THE FIRST APPLE-BRANDED HEADPHONES YOU’LL WANT TO WEAR.
APPLE’S PREVIOUS FORAYS into headphones managed to elicit mockery from many people, so let’s make a couple of things clear about its new wireless AirPods right away: they sound great, and they’re surprisingly comfortable to wear for a lengthy duration, even if their visual similarity to cabled EarPods may make you think otherwise. Unlike EarPods, though, they didn’t fall out of our ears even once in weeks of testing, though we can’t account for variations in ear shapes.
The EarPods that come with the iPhone sound too muffled and lack clarity, so we use them only as a last resort. AirPods, however, are delightful, giving good output with our iPhone set to 50% volume — though background noise can readily leak in since they don’t form an airtight seal. Audio quality stayed great even as we cranked up the volume close to max.
Apple’s battery-life estimate of five hours from a full charge appears to be accurate, and even a little conservative; with volume at around 70%, we saw about 17% of the battery capacity used per hour.
In Settings in iOS or the Bluetooth pane in macOS, you can customise how the AirPods behave when you double-tap either earpiece. Invoking Siri is the default, or you can opt to play/pause — removing an AirPod also does this, as long as you leave automatic ear detection enabled — or take no action at all. We would have appreciated the ability to skip a track without speaking to Siri or reaching for the iPhone; it’s also a pity you can’t set a different action for each AirPod.
The silence which sometimes precedes the chime that tells you Siri is listening feels more awkward with the AirPods, as you’re reliant on that cue to confirm your doubletap has worked.
That aside, after a couple of days, we found the gesture easy to reliably use.
As for the beamforming mics (there’s one in each AirPod’s stem), they’re meant to focus on your voice and filter out other sound, but our experience was mixed. Indoors and amid moderate noise outdoors, they worked great, but Siri became highly inaccurate near noisy traffic.
If you’re wondering about the AirPods’ size, yes, we worried about losing them. Just one day after we received them, we found their case had slid up and out of a jeans pocket while we were sitting down — and it took someone else to point it out. Blame the smoothness of the Case, which a little rubber strip for added friction would fix.
The bottom line here is that AirPods sound great and are really comfy, but limited controls and mic performance may irk depending on where you use them.