When they were first announced in September, it was obvious that AirPods were Apple’s attempt to distract everyone from the iPhone’s lack of a headphone jack. At $160, AirPods are Apple’s version of truly wireless earphones, a gadget lots of companies have been trying to perfect with varying degrees of success. No one disagrees that wireless is the future, the big question is what company will finally manage to make a truly wireless earbud that is comfortable, affordable, and worth using over more traditional wireless headphones. After two months of delays, AirPods are finally shipping—but shouldn’t necessarily run out and buy them. While they’re the best buds of their kind in the world, they come with some inconveniences that some people might not like.
My favorite part of using Apple’s newly available AirPods is pairing them with my iPhone. Simply open up the magnetic case near your iPhone and watch as a spinning “connect” pop-up appears. After you’ve paired your AirPods with your phone once, flipping open the case near your phone will instantly pair them and show the battery life of both the case and the AirPods.
The ease of pairing—you never have to open the Bluetooth settings screen—make AirPods feel like the future. That the buds are “truly wireless” feels futuristic too, but in a slightly different way. As soon as you pop one into your ear, you hear a little sound effect, letting you know they’re working. And once both AirPods are in your ears, removing one will automatically pause the music you hear.
These types of design touches are classic Apple, and definitely set AirPods ahead of other truly wireless earphones we’ve seen from companies such as Sol Republic and Samsung. And the sound quality—as I’ve said before—is shockingly good. Highs and mids are crisp, though there isn’t a ton of bass.
The buds’ battery life is solid, too. Apple promises five hours of battery life, which is exactly what I got in testing. Of course, that’s way, way short of the 40 hours you get with the new Beats Solo 3 Wireless—but it’s very good considering how tiny the buds are. For comparison, Sol Republic’s Amps offer about 4 hours of battery life. The tiny case, which looks like a container of floss, doubles as a battery charger for the buds, and offers another 24 hours of battery life.
I also have to give AirPods good marks when it comes to using them to talk on the phone. I braved the cold in New York City over the weekend while talking on the phone the whole way, with just AirPods in my ears. The person I talked to said I sounded better than I normally do, and this was despite it being windy and snowing.
Still, AirPods are far from perfect. Apple has really hyped up the fact that Siri is built-into the buds. Double tap on the side of either bud to pull up Siri on your phone. From there, you can answer a call or ask questions. But this is also the only way you can control playback on your phone—unless you actually want to press pause, fast-forward, or skip on your screen. This takes far too long, especially if you want to raise or lower the volume if your AirPods.
Just look how stupid the AirPods’ volume control is: Double tap a bud, wait for Siri to turn on. Speak “volume up” or “volume down,” wait what feels like eternity for Siri to respond, then wait for your music or podcast to resume at the new volume. If that volume isn’t what you wanted, start the process over again. Not only does it take far longer than hitting a button on the side, you look kind of stupid talking to yourself in public. Oh, and you better be connected to the internet, otherwise Siri doesn’t work. What a waste.
I don’t understand why Apple couldn’t just develop gestures for basic playback controls. The sides are tap sensitive to invoke Siri, why couldn’t the company build in some additional gestures to raise or lower volume, or at least to play or pause?
I like AirPods, but the lack of physical playback controls really does make them feel too simple for their own good. These are the best truly wireless earbuds I’ve used, but their limitations show the category still isn’t ready for prime time. Being forced to use Siri—or the playback controls on your phone—just to play, pause or adjust the volume is a huge problem. And as much as I enjoy the instant pairing nature of the buds, I don’t know if I would replace these as my daily subway headphones over the Beats Solo 3s, which pair the same way, have 40 hour battery life, and let me actually turn the volume up on the side. If you prize size over everything else, AirPods are for you, but everyone else should wait for version 2.0.
Update 12/19/16 2:15pm: You can actually change the double-tap gesture in Settings from invoking Siri to play/pause. That makes playback easier, but then you HAVE to use your phone to turn the volume up or down.
- Extremely comfortable, probably the most comfortable wireless earphones I’ve ever worn.
- They didn’t fall out of my ears, and I’d feel very safe using them on the treadmill, but I wouldn’t recommend using these for a full run outdoors.
- The lack of playback controls or gestures is a huge pain in the ass.
- Charging the AirPods is super quick, taking just 15 minutes in the case for another 3 hours of juice.
- If regular EarPods don’t fit well in your ears, try these out in the store first because the design is basically the same.
- Oh, and AirPods are super teeny tiny and easy to lose. Be careful!