The iPhone 7 famously removed the 3.5mm headphone jack that has long been on most audio devices for as long as I can remember. In its stead, Apple offered three solutions:
- A Lighting-to-3.5mm adapter, included in the box.
- An updated version of EarPods, now featuring a Lightning connector, also included in the box.
- Go wireless with bluetooth headphones.
To emphasize the third option Apple unveiled their new wireless AirPods. They look nearly identical to EarPods, as if someone had taken a scissors and snipped the cables off. For storage and charging the AirPods slide into a case not much larger than a container of floss, which houses a battery for on-the-go charging and a Lightning connector to recharge the case itself.
Apple promised to deliver the AirPods in October, shortly after the iPhone 7 launched, but something came up that necessitated a delay. Consequently, they launched right before Christmas. And thanks to some quick action by \
Santa\ my wife, I had a very nice Christmas gift under the tree.
AirPods are ridiculously easy to setup. With my iPhone unlocked I just flipped open the charging case with the AirPods inside it. I brought the case about an inch from my phone and a little card slid up from the bottom of the screen with a Connect button. Tapping that instantly paired them to my iPhone.
And since I use all Apple devices for my computing, iCloud synced that pairing to my iPad, Apple Watch, MacBook Air, and (presumably) the MacBook Pro I use at work.
Switching between devices is as easy as selecting the AirPods from the audio output list on the device I want to use them with. Sure, it’s not as easy as unplugging the standard headphone jack and plugging it into another device, but it’s also not difficult and the AirPods switch between devices pretty quickly.
I’ve been using Apple’s iconic white earbuds since I bought my first iPod back in college. Those initial earbuds didn’t fit great the sound was subpar. Nonetheless I wore them because they were iconic. They were a status symbol, and college-me was a bit vain.
In 2012 Apple revised their earbuds when they introduced the EarPods alongside the iPhone 5. EarPods promised a better fit and better sound. For me, they delivered on both fronts. I’m willing to entertain the thought that one night Jony Ive snuck into my room while I was sleeping in order to take an injection mold of my ears. That’s how well EarPods fit me.
My wife, on the other hand, cannot use EarPods. They fall right out of her ears. And if she can manage to keep them in for any length of time, her ears begin to hurt. You’re mileage will vary.
In short, AirPods fit exactly like EarPods. If you like the fit of EarPods, you will love the fit of AirPods. If EarPods won’t stay in your ears, then AirPods likely won’t either.
AirPods sound great. The audio quality is a little richer than regular EarPods, as they have a bit more bass to them. It’s not a dramatic improvement, but it is noticeable. And that bass isn’t too heavy; it is just enough to give a nicer sound.
One place I’ve longed to have wireless headphones is at the gym. Inevitably I always catch the EarPods’s cable and painfully yank them from my ears. AirPods solve this completely. They are truly wireless, and they stay put in my ears no matter how much my head jostles.
One part of the gym I hadn’t considered before is when I am changing back to my regular clothes. Normally I would need to pause whatever I am listening to so I could change, as the cable is in the way. With AirPods, I can change my shirt without any issues, so I can keep listening.
AirPods also do the right thing in my car. While listening to music as I left the gym, I got into my car, started it, and plugged my iPhone into my Griffin iTrip Aux. The audio switched from my AirPods to my car stereo without skipping a beat. A moment later I double tapped the right AirPod, the music paused, and Siri activated via the AirPod. I asked Siri to call my wife, and it connected the call through the AirPods. When I finished the call, the music resumed through the car’s speakers. Perfect.
Another nice touch is removing just one AirPod from my ear pauses playback, which is handy when I am ordering coffee and want to pause my music and show the barista I am listening to him or her. Popping the AirPod back in resumes playback.
AirPods are nice looking, however, they do look a bit dorky in your ears. Family members have joked that it looks a bit like I have Q-tips hanging out of my ears. It is kind of amazing how removing the cable from the earbuds drastically ups the nerd factor.
I have to wonder how the AirPods would look in a Jet Black finish. I bet that would look pretty sweet.
Each AirPod has a tiny battery in it that is supposed to last up to 5 hours of use. The case they slide into is their recharging station, itself having a battery in it that provides up to another 24 hours of charge. The case recharges via a Lightning port on the bottom.
So far battery life seems to meet expectations, but I haven’t given everything a thorough rundown yet.
What is really nice is that the AirPods recharge quickly. 15 minutes in the case will give them 3 hours worth of juice.
There is one major downside to the AirPods compared to EarPods. The EarPods have an inline remote with volume and playback controls. These controls are really handy and quick to use.
With AirPods there’s only a single control gesture: double tap. This can be set to Play/Pause or to activate Siri. That’s it. And it is one or the other. There is not a way to quickly adjust volume or go forward or back a track. To do that you need to activate Siri, speak a command, then wait for Siri to do what you asked.
What I have decided to do instead is tap the side button on my Apple Watch, tap Now Playing, and use that to adjust volume or track selection. It works, but it is a bit of a pain. That said, it is faster than having Siri accomplish the same task.
I hope Apple can add more tap gestures to the AirPods via an update. I’d really like to see taps mimic the inline remote of AirPods. Single tap for Play/Pause, double tap for track forward, triple tap for track backward, and tap & hold for Siri.
Maybe single tap is not available so you don’t get a false positive on activation. If that is the case, perhaps double tapping the left AirPod could handle Play/Pause and double tapping the right AirPod could handle Siri.
AirPods are probably one of the neatest gadgets I’ve used in recent memory. There’s a ton of technology packed into these tiny earbuds and that allows them to do things the way you’d expect in almost every situation. It’s clear that Apple spent a lot of time sweating the details to make AirPods delightful to use.
If the standard EarPods fit your ears, I think the AirPods are a must own for any iPhone user. The experience is magnified if you use other Apple products like an iPad or Mac.
In the wake of the uproar over the iPhone 7 removing the 3.5mm headphone jack, the AirPods succeed in completing Apple’s story of a wireless future.