While Apple's major products have been receiving incremental updates in recent years, its major innovation seems to be happening in its accessories. The Apple Pencil brought drawing and writing to iPad Pro . The Smart Keyboard brought a compact and effortless way to enable typing on the go. Apple Watch brought “smart watches" to the main stream, redefining the category and highlighting the benefits a smart device on your wrist. Yes there were some bumps in the beginning but with the release of watchOS 3, many issues were addressed and fitness was brought to the forefront.
On the surface Apple AirPods look like your standard pair of Earpods without the cord. All the tech is hidden inside the custom-designed Apple W1 chip. Apple claims this chip provides a better wireless connection and improved sound. Also, included is a proximity sensor to know when they are in your ears and a gyroscope to detect the double tap gesture. Of course each AirPod includes a battery which can be charged via the charging case included. The claim is that you can get 5 hours of listening on one charge. The case will provide you with 24 hours of battery life and if you run out, you can quickly charge each earbud in just 15 minutes resulting in 3 hours of battery life.
When opening the case for the first time your device is able to automatically detect the AirPods and pair. I paired the AirPods to my iPhone 6 with little effort. I held the charging case next to my iPhone and received the prompt to pair instantly. From there my Earpods were available on my other devices including my iPad Pro and MacBook Air via iCloud. I did have some issues with audio coming out of only one ear and slow switching on my Mac. This issue seemed to go away the more I used the AirPods.
I always had a pair of Earpods on me mainly for making phone calls. I used my Jabra Move bluetooth headphones for listening to music. As you would guess, phone calls work fine. I never heard complaints from the person I was talking to so assume I sounded fine on the other end. Listening to music was a pleasant surprise. I did not expect the low end response to be as good as it is. I found myself filling more of my time with podcasts and music because it was so easy to just start listening to things. Not having to unravel a tangled cable every time is probably the biggest reason for my increased listening.
I've had these for a week and have not got to the point where I'm out of battery on the AirPods and the charging case. The 5 hour claim seems to be accurate but I'm typically not listening that long. The most I've gone is about 3 hours and by then they go back into the case to charge up again. Yes they do charge quickly and with the charging case you'll more than likely never drain the battery entirely.
Probably the weakest feature of the AirPods is Siri. The gesture of double tapping one of the earbuds is not consistent. You really have to give a good double tap to activate Siri and even then it doesn't always react. I am using an iPhone 6 so Siri has never been incredibly fast but the response time seems to be even slower using the AirPods. You can also use the double tap to hang up on a phone call that oddly works better than invoking Siri. Hopefully we can see this improved with a firmware update in the future.
Fit and Feel
If you like the fit and feel of the Earpods that were included with your iPhone, you'll no doubt like AirPods. I've always liked the fit of Earpods in the past but these feel a bit more comfortable. I assume this is because there is no cable weighing the AirPods down because at glance the design seems no different from Earpods. I've even heard from people that didn't like the fit of Earpods say AirPods actually fit them fine. Of course this will be different for every person but you should give them a try if you're unsure. I've gone running, worked out and thrashed my head around, they don't fall out. The only time I've had one fall out was when I was putting on my hood. That's it.
One of the easiest ways pause is simply taking one of the AirPods out of your ear. When you put it back in, the audio will play again. You can also use Siri to control playback and volume but like I said previously, it's not the quickest way to do that. I found myself using control center more often than not to do most of the playback. The most convenient and robust way of controlling is if you are paired with your iPhone and using an Apple Watch . With the Now Playing app in your dock you're able to control play/pause, skip tracks and adjust volume. While the controls on the AirPods themselves are minimal, if you have an Apple Watch you'll be able to access controls quickly. It doesn't replace the controller on the cable of your Earbuds but with all the other benefits of AirPods, it's a small trade off.
At $160, Apple AirPods are not a tremendous step up from the sound quality you’ll get on a standard pair of Earpods. What you’re paying for is the easy set up, seamless integration and the dependability you’re use to receiving from an Apple product. AirPods are a classic example of Apple taking a product and enhancing the experience but you’re going to have to pay a premium for it.