then is looking like you’re talking to yourself in public. The AirPods have noise-cancelling microphones built in to each ear bud so you can use them in a noisier environment without too much trouble – again, once you get over the whole “talking to Siri” hurdle.
Part of the problem with the AirPods though is exactly what makes them good: the lack of wires. There’s nothing to anchor both ear buds together, so they may well be easily lost. Although losing the cable eliminates the annoying “cable tug” that can sometimes yank your earphones out, you have to balance that off the risk that you will occasionally see one tumble to the floor. And if you want to use them for sports, it’s going to depend on how well they fit your ears to see if they would stay put.
If you want a quick rule of thumb it’s this: if the EarPods don’t suit your ears or are uncomfortable, there’s a reasonably high chance the AirPods will be similar. I fall into this category – EarPods, after more than 10 minutes of wear, now hurt my ears and the AirPods hit all the same pressure points.
The sound quality on the AirPods is decent – as good as any standard Bluetooth earbuds I’ve used. There are better, but you pay considerably more for them. But AirPods are designed to let in the sounds from the environment around you rather than seal everything out. If you prefer to listen to your music and isolate yourself from the outside world, you’ll need a different pair of ear buds.
This is where we get to the crux of things. Having AirPods means you have one more thing to charge, sort of. The case is also a charger for the ear buds, and if you keep that charged, you’ll always have an emergency power supply handy. As soon as you pop them in, the earbuds start charging, and the case will give you up to 24 hours of power, which considerably lengthens the five hours of battery life you get from the full charge of the AirPods.
That rules out long journeys with these as your only source of music, but a short period of charging will get you a couple of hours more listening.
The case as a charging dock makes it more convenient to use these on a regular basis. As long as you remember to keep the case charged, of course.
The not so good
Five-hour battery life is good, but with no passive option, it rules out a long-haul journey. They’re also very easy to lose; prepare to spend time scouring eBay for a replacement single ear bud at some point in the future.
You’ll also have to get used to the style – the AirPods have already been compared to electric toothbrush heads, so it depends on how comfortable you are with that.
The automatic play and volume control when you put the ear buds in your ear is a nice extra.
If EarPods suit your ears and you are willing to spend more for Bluetooth earphone, the AirPods may well be a good choice. For me, comfort rules them out.