By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
I would say that Apple has had two major innovations for 2016. The first would be TouchBar on the new MacBook Pros and the second are the Apple AirPods.
The TouchBar, I hear, was actually in development for many years with the price of OLED touch panels a huge factor in integrating it into the MacBook Pros. The AirPods, which are a culmination of various Apple technologies and the biggest answer to the, “why get rid of the headphone jack?” question remind us why Apple shouldn’t be counted out of the innovation game.
On the Surface, the AirPods seem quite simple. They are wireless versions of the EarPods that the company has been shipping with all its iPhones and iPod products, this time tuned to pair specifically with the iPhone 7 and make you forget there was ever a need for a headphone jack.
The AirPods remind me of iconic Apple design. The original iPod, the iMac G4, the Lucite MacBooks. The rounded circle that makes up the charging case and the lacquered white plastic AirPods with black accents has an accessible feel and an almost Stormtrooper-like aesthetic that’s quite endearing to some users.
In terms of engineering and design, AirPods look like EarPods without the wires and also without the volume rocker. Apple has done a good job of integrating AirPods into the iPhone and Mac’s U.I. so you can see the amount of charge for each AirPod.
AirPods all day, every day
I pre-ordered my AirPods as soon as they were made available and received my personal set over a week ago. I’ve found that there’s much more to these wireless headphones than meets the eye.
Not only do the AirPods manage to improve on earlier wired EarPods (they fit much better, sound just as good and have the added advantage of being used as a pair or alternately as Bluetooth headsets.
AirPods work well for taking calls, listening to music and invoking Siri (only with Internet access).
During the course of one week, they’ve replaced my rugged Bluetooth headphones in the gym, while commuting, doing work around the house and for watching movies and shows on my notebook. I’ve paired them to my iPhone SE, my MacBook Pro and a Surface Book without any issue.
Pairing with an iPhone is nothing short of seamless and impressive. It makes the more conventional way of hunting for Bluetooth devices and pairing them feel medieval. You simply flick open the AirPod’s case, not unlike flipping open the lid of a Zippo lighter, and hold it close to your iPhone and within minutes the AirPods are paired and bonded with your iPhone.
Each time you remove the AirPods from their charging case, they audibly pair with your iPhone with a subtle chime. These can now be used to listen to music and you can control them using the smartphone or app controls or, if you dare, you can double tap and use Siri to raise and lower volume control, check the weather or call a friend.
The fit of the AirPods is surprisingly good. They fit me far better than the stock EarPods ever could and I actually like that I don’t need to fumble around with rubber ear tips which aren’t always comfortable and can get gross after some use.
There’s been some worry that the AirPods will fall off easily and that they will get lost. I’m not the most active guy but AirPods worked well for me in the gym, on the treadmill, on elliptical, during indoor run and while commuting. They work fine for me and fit great, best of all, my ears don’t feel the discomfort that I’ve experienced with other in-ear headphones.
In terms of sound quality, I found the AirPods to be satisfactory in almost every situation. I mostly spend my mornings on NPR One or podcasts but I do have a wide interest in music that ranges from bebop, classical, rock, electronica, hip-hop and everything in between. The AirPods did well and had good volume (an issue that I encounter with other Bluetooth headphones).
Battery life is surprisingly good, specially now that teardowns have confirmed the tiny batteries in these headphones. The system of using both, or one at a time, plus charging in the case when not in use works great for my use and I find that the AirPods charge sufficiently fast in their holder.
The AirPods actually deliver on the promises that Motorola’s Hint headset professed two years ago, but Apple’s done it better with stereo speakers and with a more developed integration with a voice assistant.
Siri's latency kinda sucks
One of the key features of the AirPods is that they’re a delivery mechanism for Apple’s Siri personal assistant. Not only is Siri integral to controlling volume and playback by voice, it can also be triggered by two swift taps on any of the AirPods.
There’s a problem here and it is called latency. Siri takes a good two seconds to activate even in an area with good W-Fi connectivity. This is an issue that exposes the weakness of Siri’s network dependence and also shows why Siri falls behind services like Amazon’s Echo, Google Assistant and even Microsoft’s Cortana in terms of speed.
The good news is I think this can all be resolved, possibly, through software and some tweaking of the network (perhaps offloading common Siri commands to iPhones?). Because of this frustrating latency, Siri is one of the features I rarely use on the AirPods, which is unfortunate since it is really a key feature.
- Compact, loud and well-balanced in-ear Bluetooth headset
- Brilliant pairing system with iPhones, easy to pair with anything else
- Delightful charging case is truly useful
- AirPods charge quickly
- Siri integration suffers from latency
- A lack of physical controls can be frustrating during workouts
The Apple AirPods aren’t for everyone, but if you want the most seamless all-day iOS connected headphone experience, this is worth looking at. As someone who has been using Bluetooth headphones or over a year, I found the simplicity and elegance of the AirPods to work well for my needs. Yes, they are expensive, but if you’re like me and use headphones for work and leisure multiple times on a daily basis, they are a very cool set to consider specially if you want to experience a completely wireless experience. Siri has to become a bit faster, but it’s nonetheless clever to be able to invoke the assistant with a few taps.
Rating: 4 out of 5