It's been a couple of years since Apple released the first version of their wireless headphones, AirPods. The second version (not called 'AirPods 2' but 'New AirPods') look a lot like the first version but add a couple of incremental improvements.
What Is It?
Apple AirPods are a wireless headphone solution that use Bluetooth and Apple's iCloud service to make the pairing process completely seamless. Despite their unusual appearance - I think describing them as looking like doll-sized hairdryers is apt - they fit well and deliver great sound. But they're expensive and don't offer features I'd expect at this price range.
|Weight||Buds: 4g each, Case: 40g|
|Sensors||Dual beamforming microphones, Dual optical sensors, Motion-detecting accelerometer, Speech-detecting accelerometer|
|Battery and power||More than 24 hours listening time,7 up to 18 hours talk time with charging case, Up to 5 hours listening time, up to 3 hours talk time, 15 minutes in the case equals 3 hours listening time or up to 2 hours talk time (Apple claimed data)|
|Requirements||Phone, iPad, and iPod touch models with iOS 12.2 or later
Apple Watch models with watchOS 5.2 or later
Mac models with macOS Mojave 10.14.4 or later
Apple TV models with tvOS 12.2 or later
For the second version of the AirPods, Apple has added the long-awaited ability to wirelessly charge the headphones. This comes in the form of a new case that looks like the old one but supports the Qi standard. The good news is that the new case is available separately so you can "upgrade" your old AirPods if wireless charging is a big deal for you.
With headphones, there are two key criteria that I think are critical; sound quality and comfort. The AirPods delver on both counts.
I started by connecting the AirPods to an iPhone XS. As soon as I opened the case with the AIrPods, my phone recognised the new devices and connected them without any messing about. What I really liked was that when I wanted to use the AirPods with an Apple Watch, iPad and Mac, as well the devices were connected through a single iCloud account, the headphones were automatically added as paired devices without the need to reinitiate pairing.
I used the AirPods to listen to music in the gym, both whiles doing a strength training session, while skipping rope and during a hard treadmill program. I've used several other wireless headphone solutions and I was sceptical that the AirPods would stay in my ears without any special fittings or customising. But the AirPods stayed in without any problem.
Sound quality was excellent. I really dislike the trend towards heavy bass that many headphones and speakers seem to think is necessary. The AirPods delivered clean sound. I listened to lots of different music and several podcasts.
Similarly, I used the AirPods for many phone calls. Everything was great at my end and the folks on the line said I was coming through loud and clear.
Battery life was good without being spectacular. Based one my use of taking some calls and listening to music and podcasts, I was able to get about six hours of use between charges. A quarter hour in the case gives you about 75% capacity and there case is good for four full charges.
Apple's big technical improvement for the AirPods comes from the new Apple H1 chip. Apple is investing significantly in creating their own silicon, presumably to allow themselves to eventually remove their dependence on third-party suppliers, so we can expect more of these sorts of announcements as the company adds their own custom chips to the hardware they design and make.
Apple says the new H1 processor boosts performance of the AirPods making is faster to pair and to switch between devices. It also enables "Hey Siri" support on the AirPods.
Noise cancellation: They lack active noise cancellation. That takes battery power the New AirPods don't have. I tried to use them for a flight between Melbourne and San Francisco. I found myself going back to my trusty Bose buds with active noise cancellation to dull the aircraft drone.
Battery lifeOne of my friends had a pair of the original AirPods and upgraded instantly. I asked him why as the new AIrPods, while an improvement in some ways, don't look like a massive leap forward. He's a heavy user and has them in his ears for up to six hours each day for conference calls. After two years of heavy use, he said talk time was down to 40 minutes as the batteries had suffered from so much wear.
iFixit, in its AirPods 2 teardown notes that each bud has the same tiny 93 milliwatt battery and that the case hasn't added any extra juice. In other words, it looks like the New AirPods have an operating life of about two years after which battery life is an issue.
Environment: There's no way the batteries can be replaced meaning we'll be seeing these being compacted into the landfill of the future if Pixar ever makes a sequel to Wall-E.
Should You Buy It
- AirPods with wireless charging case: $319
- AirPods with charging case: $249
- Wireless charging case: $129
There's no way around it - these are very expensive headphones. Apple is charging a $70 premium on wireless charging. If you already have an older set of AirPods, you can buy the wireless charging case separately.
Of all the wireless headphones I've tested, these are easily the best when it comes to sound quality and comfort. The pairing process is easy and ability to use them with multiple devices seamlessly is something I haven't seen in any other Bluetooth accessory before. But the lack of active noise cancellation and concerns about their longevity makes them hard to recommend.
If you're firmly ensconced in the Apple ecosystem, then it's likely you'll be happy them - at least for a couple of years. But there are other less expensive options that offer comparable sound quality at a lower price.