AirPods: Surprisingly decent (my review)

There’s probably several hundred million reviews out there for Apple’s true wireless earbuds known as AirPods, so I’m not going to go on at length about them. But here are a few thoughts after having them for several months.

Setup on my iPhone 6 was effortless. Bluetooth devices often have trouble pairing and Apple aimed to fix this with a custom W1 chip that makes pairing with an Apple device painless. And it works.

I got my AirPods after a critical software update that expanded the actions you could take by tapping the pods, as well as allowing separate actions for left and right. For me I chose Pause and Next Track for left/right as they are the most common options I use, other than volume control (which is not an option). I skipped the “Hey Siri” integration because if I want to talk to Siri, I’ve always got my watch with me. While having controls on the AirPods themselves is nice, the reality leaves something to be desired. More on this later.

The fit is nearly identical to the existing EarPods and really, apart from the long “stem” these could easily be mistaken for the same. It’s a bit disappointing that Apple didn’t try to push forward more on the design. Luckily, the EarPods fit well in my ears, so the AirPods stay in securely, too.

This is important because one of my regular uses of the AirPods is when jogging. Because they aren’t sealed, they allow other sounds to be heard (traffic, marauding bears, my wretched gasping breath, etc.) In the times I’ve used them on runs I’ve never felt them  budge and the freedom of going true wireless is great. I’ve also done workouts on elliptical trainers and treadmills with the music on my watch playing through the AirPods, no phone needed, and again it’s great to have music for workouts without any wires.

The sound quality is not great but it’s perfectly decent. I have lousy ears but to these lousy ears the sound quality seems a little better than the EarPods. They won’t replace a pair of good quality headphones but for their size they do a good job of pumping out music without noticeable distortion, even if the overall presentation is slightly flat.

The battery life is perfectly fine for my usage. Apple promises five hours and I generally don’t use the AirPods for more than an hour at a time before they go back into their handy and compact charging case. The case is small enough to easily carry in a pocket and does a good job of boosting the battery life by proxy. It’s rare that I put the AirPods on with them charged below 100%. Being able to see the charge by flipping open the case near my iPhone is nice, too (it pops up an animated card similar to the one you see when pairing the AirPods).

I’ve worn them a few times when the weather has been a bit misty and while others report no issue wearing them in the rain, I’m hesitant to do so, simply because they cost $200+ rather than the $35 of the EarPods. I’ll probably get braver as they get older because going wireless is so much better when running.

On the downside, the controls are fussy. You double-tap to invoke an action and I find, especially when jogging, that the AirPods happily ignore the taps. I can be rapping on them like an insane woodpecker and they do nothing in response. I discovered you can tap the back of your ears to activate the controls, but sadly, this is also somewhat inconsistent. The inconsistency means that if I want to skip a track I usually just hold up my watch and tell Siri to skip to the next song. The lack of volume control is also a major omission. While I can use the watch for this, it’s not as easy to do while running as an actual physical control on the earbuds would be.

They have dropped connection a couple of times, but only briefly. Otherwise the connectivity has been very solid, something I really never expect with a Bluetooth device. It’s been a pleasant surprise here.

Recent rumors suggest Apple is developing new AirPods that can work with hands-free Siri (no interest) or offer actual water resistance (very interested). The latter is rumored for 2019, though, to which I say boo.

Overall, I’m surprised at how much I like the AirPods. I have come to terms with the weird look of them, which is mitigated partly by their increasing proliferation, but wouldn’t object to a tweak to the stems to make them shorter or…something.

On a scale of 1 to 10 Steve Jobs Cooing Over the iPhone 4 On Stage, I rate the AirPods 8 Steve Jobs Cooing. There is room for improvement here but they are a very solid version 1.0 product.

+ Things I Like:

– good fit (for my ears, anyway)
– comfortable (for the lengths of time I wear them)
– perfectly decent sound quality
– quick, painless Bluetooth pairing
– almost never lose connectivity
– very good battery life for true wireless earbuds
– charging case is compact and insures the AirPods always have some charge in them (assuming you periodically top up the charging case itself)
– automatically stops playing music when you remove one from your ear

Things I Don’t Like:

– controls are flaky and unreliable
– no volume control
– you can get them in white, white or white
– they still look kind of funny
– no water resistance limits their use for outdoor activities (unless you’re willing to risk it)
– reasonably priced for the product category but expensive in Canadian dollars (currently $219)

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