AirPods review roundup: A nice idea with room for improvement

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AirPods are nice, but they're far from perfect.
Photo: Apple

We’ll have to wait until October to get our hands on Apple’s new wireless AirPods, but select reviewers have been granted early access to help us decide whether they’re worth their $159 price tag.

Here’s a roundup of the best reviews we’ve read so far.

Design

As you might expect, the reviews point out that AirPods look almost exactly like EarPods, minus the cable. Most agree they’re not the prettiest wireless headphones you can buy, but they are practical — and Apple has taken some steps to improve the user experience.

“There’s nothing to break or tangle, nothing to plug in, nothing to get caught on a stranger’s backpack on the train every freaking day,” explains David Pierce at Wired“Just sweet aural freedom. Sure, you might lose them, but that’s a you problem, not a headphones problem.”

Pierce adds that AirPods “sit find in my ears, actually better than EarPods,” and remained in place even while running. Chris Velazco of Engadget writes that he’s “stunned Apple squeezed as much tech into the AirPods as they did.”

“The AirPods are prone to the same absentminded goofs that could spell doom for other completely wireless earbuds,” he adds. “Just before I sat down to write this sentence, I rushed to my laundry room to fish the AirPods out of a pair of jeans I had just thrown in the hamper.”

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Are you ready for some AirPods? The future is wireless.
Photo: Apple

One thing you’ll notice that’s different about AirPods — other than the lack of wires — is that they have clever sensors that ensure they’re only active when they’re in your ear. This means sound only plays through one if you’re only wearing one.

“While the AirPods feel perfectly comfortable, they look kind of goofy, like you’re wearing white plastic earrings or a slimmer version of those Bluetooth headsets everyone had 10 years ago,” writes Steve Kovach of Business Insider.

“Still, the AirPods stayed in my ears well. I never felt like they’d slip out, even while walking around or working out at the gym. And not having to wrestle with wires that tangle easily is a huge advantage.”

One of the disadvantages to losing wires is that we also lose the inline remote control that could be used to activate Siri, adjust volume, and skip tracks.

“That means you have to do everything through Siri or directly on your phone,” Kovach adds. “It’s easily the biggest drawback to the AirPods, and it will likely be a deal breaker for many unless Apple comes up with a software fix between now and launch.”

Sound quality

Most reviewers concluded that AirPods sound almost exactly like EarPods. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since for a lot of people, EarPods have been doing the job for several years. But it’s somewhat disheartening when you consider AirPods cost $120 more.

“That’s not to say there aren’t any improvements,” reads the Engadget review. “In general, the AirPods gave mids a little more meat than EarPods did, and drum fills felt crisper and more precise. My test tracks… came across warmer than I would have expected.”

“I’m no audiophile, but to me, the AirPods sound nearly identical to Apple’s wired EarPods,” writes Kovach. “There’s a low bar for audio quality with a free pair of headphones, but I was hoping for a boost if I’m going to pay a premium for the AirPods.”

Nicole Nguyen, writing for BuzzFeedconcludes, “the sound won’t blow your mind, but they’re good enough for runs and talking on the phone, if that’s your thing.”

Setup

It seems there’s plenty of room for improvement in design and sound quality, then, but one thing Apple seems to have nailed with AirPods is the setup. Unlike other Bluetooth headphones there is no complicated and flaky pairing procedure.

“No settings menus, no tapping around, no button holding — once you open the lid of the floss-sized case, it’s done,” adds Nguyen. “The AirPods are paired. It makes normal Bluetooth look dumb.”

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It couldn’t be easier to pair AirPods.
Photo: Apple

“From then on, as soon as you flip open the charging case and put the AirPods in your ears, a bright ding will let you know you’re connected to your phone,” explains Wired.

Once your AirPods are connected, it seems it’s rare they will become disconnected when they remain within a reasonable distance from your phone. Almost all of the reviews praise their stability and reliability.

They also praise iCloud sync, which allows you to connect AirPods to one of your Apple devices, such as your iPhone, then also use them with others — such as your iPad, Mac, and even Apple Watch — without having to repair them.

“My AirPods were connected to my iPhone 7 Plus, Mac, and Apple Watch all at once,” writes Jim Dalrymple of The Loop“Not just one device, but all of my devices.”

Battery life

Another thing that has impressed reviewers is battery life. Apple promises around five hours in between charges, plus another 19 hours from the AirPods case (which charges them up when they’re not in use). However, many say they got more than that.

“The battery lasts a little longer than the five hours advertised,” writes Pierce. “In the six days I’ve had them, I’ve only had to charge them one time.”

“Battery life is great though,” reports Kovach. “I never felt like I was at risk of running out of batteries. Just make sure you bring the case with you wherever you go.”

“The only time I ran out of battery on the AirPods is when I meant to run them dry,” writes Dalrymple. “It took 15-20 minutes to get them charged to 100% using the charging case.

Siri

Where AirPods really excel is teaming up with Siri. Simply double-tapping the side of the earpiece invokes Apple’s digital assistant and allows you to use all of the voice commands you’ve been using with your iPhone for years.

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AirPods and Siri are a match made in heaven.
Photo: Apple

“Having Siri two taps away isn’t just the best thing about the AirPods. It’s the reason they exist,” writes David Pierce. “It’s easy to imagine Apple making the AirPods the centerpiece of how you interact with all your devices, particularly as Siri becomes more important.”

“Consider this the first step towards a future where we no longer have to stare at a screen to get things done,” adds Business Insider. “Siri… can always be there, responding to your queries by buzzing in your ear, almost like in the movie “Her.”

“That alone makes the AirPods an incredibly intriguing product despite the other issues.”

Worth $159?

Whether or not AirPods are worth their $159 price tag seems to depend on whether you can settle for EarPods-quality audio for the few advantages AirPods bring, like simple pairing, decent battery life, and a completely wireless experience.

The good news is that if you do decide to go for them, they’re compatible with any iOS device running iOS 10, any Apple Watch running watchOS 3, and any Mac running macOS Sierra.

  • CelestialTerrestrial

    I never liked the hard plastic earbuds. Neat ideas, but they aren’t for me. I think I’m just going to use wireless headbands for sleeping. I’m still waiting for a really nice pair to emerge.

  • Oh surely Apple will add a simple way to control volume by sliding up and down on the airpod while its in your ear. No?

    • GreenGirl

      I thought the same thing. And even a single tap on the right pod to go to next track, and single tap on left to go back.

      Really, apple are getting lazy and not thinking enough.

  • Reasonablecash

    So what I’m hearing is a collective, “Skip it and buy the Beats X instead.”