Apple’s AirPods have been noted for being original (in a field of products that sees only incremental changes), and uncharacteristically troubled. The product was announced in September for a pre-Christmas release but delayed past Christmas for reasons untold. Just about anyone who sees these headphones will say “How much?”, and scowl at your response. Well, I finally have a pair and will put them to the test in today’s review of the AirPods.
In the box is the Airpods case (which holds a battery charger) and the left and right AirPods. Also in the box are simple instructions and a single lighting cable. Apple also added a bit of embellishment to the box embossing the front picture of the AirPods.
Removing each headphone is simple, and while sometimes you’ll try to reinsert them backwards, there’s a nifty little magnet that snaps each side of the Airpods into place 1. Charging then begins in earnest either with the pod’s battery or if you’re connected to power externally. During all this, amber or green indicator tells you’re if still charging or full (iOS also indicates battery levels too).
The power independence of the two headphones is curious. It does make sense that they would have independent batteries, but battery level indications in different software only show one charging level. In MacOS Sierra, you can see the remaining charge on both AirPods. As I wore the two headphones through two TV shows and a movie, I paid attention to battery levels throughout. By the time I stopped to charge, the left pod was at 22% and the right was at 32%. Could the independent discharge of these devices start causing issues in usage down the road?
The construction of the charging pod itself feels good. It’s a simply rounded plastic with a magnetically latching lid. Holding it for a while makes me feel like I’m flicking a Zippo lighter. When connected to a power source via lighting cable, the AirPods charge super fast. I would have preferred a square construction with the charging port on the side, but this might be good for use in certain kinds of dock devices. On the underside of the lid in super small writing, you’ll find the serial numbers and regulatory logos.
Pairing the headphones is super easy with an iOS 10 device, and somewhat typical with other devices by way of the rear button on the charging pod (while the lid is open). Apple provides a support document about this process which is useful.
When connected to an iPhone 7, I turned on the Macbook with AirPods paired also and the headphones did not automatically disconnect from the phone and pick the computer (good). I then manually connected the AirPods to the laptop and they worked fine. I think the seamless connections between multiple devices is a big frontier for Apple to conquer. Also, I walked away from the computer with the AirPods paired, returned and they appeared to reconnect immediately.
The sound quality (to me) is great. I’m no audiophile, so I’d be the last person to give you advice about that. Playing music and movies, I found the audio quality to be on par or better than other headphones I’ve used. In some cases, I found the sound level too low, but that’s a nitpick.
And, perhaps the biggest question with these headphones is fit and hold. The headphones fit into my ear very easily and held with no use. Initially, I didn’t fear that they’d slide out or fall out (as often is the case with wired earbuds). When they finally did fall out, it was because the collar of my jacket brushed across the right side. They’re good at staying in, but not that good. 2
There have been some challenges too. After pairing the AirPods to my laptop running MacOS Sierra, the headphones worked but disconnecting them (by closing the lid) killed my Macbook’s sound and it didn’t come back immediately. I wasn’t able to get sound back until I connected the AirPods to my phone.
I have to say something about this lack of a charger block. Apple has been killing its users by cutting corners, and this is no different. For $200+ headphones, you’d expect at least, out of the box, these headphones would be able to charge without any sort of assistance. Not so, as Apple apparently thinks that USB chargers are so readily available that you wouldn’t need one. Ah, Apple, there isn’t even one in your new laptop.
My niece was also great at stating the obvious: “If you lose the holder thing, there’s no way to charge the headphones, right?”. Yes, right.3 AirPods do feel like a product destined to be a failure in so many ways, but if any company can make this work, Apple can. I can’t easily recommend these headphones in this first iteration, but there is a great product here in the years to come. What we might see is the first good wearable device that you’ll want in your ear. A lot. But, not yet.
If you too think the AirPods are worth $200, you’re someone who should subscribe to my newsletter.