AirPods

£159 inc VAT ap­ple.com/uk

Macworld - - Contents -

Ididn’t want to like the AirPods, I re­ally didn’t. But in the hands-on area af­ter Ap­ple’s iPhone 7 event I found my­self danc­ing along in spite of my­self – and they stayed put, feel­ing sur­pris­ingly se­cure. With con­ve­nient fea­tures on both the hard­ware and soft­ware sides, I have to ad­mit that Ap­ple’s to­tally-wire­less AirPods kind of rocked my world.

When they’re in your ears, they look sim­i­lar to an old pair of wired EarPods that some­one has snipped the wires off. The ear­bud part fills your ear just as be­fore, and a plas­tic stem hangs down a bit be­low your ear­lobe. They’re the same gen­eral shape as the EarPods and made from the same hard white plas­tic.

Now, that plas­tic has been a deal-breaker for me for years – I hate how nor­mal EarPods feel in my ears. They don’t seem like they’re go­ing to stay put, and they fall out if I move my head too much. Even if they do stay in, af­ter about a half hour, my ears starts to ache, al­though I don’t ex­pe­ri­ence the same pain when us­ing ear­buds with sil­i­cone or foam tips. Since the AirPods look so sim­i­lar, I ex­pected them to feel the same too – and I’m sur­prised and happy to re­port that I was dead wrong.

Not only did I dance, I head­banged. I shook my head side to side, I tossed my hair, I jogged in place, and I looked silly do­ing all of it. The AirPods stayed put, and they stayed loud. The mu­sic (more Sia, nat­u­rally) sounded full and lush and I couldn’t hear a sin­gle word any­one around me was say­ing, as if I was com­pletely sealed off in a bub­ble of rock and roll. Pretty im­pres­sive.

For Ap­ple de­vices only

The AirPods’ spe­cial fea­tures are pretty im­pres­sive too, even though they only work with Ap­ple de­vices. You don’t need a brand-new iPhone or Ap­ple Watch to use them, but they only sup­port Ap­ple de­vices run­ning the lat­est op­er­at­ing sys­tems: iOS 10, macOS Sierra, and watchOS 3. The AirPods use Blue­tooth, so you would think maybe there’d

be a way to pair them to an An­droid phone or an iOS 8 de­vice since those have Blue­tooth too, but there’s no but­ton on the AirPods to put them into pair­ing mode. We’ll test to con­firm when we get re­view units, but it seems like the AirPods will only be ‘seen’ by Ap­ple de­vices.

When you first flip open the glossy white car­ry­ing box – which looks like the most high-tech pack of TicTacs ever – you’ll see a screen on your nearby iPhone of­fer­ing to pair. (That’s just the first time; you won’t have to do this ev­ery time you want to use the AirPods.) Once you’ve paired them to your iPhone, you can also use them the Ap­ple Watch that’s paired to your iPhone, as well as with any iPad and Mac that’s signed in to the same iCloud ac­count. I didn’t get to test how seam­less it is to switch be­tween de­vices, but the idea is, you can pause mu­sic on your iPhone, start play­ing songs stored on your Ap­ple Watch, and the AirPods will just switch.

Each AirPod has in­frared sen­sors, so they know when they’re in your ears or not, and an ac­celerom­e­ter so you can dou­ble-tap ei­ther AirPod to in­voke Siri. They don’t have any tra­di­tional but­tons, un­like some Blue­tooth head­phones: No on/off switch, no pair­ing but­ton, no play/pause or call-an­swer­ing but­tons, and no vol­ume con­trols. In­stead, you can dou­ble-tap to get Siri – this pauses your mu­sic, but you can at least say “turn up the vol­ume” with­out fish­ing out your iPhone to turn it up on that de­vice. It’s a lot more awk­ward than just hav­ing vol­ume con­trols built in.

Re­mov­ing one AirPod from your ear while mu­sic is play­ing will au­to­mat­i­cally pause it, per­fect for in­ter­act­ing with a cashier, barista, or nosy passerby who has ques­tions about your AirPods. The auto-paus­ing ef­fect is in­cred­i­bly cool – I wish all my head­phones did this. Just don’t re­move both AirPods, or the au­dio play­back will au­to­mat­i­cally switch back to your iPhone’s speak­ers, leav­ing you scram­bling to pause it.

Power to go

The charg­ing case is pretty neat on its own, too. It’s got a Light­ning port in the back, and you can charge just the case on its own or the AirPods in­side the case. That’s right – while the AirPods them­selves get about five hours of play­back per charge, ac­cord­ing to Ap­ple, the case has a bat­tery, so you can top off on the go. The case has enough juice for about 24 hours of play­back, Ap­ple says, which means you could recharge the AirPods nearly five times be­fore you have to plug the case into a power adap­tor or USB port

to recharge. Ap­ple says that pop­ping the AirPods into the charg­ing case for 15 min­utes will get you an­other three hours of mu­sic – a tiny green LED in­side the case lets you know the AirPods are charg­ing. Keep­ing wire­less head­phones charged can be a ma­jor pain point – run­ning out of bat­tery mid-work­out or mid-commute is the worst, so this could be a good so­lu­tion.

The AirPods have a W1 chip in­side to en­able all this in­tel­li­gence, and Ap­ple built the same chip into a new lineup of Beats head­phones too. The Beats Solo3 Wire­less are over-the-ear head­phones that have a more com­plete set of on-ear con­trols and 40 hours of bat­tery life, avail­able now for £249.

As for the AirPods them­selves, sadly, they won’t launch with the iPhone 7. They’re due later in Oc­to­ber, sold sep­a­rately for £159. That’s steep com­pared to other Ap­ple-branded ear­buds –

the com­pany’s most high-end wired ear­buds topped out at £79, but much more rea­son­able com­pared to wire­less Beats or other high-end wire­less mod­els. iPhone 7 early adopters can use any Blue­tooth head­phones, of course, and Ap­ple is also in­clud­ing two more so­lu­tions in the box: a wired pair of EarPods that con­nect to the iPhone’s Light­ning port, and a Light­ning-to – 3.5mm adap­tor that lets you plug any stan­dard wired head­phones into the Light­ning port.

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