I was lucky enough to get my hands on AirPods back in December and have been using them for over 4 months (and still have both of them!). At first, the novelty of having them, combined with the typical Apple hype campaign and commercials asking if I’m down (to apparently walk on walls), overshadowed any true assessment of AirPods performance and viability as an everyday option. But after using my AirPods daily for months, I have seen, and for better and worse run into, pretty much all the pro’s and con’s of Apple’s latest “Order today. Ships in 6-8 weeks,” product.
So, the real question is, after the novelty of owning Airpods wears off, are AirPods the best choice for bluetooth earbuds for your iPhone?
Undoubtedly, YES. That doesn’t mean they don’t have their flaws. The flaws (which I go into below) just weren’t deal breakers for me.
AirPods are exactly what I was looking for in an everyday wireless earbud — they’re small and not clunky, they pair seamlessly with my iPhone 7 using Apple’s W1 chip and other devices using bluetooth, and they sound pretty good. Most importantly to me — they’re truly wireless! Not wireless as in it has a wire between the two earbuds. No wires. None. It’s awesome.
Design, Fit, and Comfort
Let’s start with the AirPod design and fit and I’ll get right to the question I get asked the most, “Don’t they fall out?”
“What about when you’re running or working out?”
As you’ve probably read by now, the AirPod earbud design is slightly different than Apple’s wired earbuds, and the improvement is very noticeable. I can’t stand the Apple wired earbuds that come with iPhones. They have poor sound quality and cause ear-aching pain that makes me wonder whose ears those can possibly fit (or are my ears deformed? do I need to go see someone about this?) — in fact, all of mine are still unopened in their respective iPhone boxes, living out eternity in a drawer with their useless brethren like blank DVD-R’s (I haven’t had a DVD player or drive for 5 years) and stylus’s stylii …multiple stylus pens.
The well-shaped earbud of the AirPods, combined with the light-weight of the “stem”, means that it doesn’t take much friction to keep these in your ears. This is why AirPods don’t need silicone earbud tips — which I hate as they end up producing stethoscope sounds — yet they still stay in your ear and are comfortable to wear for hours. I’ve worn mine for 3-4 hours and only noticed a tiny bit of discomfort towards the end — significantly less than I’ve ever experienced with any other earbud.
The AirPod Charging Case
The AirPod charging case is small and easy to fit in your pocket. It features the typical clean yet practical design we’ve come to expect from Apple.
It’s pretty much bare on the outside except for the lighting charging port and the bluetooth pairing button, which you have to use for pairing anything other than an iPhone. The magnetic, hinged lid feels pretty sturdy and the earbuds also get magnetically pulled into the case as you put them in.
With each actual AirPod being so prone to getting lost, and relying on the case to charge, the AirPod case has actually become a larger part of the overall AirPod product, compared to other earbuds and their protection-only cases.
AirPod Sound Quality
Let’s start by recognizing AirPods are earbuds, not over-the-ear, studio headphones. Still, with competition out there like the Bose SoundSport wireless earbuds and Beats Powerbeats 3, it’s not asking too much to expect decent quality sound.
Overall, for sound quality, I’d rate AirPods as a 6 on a scale of 1-10. To give some reference — I’d give wired Apple earbuds a 2, Bose SoundSport a 8, and Powerbeats a 7. AirPods are fairly neutrally balanced in terms of treble/bass, something I like as I find most Beats headphones to be too bass heavy.
Still, the sound is just average or maybe a touch above average. A big improvement over Apple’s wired earbuds, but something I’d like to see Apple address in future generations.
Making Calls with AirPods
I love the fact that I can just use one AirPod when making a call (or listening to music for that matter). This was a big factor in swapping out my Bose SoundSport’s for AirPods. I mean, you can use one earbud on the SoundSport, but you still have the other one hanging on the cord awkwardly (and you can’t really choose which earbud to use, you have to use the one that has the mic closer to it on the cord).
Voices sound natural, and on the other end, people have told me that I sound clear. The mic’s noise cancellation seems to work well in certain situations. For example, when I make calls in my office where it’s fairly quiet anyway, I’ve had people comment on how “isolated” my voice sounds — but this is neither “good nor bad, it’s just different” according to them.
The mic and it’s noise cancellation cannot handle wind or traffic. They seem to almost isolate and amplify these sounds. Certain other sounds, like crumpling up a piece of paper or closing a window are apparently “painful” for people on the other end. I’ve had my boss more than once ask me “What the hell was that? Let me know before you do that again so I don’t go deaf” — not exactly what you want from a call with your boss.
Still, AirPods are my top choice by far for earbuds for calls based on the convenience of not the earbuds tethered together — I’ve just learned to avoid doing certain things that seem to be picked up sensitively by the Airpod’s mic.
Pairing and Connectivity
As I mentioned, AirPods connect to iPhone’s using the W1 chip, which Apple claims to have better connectivity and helps battery life. All other devices are connected using bluetooth. Connecting is supposed to be seamless and the AirPods should connect to your iPhone as soon as you put one or both in your ear(s) — as long as you have Automatic Ear Detection on. I’ve found this doesn’t always work for some reason.
I’d say I have to go into Settings>Bluetooth and manually choose to connect to my AirPods approximately 20% of the time. Not good.
Once paired, the AirPods stay paired and don’t lose the connection (unless you wake or power on another connected device, which I’ll go into next). The range is very good and I haven’t had any range related issues even at 40 feet or more. I do experience brief cut-outs where the AirPods seem to have a brain fart for a split second and I miss a word, or the person I’m on the call with misses a word I say. This doesn’t seem related to distance as it happens even when close to my iPhone and it resolves quickly — it doesn’t stick around for the whole call.
I’d say I experience this on 1 out of 5-6 calls, but again, it just happens once or twice and then goes away. Strangely enough, I don’t experience this at all when listening to music or watching videos.
Another issue I have with AirPods’ connectivity is that it seems to favor my Macbook Air over my iPhone 7.
For example, when I’m on a call and paired to my iPhone, and decide to wake my Macbook Air, the AirPods instantly switch sources and pair with the Air leaving me scrambling to grab my phone to and change the audio source back to the iPhone speaker so I can hear the call again. I’ve learned to just turn off my Air’s bluetooth during critical calls, but it’s a bit disappointing that I have to do that.
A nice feature is AirPods ability to pause music or videos when you take an earbud out (again provided you have Automatic Ear Detection on), and, if you put the earbud back in relatively quickly, the music/video will resume. This has been really useful at the gym and for dealing with annoying co-workers 😉 .
I don’t really use the double-tap feature of the AirPods, which allows you to either access Siri or play/pause music or video. I find using Siri is awkward in the situations that it would supposedly be more convenient that pulling out my phone (like at the gym, I’m not going to just loudly proclaim “Skip to next song”), so that renders the Siri feature pretty much useless for me.
And the play/pause double-tap functionality is essentially already built-in to the Automatic Ear Detection as I mentioned above. I’d love to see more options in the future for the double-tap functionality, but for now, it’s definitely not a deal-breaker for me.
The bottom line is I’m happy I swapped out my Bose MIE2 (which I loved) and Bose SoundSport wireless earbuds for AirPods. I use bluetooth earbuds about 60% for calls and 40% for listening to music/video, so my needs or expectations may be different from someone who is using earbuds almost exclusively for music or video. But for my needs, and the ease of just putting one AirPod in to make calls, the decent sound quality and the slim form factor, AirPods are perfect — and I don’t plan to go back to the world of “wireless” earbuds, that have wires, ever again.