Apple has a habit of releasing products that push the envelope, raise a few eyebrows, inspire the competition to copy and leave out an essential feature. These are the quintessential ingredients of a successful Apple product. Apple’s wireless headphones, AirPods, are the perfect example of such a product.
AirPods tick all these boxes. It pushes the envelope by delivering brilliant functionality that solves a number of products that other competing products had, and still have. The story behind the product raised a lot of eyebrows because it was announced at the same time when Apple removed the headphone jack from iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Apple believes in a wireless future, said Phil Schiller. The competition was already working on wireless headphones but none of them delivered functionality close to what AirPods did: seamless connectivity and rich sound thanks to the W1 chip, instant-on and off thanks to smart use of sensors, mics that work even in the noisiest of environments, surprisingly long battery life and amazing integration with all Apple devices. And they managed to include all these features in a beautiful and small package.
AirPods are a case-study in design
If you have seen Wall-E, one of Pixar’s best works, you would remember that it had a robot called Eve. When the movie was released, a lot of watchers claimed that if Apple designed a robot, it would look like Eve. As it turned out, Apple’s Jony Ive did have a hand in designing Eve. Clean lines, minimum use of sharp edges, sleek curves and a fascination with the white color have been ingrained as trademarks of Apple’s design. AirPod is no different and can instantly be recognized as the company’s product.
For someone unfamiliar with good design, it might seem like AirPods took the minimum amount of effort by the design team. Just cut the cables off EarPods and you have your wireless earbuds. But, it’s more than that.
Apple does not need just aluminum and glass to make a device look premium. They have tons of experience with making plastic look premium (just look up old iPods and Macs) and AirPod’s glossy plastic is no exception. AirPods also have the perfect weight, not too light, not too heavy. This makes it difficult for them to fall out of your ears, specially because there is no cable to pull them out. It is also impossible to put them in the wrong ears. Their shape is such that you will always put them in right.
The silver charging connectors look like a seamless part of design and not an ugly addition to the smooth white plastic. They surround the beam forming microphones which, in my opinion, are one of the best microphones I have used on any pair of headphones.
When you consider that design is how it works, not just how it looks, you realize the small nuances that make AirPods, AirPods.
- There is no power switch
- No play/pause buttons
- No volume buttons. Not my favorite bit but more on this later.
- Charging them is not a chore. You store them and they charge.
- Integration with iOS devices, macOS, Apple Watch and Apple TV. Switching is instantaneous.
How to use AirPods? Just use them
If you primarily use Apple devices, pairing AirPods is a one-time thing, unlike other Bluetooth headphones. You have to pop open the AirPods case in close proximity to your iPhone or iPad and a pop-up on your device will ask you to tap connect. Once you do, that’s it. For non-Apple products, you have to press the button on the case to pair them to your device. Next time, when you take out AirPods from their case, they will automatically connect to the last device you were using them with. To stop using them, just take them out of ear and music or podcast playback will pause on your connected device. Put them back in the case and they will start charging. You can even take out just one of them to use, similar to Bluetooth handsfree devices.
Switching between iOS devices and Apple Watch is completely automated. If you use a Mac, you have to click on the Bluetooth icon in the menu bar and go to Devices > AirPods and click connect. Alternatively, if you use iTunes, you can just change the output to AirPods and you are good to go. You don’t have to disconnect from one device first to switch them to another device.
To play or pause music, you can double tap AirPods to do so, or just take one of them our of your ear. You can configure play/pause, previous/next track and launch Siri actions to either the left or right AirPods. You can also configure individual actions tied to each device. For example, I don’t use Siri on my MacBook so I have setup play/pause and next track actions for left and right double-tap, respectively. With my iPhone, I often use Siri so I have setup the right double-tap to launch Siri. Unfortunately, you cannot set volume up/down actions. For that, you always need to launch Siri or just use the volume controls on your connected device.
This is where I have an issue with AirPods. For headphones, volume control is essential. When it comes to volume control, Apple has put form over function. It would have been great if Apple had included volume up/down actions as optional for right and left double-tap. While it’s sometimes convenient to ask Siri to change the volume, it is simply not an option when you are in a call.
People often ask me if they fall out. Luckily, during my usage so far, they have not fallen out even once. Whether it’s during cycling or running, they seem to be a good fit. Your mileage may vary. Don’t assume that if EarPods don’t fit you, AirPods won’t fit you either.
AirPods battery life – To infinity and beyond
I have yet to be in a situation where I could not use AirPods because they ran out of battery. AirPods provide 5 hours of battery life on full charge and 15 minutes of recharge gives 3 hours of battery. The case charges AirPods for more than 24 hours of additional usage time. It seems easy to say but when you look at the size of AirPods and its case, it’s absolutely crazy that they can provide more than 29 hours of battery life when fully charged.
If you use the battery widget in iOS, it shows battery life for connected Bluetooth devices. For AirPods, iOS shows the battery life of each individual AirPod as well as for the battery case. Even the Apple Watch shows AirPod battery life.
Loud and Clear
Before I ever used AirPods, I assumed that since they look like EarPods, they must sound like EarPods too. I could not have been more wrong. After listening to Frank Ocean, Eden, Daft Punk and Calvin Harris for a few weeks, I can say that the music output has a discernible rich quality to it. The bass is heavier, and the highs and lows are pretty clear. Compared to EarPods, they are a huge improvement for listening to music. They are not comparable to over ear headphones because of physical differences, but they provide wonderful music output for their size.
At the time of writing, no headphones exist that can beat AirPods at their price of $159. Comparable products have higher price but no matter you pay more or less, you do not get the benefits that AirPod’s W1 chip gives you. They either have connectivity issues, battery issues or both.
Whether you like them for the design, audio quality, connectivity or battery life, AirPods have the quality of ruining all other headphones for you.