Air­pods (2nd gen­er­a­tion) re­view

AIR­PODS TOOK OVER THE WIRE­LESS HEAD­PHONE WORLD, AND NOW THEY'RE A LIT­TLE BIT BET­TER.

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - BY JA­SON CROSS

When Air­pods ( go.mac­world. com/ap1r) were first an­nounced in 2016, peo­ple were skep­ti­cal. Ap­ple wants us to pay $160 for Ear­pods with­out wires? What’s with those sticks stick­ing out of your ears? The case looks like den­tal floss!

But then, ev­ery­one who ac­tu­ally used them fell in­stantly in love. Easy pair­ing, auto-paus­ing, light­weight com­fort, and rock-solid con­nec­tion—ap­ple took all the pain points of Blue­tooth head­phones away. Air­pods flew off the shelves and were back­o­rdered for months as Ap­ple ramped up pro­duc­tion to meet de­mand.

So what does Ap­ple do for an en­core? We’ll have to wait for a while to find out. Ap­ple’s new Air­pods are just that—new Air­pods. They’re not Air­pods 2 or

Air­pods X. They’re not a rev­o­lu­tion or even a new de­sign. But if you rely on Ap­ple de­vices, they’re still the best true wire­less ear­buds around.

EV­ERY­THING OLD IS NEW AGAIN

If you go to the Ap­ple site and look up Air­pods, you will find this new model ( go. mac­world.com/7ap2) and noth­ing else. The old model has been com­pletely re­placed by this new one, still simply called “Air­pods.” When Ap­ple re­ally needs to make a dis­tinc­tion be­tween this new model and the old ones, it calls them “Air­pods (2nd gen­er­a­tion).”

The im­pli­ca­tion is clear: You should not ex­pect these to rev­o­lu­tion­ize the wire­less ear­phones mar­ket all over again. You should ex­pect Air­pods, as you’ve al­ways known them, just a lit­tle bit bet­ter. Re­fined, you might say.

They have the same look, the same shape, the same glossy white fin­ish. The case has the same de­sign. You still pair them with your iphone by simply hold­ing the case open nearby, just as be­fore. You use them just as you used the old ones:

Dou­ble-tap to skip tracks for­ward/back or in­voke Siri. Mu­sic pauses when you take one out of your ear and starts play­ing again when you put it back in.

In fact, with the ex­cep­tion of a new op­tional Wire­less Charg­ing Case that has a tiny LED on the front, you’d be hard­pressed to no­tice any dif­fer­ence be­tween the new Air­pods and the old ones.

The new Air­pods have the same bat­tery life as the old ones, too: about five hours of mu­sic play­back, with the case hold­ing enough power for four recharges. The sound quality is also the same—slightly bet­ter than Ap­ple’s wired Ear­pods, slightly worse than most $150 wired ear­phones.

THE H1 CHIP: FASTER SYNC, HANDS-FREE SIRI

The sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Air­pods may look and sound the same, but they’ve changed in­side. They use a new cus­tom-de­signed H1 chip that Ap­ple says is “de­vel­oped specif­i­cally for head­phones” and al­lows for im­proved ef­fi­ciency.

The chip en­ables the one truly new fea­ture of the Air­pods: the abil­ity to in­voke Siri by simply say­ing “Hey, Siri” in­stead of dou­ble-tap­ping (though dou­ble-tap­ping still works). In my test­ing, it worked quite well, even on a fairly noisy street. Sound play­back will dim af­ter a cou­ple of sec­onds to let you know Siri is lis­ten­ing, but you don’t have to wait for that. As with your

iphone, simply say your en­tire com­mand with­out paus­ing for best re­sults.

We still think Siri needs to get a lot bet­ter, and des­per­ately needs the abil­ity to fully func­tion with third-party mu­sic ser­vices just as well as it does with Ap­ple Mu­sic. But Air­pods are best in sit­u­a­tions where your hands are oc­cu­pied: at the gym, rid­ing a bike, bun­dled up in freez­ing cold weather. I didn’t re­al­ize how use­ful it would be to use Siri with my phone in my pocket and my hands full un­til I had the abil­ity to.

The H1 chip en­ables a few other mi­nor im­prove­ments, too. The new Air­pods switch from one de­vice to an­other twice as fast, con­nect to phone calls up to 50 per­cent faster, and of­fer slightly lower la­tency (up to 30 per­cent less). These may sound like big im­prove­ments, but in prac­tice, tak­ing two to three sec­onds to switch from my iphone to my Mac isn’t all that dif­fer­ent from tak­ing four to five sec­onds. Gamers crave lower la­tency, but the dif­fer­ence is quite small.

You have to be re­ally sensitive to that sort of thing to no­tice it, and the new Air­pods still don’t com­pare to wired head­phones in that re­gard.

Re­mem­ber when I said bat­tery life was the same? There’s one im­por­tant ex­cep­tion to that. The bat­tery life when mak­ing calls has risen from 2 hours to 3 hours. If you make lots of long phone calls with your Air­pods, that’s a huge benefit you’ll im­me­di­ately no­tice. Long dial-in meet­ings would reg­u­larly dec­i­mate my old Air­pods’ bat­tery life, while the new ones have plenty of power left.

WIRE­LESS CHARG­ING CASE OP­TIONAL

To­gether with re­freshed Air­pods, Ap­ple in­tro­duced a Wire­less Charg­ing Case. It was meant to go with the Air­power charg­ing mat be­fore Ap­ple can­celled it ( go.mac­world.com/arpw). It does work with

any Qi-com­pat­i­ble wire­less charger, though.

The new case is op­tional—you can still get Air­pods with the stan­dard Lightning-only charg­ing case for the same $159 price the old ones cost. If you want the abil­ity to juice up your Air­pods by set­ting the case down on a lit­tle pad, you can get the Wire­less Charg­ing Case to­gether with your Air­pods for $199. It works with the old Air­pods, too, so you can buy just the case alone for $79.

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, the case charges more slowly on a wire­less charg­ing pad than plugged in. Given the rel­a­tive in­fre­quency of charg­ing up your Air­pods case (com­pared to, say, your iphone) and the in­abil­ity to work with wire­less charg­ing stands (which don’t lie flat), I would say it’s prob­a­bly not worth the ex­tra money. It’s a cu­rios­ity, but it doesn’t solve a press­ing need.

BOT­TOM LINE

If you al­ready own a pair of Air­pods, you prob­a­bly shouldn’t up­grade to the lat­est model. The im­prove­ments in switch­ing speed and la­tency aren’t game-chang­ers, and the abil­ity to use Siri hands-free, while use­ful, isn’t worth the cost alone. Those who make a lot of long phone calls will love how much longer the bat­tery lasts, but ev­ery­one else will no­tice no real dif­fer­ence in longevity.

If you haven’t bought Air­pods yet, the im­prove­ments in this sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion model make them a lit­tle more com­pelling. Still, we can’t help but anx­iously await a true suc­ces­sor to Ap­ple’s near-ubiq­ui­tous wire­less head­phones. ■

Can you tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween the old Air­pods and the new ones?

The new Wire­less Charg­ing Case has the re­set/sync but­ton in the mid­dle, so the charg­ing coil fits around it.

The 2nd-gen Air­pods do ev­ery­thing the orig­i­nal Air­pods do, plus hands-free “Hey, Siri.”

For this par­tic­u­lar prod­uct, wire­less charg­ing isn’t a big deal. It’s prob­a­bly not worth $40 ex­tra.

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