Ap­ple AirPods

£159 inc VAT ap­ple.com/uk

Macworld - - Contents - Susie Ochs

When Ap­ple re­moved the head­phone jack off the iPhone 7, it also un­veiled a new set of wire­less ear­buds called AirPods, and claimed they were so great, users wouldn’t mind the miss­ing head­phone jack. The AirPods

didn’t come out for nearly three months af­ter the new iPhone’s re­lease, but now that they’re here, they’ve solved ev­ery prob­lem an iPhone 7-us­ing mu­sic lover could have, right?

Oh, heav­ens no. Like so many Ap­ple prod­ucts be­fore them, the AirPods bring with them as many prob­lems as they solve. With no on­board but­tons, the AirPods re­quire users to ask Siri to do ev­ery­thing, from chang­ing a track to ad­just­ing the vol­ume. What’s more, Siri doesn’t have the same abil­i­ties in all mu­sic apps – an ar­bi­trary re­stric­tion set by Ap­ple to steer you to­ward Ap­ple Mu­sic.

The fit

But let’s start with the first ques­tion ev­ery­one has about the AirPods. Aren’t you wor­ried they will fall out of your ears? Thank­fully they stay put when we’re danc­ing, head bang­ing, jog­ging, hang­ing up­side down, rid­ing a sta­tion­ary bike, sprint­ing to catch the bus, and shak­ing my head around smack­ing my tem­ple like we’re try­ing to dis­lodge wa­ter stuck in my ear. Re­ally, they aren’t go­ing to fall out.

This re­viewer’s skin is on the oily side, and some­times in-ear ’buds with sil­i­cone tips get a lit­tle oily, and we have to wipe them off or keep shov­ing them fur­ther into my ears for a good seal. The wired Ap­ple EarPods (you know, the cheap pair that comes with your iPhone) fit okay, and we’ve been wear­ing them since the iPhone 7 launch. But the EarPods wire does trip us up from time to time, get­ting snagged on arm­rests when we’re on the bus, or re­quir­ing ad­just­ment when we’re wear­ing a scarf.

So few wanted to go wire­less, and knew the AirPods had to be com­fort­able enough to wear all day, and not fall out. It turns out they’re very com­fort­able, vir­tu­ally the same shape as the EarPods but with more heft. They perch right in our ear canals and stay put bet­ter than the EarPods or sil­i­cone-tipped ear­buds.

The sound

We care more com­fort than sound be­cause I’m not an au­dio­phile. We lis­ten to lots of mu­sic, and can tell good ear­phones from ter­ri­ble ones, so Ap­ple’s bun­dled free EarPods suit us just fine for stream­ing mu­sic and pod­casts. We used to rock a pair of Bose MIE2i in-ear ’phones (since dis­con­tin­ued) when my iPhones had jacks for them, and we ex­pected the AirPods to fall some­where in be­tween th­ese ear­phones and the EarPods. Well,

we’re happy to re­port the AirPods sound great – just as good as the Bose set, with full, de­tailed sound and plenty of vol­ume.

The AirPods sound bet­ter than the EarPods, but they have that same kind of fit, where the bud it­self just rests in your ear open­ing, in­stead of go­ing way down into your ear canal. And since they don’t have a sil­i­cone or foam tip like the ’buds that get shoved more deeply into your ear, they don’t seal off out­side noise as fully. But their im­pres­sive vol­ume quickly drowns out your sur­round­ings. Once my iPhone is at about 60 per­cent vol­ume, we can no longer hear my­self speak at a nor­mal vol­ume while we’re wear­ing the AirPods.

The white stems that hang down from the AirPods hold the mi­cro­phone, which you’ll need for voice calls, and speak­ing with Siri. We used Siri to make a voice call both in­doors and out­doors, and the peo­ple we chat­ted with re­ported a slight echo com­mon to Blue­tooth phone calls, but only when we pressed them to eval­u­ate my sound. All in all, the sound was good enough for calls.

The con­trols

Speak­ing to Siri, though, some­what mars the AirPods ex­pe­ri­ence. To turn up the vol­ume with the free EarPods, you click a but­ton on the in­line re­mote. With the AirPods, how­ever, you have to dou­ble-tap one AirPod, wait for your mu­sic to pause and the Siri chime to sound, and say “Turn it up” (or, even bet­ter, “turn up the vol­ume,” just to make sure Siri will un­der­stand). Then you wait another cou­ple of beats for your mu­sic to re­sume, now two notches louder. If you say “Turn

it up to 50 per­cent,” the vol­ume still gets turned up two notches louder. It’s an an­noy­ing process, so you’re bet­ter off us­ing the vol­ume con­trols on your phone – if your phone is in arm’s reach.

