Apple AirPods Review: A Solid First Attempt


The AirPods are here, finally, and it looks like there might be more positives than negatives with Apple’s first truly wireless earphones.

I’ve been using the AirPods for a bit of time now, effectively removing the wired EarPods from my daily routine and replacing them with Apple’s wireless option. Like I said in my first impressions, I’ve been waiting awhile for truly wireless earphones worth owning, and, while I have some parts of the AirPods that I’m not a huge fan of, all-in-all I can safely say that I’m happy with Apple’ first attempt at something like this.

And there shouldn’t be any doubt about the AirPods absolutely being a first-generation Apple product. They work, but the parts that are missing are key to creating a whole experience. But they’re so good in the areas that are present, that it makes those missing pieces a bit more bearable.

But, let’s just start from the beginning.

Pairing

Apple made a point to talk up its W1 chip inside the AirPods (and its other wireless earphone products), and for good reason. The W1 chip is great, and thanks to an Apple ID linking everything together, syncing from one device to the next is buttery smooth. I synced the AirPods to my iPhone 7 just by popping open the charging case and tapping a pop-up prompt on the phone’s display. That’s it.

And while that’s great in its simplicity, it’s also the fact that you don’t have to keep doing that –as easy as it is– from one device to the next. I’m signed into my MacBook, so all I have to do is select the Bluetooth option up in the menu bar and I can easily connect to the AirPods — they’re already an option without me having to do any extra work or pairing. And the same goes for my iPad. The AirPods are right there in Control Center as an option to start listening to music or podcasts, or whatever other media is streaming on the device.

Considering the AirPods are a first-generation product, I assumed that switching between devices would probably bog down the experience at some point, but that wasn’t the case. My first day with the AirPods I tried to switch between the MacBook, the iPhone, and the iPad as often as I could, just to see if I could break the connection, but it never happened. Each time I connected the earphones to a device, the process was smooth and quick.

Sound Quality

The AirPods sound better than the EarPods, at least as far as I’ve noticed. There’s a bit more range present, and the bass is certainly more noticeable. But, just to be clear here, these aren’t going to impress the audiophiles out there — just like the EarPods generally don’t, either.

However, for the price of the AirPods, and their truly wireless design, it’s more than just serviceable. They sound good. They get really, really loud if you want them to, which is a good thing when blocking out the rest of the world is what you’re looking for.

That doesn’t really carry over with phone calls, though. I made a few calls, and while I didn’t get any complaints from the people I spoke with on how I sounded, they sounded like they were in a tunnel, or something similar. And, for what it’s worth, you can answer a phone call by double-tapping the stem of an AirPod. You end the call in the same way.

Siri, on the other hand, is loud and clear.

Features

Despite being a pretty straightforward product, Apple’s managed to add a few features for good measure. That includes the ability to double-tap the stem of an AirPod to activate Siri. Apple made it possible to either turn this feature off entirely, or to allow owners to Play/Pause media playback.

Apple also included “Automatic Ear Detection.” With it, the AirPods can automatically transfer the audio route from a connected device once the AirPods are put into your ears. So if I’m listening to music on my iPhone, through the phone’s speakers, I can put the AirPods in my ears and the music automatically switches to the earphones.

This feature also means that when you take one of the AirPods, or both, out of your ears, the music stops playing. It’s a quick and easy way to start and stop music playback, especially if you need to talk to someone for a moment or two, and based on usage it works really well.

On a personal level, it’s a feature that I’ve had to get accustomed to, and it’s a change from how I’ve typically used my headphones. I always have at least one earbud in when I’m out, but with this particular feature means that’s not really possible. I had Automatic Ear Detection turned off for a little while, but eventually I turned it back on.

Do They Fall Out?

I’ve seen it all over the place since the AirPods launched: they fall out way too easily. I don’t think it’s just hyperbole, either. The same sentiments were first issued against Apple back when the EarPods were still new, so it really isn’t surprising to hear them all over again. Plus, there’s plenty of video evidence out there of people showing the camera how easily the AirPods fall out with just the shake of their head.

Apple’s numbers game here, will they fit or not, isn’t any different than it was with the EarPods, and the easiest thing to say about it is this: If the EarPods fit, and you think they’re comfortable, then I believe the AirPods won’t be any different for you.

For me, they fit very well. They haven’t fallen out at any time so far, nor have they been close. I’ve run with them in, I’ve done other exercises, I’ve shaken my head, and otherwise simply used them. I’ve had to actually try to make them fall out to succeed in this regard. As far as I can tell, just like the EarPods, I won’t have to worry about this scenario.

Missing the Mark

In all the above areas, the AirPods excel in what they set out to do, but there are missing pieces to the puzzle. First and foremost, options to control media playback and volume on the AirPods. The ability to double-tap to activate Siri or play/pause media playback is something, but it’s not enough. In a wireless future, Apple’s two options for really controlling these elements shouldn’t be just 1) Use Siri or 2) Use my phone.

The Charging Case uses Lightning (even if the port on the case looks like it should be used for USB Type-C), which, as an accessory for the iPhone, technically makes sense. But I can’t plug the case into the iPhone, nor am I sure why I would, so this is another new device from Apple that seems to confuse the port situation even more. It isn’t a deal breaker, but it’s certainly an interesting move on Apple’s part.

That Charging Case has a status indicator light, so that you can easily see if the AirPods are fully charged or not, or if the case is, too. But this charging light is on the inside, so you have to pop open the lid to see it. I don’t mind it being on the inside, but I would also prefer to have one on the outside, too. That would certainly make it easier to see battery status at a glance.

Final Thoughts

The AirPods are a typical first-generation product from Apple, for better or worse. Being an early adopter has its moments, but at the same time if someone said they wanted to wait for the next iteration of the company’s truly wireless earphones, to see if Apple adds more features to the mix, I don’t think I’d blame them.

At the same time, I’m generally happy with the first attempt. Not having media playback controls, or volume controls, is annoying, and I think it’s a dumb oversight on Apple’s part –especially considering the majority of the competition features this — but it is what it is. Everything else about the AirPods is great, so I can overlook these things for now.

Of course, that could change at some point down the line, and I could get annoyed at having to still pull my phone out of my pocket just to change songs a month or two from now. As it stands right now, though, I think it might be worth the (little) annoyance.

If you want to stick with Apple’s ecosystem, and you want earphones that pair easily, with good-enough sound and a lightweight design, the AirPods are worth checking out.

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