I had been milling around thinking about buying wireless bluetooth earbuds for a while now, and had my set heart on jaybirds as it sat on my amazon wishlist for over a year. But in the end, the Apple Airpods won me over in the very last minute, literally photo finish style, and here’s why;
And feel free to skip to the end if you want a TL;DR version this is an in depth review…
Whats Your Fad?
When it comes to reviews, I think a lot of places make huge mistakes with trying to categorise everyone into the same column. When you do this, it means that you are looking for the absolute best of something that for fills all categories for all people.
Its super important to distinguish what you know is important to you, and then find the best product for those needs. That’s why there are so many varieties of products out there that all sell well.
A classic case of finding the “best” product would be Android vs Apple phones. Whilst for one person customisation and fast battery charging may be important to one customer, for another having something easy to use and setup with less hassle with the backup of genius bar might be more appealing to a less tech savvy customer. There is no overall best.
So here’s the categories that are important to me;
- My War Against Wires— Must be wireless. Still blows my mind how we can have data travel through the air to our laptops and yet in 2018 we still use wires all over the place.
- EZ Setup and Usage — Must be easy to use and no lengthy nightmare pairings and disconnects please!
- Portable and Light —Would love it if it could fit in a pocket. Don’t want a big bulky thing in my bag.
- Charge Em Up! — must be easy and please, not more extra wires.
- Mic - Bonus, but not required necessarily!
Notice that there are some major things that aren’t that important to me, but I can imagine that it would be for others;
- Sound quality being a huge requirement for others, but I personally don’t really care about it that much. I just want something that is able to play videos/music on my phone whilst I commute to work.
- Battery life can also be a do or die category for others. But I find that there is a group of people that choose not to charge their appliances every night when they go to bed, because of the argument that it wears down the battery of the product. Whilst this is somewhat true, I find that with products having warranties they can easily be replaced, and I would much prefer having a well charged appliance over saving its lifespan by a few months.
- Robustness is an important category to consider, if you know that you are a rather clumsy person and are prone to dropping /losing things all the time. I’m quite reserved so I hardly ever lose things and my phone is nearly always in my pocket so I never drop it, I don’t even have a case on it.
Answering The Most Common Question About Airpods;
I will now devote this section to answering the most common question about Apple Airpods (Drumroll please….)
Q. Does it fall out of your ears?
A. No. It is securely there.
There. Done. Right, moving on…
When it comes to designs there are 3 types that I’ve noticed;
Earmuff style headsets — Great sound quality Bose or Seinniser headsets are truly wireless, but rather bulky and no microphone for calls. Also pretty expensive.
Earbud with neck wires — These sort of solve the problem of losing separate earbuds my basically connecting them with a wire that hangs on your neck.
Separate Earbuds with case — There are some other designs that have done this too, but none as small and lightweight as Apple’s. Just don’t lose the case!
My initial beef with the Airpods was that it was ugly and looked strange. Ugly in the fact that they looked exactly like the Apple wired airpods but slightly longer. It just seems that Apple just doesn’t seem to want to take risks by changing their designs that much these days.
However, after a while when I saw more people with them, and then looked around to see the other designs that were around it actually didn’t seem that bad comparatively.
Another reason I chose them was that they were “true” wireless. The Jaybirds had raving reviews but I did wonder about the fact that it still have a neck strap wire, and man am I done with wires.
The design is simple and pretty basic, nothing really to rave on about. But when you consider the extra features that it contains, from gestures, microphone, the bluetooth connection and the way it charges, it does seem impressive the amount of technology they had fit into it. It might just be Apple’s most expensive product per square mm.
Making its Case for Charging Differently… Literally
Having a charging case for the airpods is really going against the norm compared to its competitors. With the case, it tackles two problems — A place to put the separate airpods as to not lose them, and also allows a more portable way of charging them.
The airpods ‘click’ in magnetically, and the case lid opens and closes with that satisfying noise too. Opening the lid close to the iphone brings up the pairing image on the phone and then it is paired!
Alternatively you can use mission control, go to music and hard tap to see whether it is paired or not. Pairing is super easy, and reliable. You will hear a nice futuristic sound when its successful. I’ve also managed to switch from iPhone to my laptop bluetooth with ease too. I’ve also heard that its not bad with Android phones as well.
Airpod Gesturing Tappy Tap!
One of the benefits of having its own W1 Chip in there is that it allows so much more potential.
‘Gestures’ are available for some wireless commands. I think by default tapping twice brings up Siri… shame that Siri isn’t that good.