Siri can also con­trol Ap­ple Mu­sic and your own mu­sic col­lec­tion stored in Ap­ple’s Mu­sic app. But Ap­ple chose not to give full Siri con­trol to third-party mu­sic apps, and that’s a huge bum­mer when you try to use ear­buds that re­quire the use of Siri. In Spo­tify, we could turn the vol­ume up and down, and skip to the next track. But to start a song over (three clicks on the EarPods re­mote,

thank you very much), we couldn’t say “start this song over,” though “go back one track” was more re­spon­sive. And, ob­vi­ously, I couldn’t call up spe­cific artists, al­bums, playlists, and songs. The AirPods are at their best when you are all-in with Ap­ple de­vices and ser­vices. If you’re a die-hard user of Spo­tify or Pan­dora, th­ese might not be the head­phones for you.

But ei­ther way, Siri is just too slow and buggy to be a rock-solid con­trol set. We quickly found my­self want­ing to just use the con­trols on the iPhone it­self. As a side note, we’ve never ap­pre­ci­ated iOS 10’s Raise to Wake fea­ture so much un­til we got my AirPods, since we can bring up the lock screen play/pause, for­ward, and rewind but­tons so eas­ily, and leave Siri out of it.

The auto-pause fea­ture does work well, and mostly seam­lessly across apps. When you are lis­ten­ing to the AirPods, and you take one out of your ear, the sound pauses. When you put it back in your ear, it starts play­ing again. While the fea­ture is mostly solid, it isn’t a sure thing. A few times the mu­sic would start play­ing again af­ter we’d stuck one AirPod in my jacket pocket while talk­ing to a cashier. Other times, tak­ing an AirPod out would pause a pod­cast in Pocket Casts, but putting it back in wouldn’t start it play­ing again. In­stead, we had to hit Play on the iPhone it­self. If you do want to play mu­sic on only one AirPod for some rea­son, you can just press Play on the iPhone af­ter tak­ing one out.

Even with a lit­tle finicky be­hav­iour, we love this fea­ture. We’re also test­ing a pair of Li­bra­tone wire­less head­phones right now, and they have a fea­ture where you can mute the sound by cup­ping

your hand over one ear. We’re glad com­pa­nies are think­ing about easy ways to si­lence the sound so you can say hello to neigh­bours or con­duct a trans­ac­tion po­litely. But paus­ing is bet­ter than mut­ing, es­pe­cially for pod­cast fans, so AirPods have the edge there.

The lit­tle things

Be­cause Ap­ple makes th­ese, the AirPods are locked in to iOS 10 like no other head­phones will ever be. You can check the bat­tery life in the

Bat­tery wid­get in No­ti­fi­ca­tion Cen­tre. Even just open­ing the charg­ing case with the AirPods in­side will pop up a no­ti­fi­ca­tion on your phone show­ing the charge level of your AirPods and the case.

The charg­ing case is bril­liant. It’s small and white and easy to stash in a pocket or bag. It kind of looks like a fancy pack­age of den­tal floss, with a top that flips open and shut with a tight mag­netic click. The AirPods charge in­side this case, so if you keep them there when they’re not in your ears, and then re­mem­ber to charge the case now and then, keep­ing the AirPods charged isn’t too much of a bur­den. The case it­self charges via a Light­ning port, so we just try to re­mem­ber to top it off while us­ing the AirPods at out desk.

In our tests, the AirPods eas­ily get Ap­ple’s stated five hours of mu­sic time per charge. We’re at five hours on our stop­watch right now, in fact, and the AirPods have 12 per­cent charge left ac­cord­ing to the Bat­tery wid­get in iOS 10. Ap­ple says the case should have about 24 hours of bat­tery life in it, and just 15 min­utes in the case can power your AirPods for three more hours (it got 4- to 79 per­cent). The AirPods make a sad lit­tle sound when they reach 10 per­cent so you’ll know they’re al­most out of juice.

Con­nect­ing the AirPods to an iPhone for the first time is as easy as open­ing the case. A mes­sage pops up on the iPhone of­fer­ing to con­nect, and when you do, the AirPods also ap­pear in the Blue­tooth menu of any Macs (run­ning ma­cOS Sierra) you use with the same iCloud ac­count. Switch­ing to an iPad and Ap­ple Watch with the same iCloud ac­count is sim­i­larly easy, and you don’t have to trick your iPhone into un­pair­ing with

the AirPods to lis­ten to them on a dif­fer­ent de­vice. They’re al­ways paired to ev­ery­thing, and you can just se­lect AirPods on that thing and press play.

The back of the charg­ing case has a round white but­ton that’s barely vis­i­ble. With the AirPods in the open case, you can press and hold that but­ton to turn a tiny LED in the case white. That means they’re in pair­ing mode, and you can pair them to an An­droid phone or another Blue­tooth de­vice, although with­out Siri or the ex­tra fea­tures.

Mac­world’s buy­ing ad­vice

The three-but­ton re­mote on wired ear­buds is a much faster, eas­ier way to con­trol your mu­sic than dou­ble-tap­ping one ear and then try­ing to get Siri to do what you want. But I can’t help lik­ing the AirPods – the cool de­sign and pow­er­ful sound just keep me com­ing back. We just wish they had another ges­ture, or smarter/faster Siri, to be as con­ve­nient as what they’re re­plac­ing.

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