With AirPods, Apple gets back to ‘it just works’ [Review]

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AirPods Microphone
Apple's wireless earphones are easily one of the company's best products of 2016.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple’s EarPods have always been a go-to favorite for me. They’re included with every iPhone, always sound good enough for what I need, and I’ve always found them comfortable. Even going back to the good old iPod days, I’ve always kept a pair close to hand.

But now Apple’s moving on into the “wireless future” with its new AirPods. These completely wireless earphones let you listen to music and podcasts, make phone calls and talk to Siri. But just how do they measure up?

AirPods review

I’ll give you the full rundown in my video review below.

AirPods: Cutting all the cords

At first glance, the AirPods look identical to Apple’s most recent EarPods, only without the wires. But the stems are slightly thicker, as they now house the batteries, microphones and other miniature tech that makes the AirPods work.

There’s not much more I can really say about the appearance. They’re basically just wireless EarPods. When you’re wearing them, they kind of look like a step back to the early 2000s when everyone used those annoying Bluetooth headsets. This made me a little bit self-conscious at first, but as AirPods become more common, people won’t take a second look.

Inside the AirPods, Apple’s new W1 chip boosts the connection to the iPhone so it doesn’t cut out as often as other Bluetooth headphones I’ve tried. I’ve not had any problems yet with them disconnecting. The proprietary W1 chip also makes pairing the AirPods to an iPhone super-simple.

Connecting your AirPods

AirPods Review
Connecting the new AirPods is a breeze.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

The first time you open the AirPods case, a pairing screen will magically appear on your iPhone. It takes only one tap to connect. It’s beautifully simple, and thankfully this pairing process will make its way into other Apple products within the next year (including more Beats headphones).

The AirPods are perfect if you use a lot of Apple devices, as they’re so easy to move among devices. After initially pairing with my iPhone, I’ve not had to do it again.

If you’re lusting after the AirPods, but not necessarily an iOS fan, Android and Windows phone users can use Apple’s wireless headphones no problem. You won’t get the swish pairing features that iOS users enjoy, but thanks to that W1 chip, the connection is a lot stronger than most other headphones on the market.

AirPods audio quality

The AirPods sound great. I wouldn’t say they sound dramatically different from the standard EarPods, which isn’t a bad thing. They add a bit of low-frequency sound, which means there’s a touch more bass.

They also work great for phone calls. Everyone I’ve spoken to could hear me absolutely fine, despite the microphone being halfway up my face. Call quality wasn’t affected despite being wireless.

The AirPods also deliver a decent amount of noise cancellation, deadening most sounds around me, but not to the point I’d be oblivious to oncoming traffic when out and about.

The case for AirPods

Charging Case
The AirPods case may look like dental floss, but it’s functionally perfect.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

The AirPods case itself may look like it’s holding dental floss, as many people have mentioned, but it’s flawless in its functionality. The case does double duty: It works as storage for the AirPods, so you’re less likely to lose them, and also provides an extra day’s worth of charge (on top of the AirPods’ five-hour running time).

Apple’s also playing its usual tricks with magnets. The case’s magnetic lid keeps it secure when it’s in your bag or pocket. And the AirPods lock in place magnetically when placing them inside.

Accelerometers within the AirPods monitor touch interactions, so you can double-tap on either AirPod to interact with Siri, or to play and pause audio, depending on your preference. Built-in proximity sensors detect when the AirPods have been placed in or removed from your ears, playing a little sound when you insert them and pausing the audio after they’ve been removed.

One great thing about Apple’s wireless earbuds is that you can use them individually. If you need to quickly answer a call, you only need to grab one AirPod.

I’ve seen some people complaining about them staying in their ears, but I’ve had absolutely no problem. The basic rule is, if EarPods fit in your ears, AirPods will too.

The AirPods are unfortunately not waterproof, so swimmers are going to have to wait for the next generation. But if you’re planning to work out in them, no problem: The AirPods are sweat-proof.

Are AirPods worth the hefty price tag?

AirPods EarPods
If you’ve used Apple’s EarPods, the AirPods will instantly seem familiar.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Overall, the AirPods are easily one of Apple’s most well-executed products in a long time. The $159 price of the AirPods seems to be preventing some people from picking up a pair, but you’re not paying for audio quality. You’re paying for the wireless capabilities, built-in microphone and the fancy charging case.

Frankly, the price tag isn’t that high, especially if you look at competing products from the likes of Samsung and Jabra.

The AirPods are hopefully a sign of things to come from Apple in 2017. It looks like we’re back to the glory days of “it just works.”

Deals of the Day

  • Grits n Gravy

    The EarPods never really stayed in my ears and it doesn’t look like the AirPods fixed that issue. I’ll wait for something that does fit into my ears or I’ll just stick with my cheap BT earbuds

    • Anthony Snyder

      You could also get one of those silicone covers for the EarPods. That might help.

  • FreeManinAmerica

    Apple users have many devices, and want to switch the connection among them (phone to pad, for example). Some Apple users are audiophiles and want high quality sound. Others travel on commercial airliners and need noise isolation or cancellation. AirPods don’t meet any of these needs well.

    • Dilbert Adams

      Is that Opinion or do you have actual experience with switching between devices and using them on airlines?

      • FreeManinAmerica

        Actual experience

      • Swaz

        I call BS. You can easily switch devices with AirPods. That is kind of the whole point of them, they show up under the AirPlay menu like anything else, and it’s all through Apple ID, so no additional pairing needed after the one-click setup. They also sound much better than the standard EarPods, the audio is easily suit the needs for 90% of people. And an audiophile shouldn’t be buying in-ear bluetooth headphones.

    • And some apple user want to watch movies, others want to date with a girl but AirPods don’t meet any of these needs.. – an opinion based on my actual experience.

  • andrea harry

    I don’t mind the price because in a year I have to buy over 6 regular headsets due to the cords getting dirty or damage. I am getting one today.

    • intergalactic_turkey

      Buying new headset only because the cords have gotten dirty? That’s purely…stupid.

      • Buy black headphones… JVC Gumy headphones are cheaper, better and less prone to getting stripped.

  • Colin

    They do not just work if they do not fit, fall out or are difficult to control. What’s the good of effecient pairing if you cannot use, keep them in the ear or control them. The one size fits all concept just does not work!

  • Paul Murphy

    I love many things about my AirPods. They worked fine the first time I used them to make a call. However, the past several days I cannot make a phone call without the audio dropping in and out constantly. They’re essentially unusable during phone calls because of this. If this bug can’t be fixed soon, I have no choice but to return them to the store. Is anyone else having this problem?

  • Selena

    Just wait and see