Point being thought that these can be customised, and also set to different sides too. So right now I have my left double tap be skip track forward, double tap right side call up Siri, and single tap is to stop the music. You can customise your choices in settings/bluetooth/apple airpods once you pair them.
One negative though is that there is no volume control gesture at the moment, which is quite disappointing as most of the neck wired bluetooth earbuds have it, usually by using a physical dial or slider. Surely Apple can think of a way of gesturing that? Maybe a ‘long tap’ or ‘force tap’?
There are sensors on each airpod that can detect when its in your ear or not. Taking one out will stop the music automatically. It will also turn itself off when unused for a while.
A deal setter for me was the fact that it has a working microphone. For something so small, with so many features on there already, its impressive that they have a microphone as well.
The feedback I get from the receiver is that the sound quality is pretty good. I mean considering the mic is so far away from your mouth, that’s a feat. I do wonder if it has something to do with the way sound travels like in whispering galleries, but I’m not sure.
But there’s no doubt that having wireless airpods for phone calls makes it so much more convenient. You don’t even have to be that close to your phone, and you can keep multi-tasking other things whilst chatting away.
As a mini experiment I wanted to see if it was possible to link it up to my PC and do some gaming with it. I dreamt a dream of a wire-free gaming experience!
Since my ancient 2010 PC didn’t have bluetooth on it already (or did I take it out for some reason?), I bought myself a usb bluetooth dongle. Installing was a little confusing, as I needed to google the driver but eventually I managed to get it working.
It definitely took some tweaking, and once paired I had to set my Windows sound to Airpod as well which is pretty annoying, but it was totally worth it!
Interestingly, it was also possible to use the microphone too, but I found that because it was going through one channel, it took away from the audio and my friend said that the mic sound was terrible.
Still, great success! I was happily playing overwatch without wires going all over the place. Now just to have a plan for all the other millions of wires connected to my PC…
Support As Per Usual
Apple has built up its brand with its appeal to non techhies with friendly no-question-is-a-stupid-question genius bar helpers. So of course, with this product you get all the perks of prodding them if there’s a problem.
However, its one year warranty only covers defective battery case, and other things such as loss will still cost ya. If you lose one airpod, it’ll be half the original price to get another one!
Battery life is shown on the phone when paired, and you can see it on the notification screen with all your other widgets. This shows the battery life of the case, and each airpod separately. This is especially useful for those who use the ‘life hack’ of only using one airpod at a time, whilst the other one is charging.
The airpods are also supported by the totally inappropriately named ‘Find My iPhone’ app. Just like your other products, like laptops and ipads, this badly named app will also add the airpods to the list as well.
This is super useful of course if you have no idea where they are, but it probably wont zoom in enough to help you realise its stuck in between your couch cushions. This could be a huge plus for those who feel like they lose things, it will save you a lot of money.
Steve Jobs Understood Hype
I rewatched the launch of the airpods and what was apparent to me was that post Steve Jobs, they just don’t know how to create hype, and what to emphasise.
Products of great importance always had a great introduction, then a video, then a live demo. Here there was no demo and the whole presentation lasted 5 mins. Oh, and not just that, but they also used that time to promote Beats headsets as well, for some weird reason?
I could totally have imagined Steve Jobs coming on stage, wearing the wired earbuds, and then suddenly dramatically the wires drop and the new airpods are revealed! Then a video, and then a live demo showing how easy it is to pair, how it doesn’t fall out, showing the gestures and the charging case.
There is a lot of hate towards Apple moving towards removing the headphone jack from their products, and this was meant to be the counter argument. A convenient wire-free solution to not needing wires anymore. An expensive one, but a solution none the less.
A five minute presentation on a product that their “Engineers had been working on for years”, which just didn’t give it justice and in the end misinformed a lot of potential customers from wanting this product.
As a major Apple user, this definitely happened with me. I heard about the airpods, but didn’t really know about the extra features and basically just thought that it was some overpriced overrated product that wasn’t that important. For its time in the limelight was so small, it just didn’t give out the hype that Steve Jobs created so well when making revolutionary releases.
Overall Final Thoughts TL;DR
DO BUY if you want a lightweight, truly wireless, easy to use and a mic.
DON’T BUY if you are all about sound quality, and/or tend to misplace things a lot, and don’t like to charge things every night. Bose/Sennheiser headphones might be a better option.
Overall I’m very impressed. I look forward to the next model and I hope that they present it in a better light. It is an expensive product at £159, but comparing the price of headphones these days and considering all the extra technology and extra features that are provided it might be worth it. Just make sure you keep these things on a leash and don’t lose em!