Apple AirPods: The perfect commuter headset

I laughed at the white AirPods hanging from people's ears and made jokes about how they looked on Twitter. I judged too early, and they are actually perfect for my two-hour daily commute.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

Using Apple AirPods on a Sounder commuter train

I'm sorry. I made fun of all of you with Apple AirPods sticking out of your ears and thought Apple made a ridiculous accessory that would only price gouge consumers when there are other Bluetooth headsets available for much less.

It turns out they really are magic, and in some situations, they are absolutely perfect for iPhone users. Jason wrote in his ZDNet full review that the AirPods blew away the competition, but I still wasn't convinced.

I have several sets of Bluetooth wireless earbuds, primarily designed to accompany me on runs. I've used these during my daily commute as well. But, tired of having to deal with cables, finger gymnastics to insert them, and various charging attachments, I always ended up going back to wired headsets for my 90-minute round-trip train commute and 30+ minutes of walking.

iMore's Rene Ritchie posted a tweet link to Best Buy having AirPods in stock, so I ordered a pair and had them two days later. Apple still has a six-week estimated ship date for AirPods, so I was shocked I was able to get them so quickly through Best Buy.

After a week with the Apple AirPods, here's why I think they are perfect for the commuter:

  • Wireless: Just about everyone on my train carries at least one bag of some type, with many carrying multiple along with other things, such as umbrellas. It's annoying to deal with a cable leading down into your pocket or bag as you listen to music or podcasts. Having to deal with unraveling cables and then securing them in a pocket can also be annoying.
  • Volume: Most Bluetooth headsets I've tried in the past are just too quiet for my train commute, which is one reason I always went back to a wired solution. The AirPods have good volume. I can't even turn them all the way up during my commute.
  • Secure fit: Apple's wired EarPods fall out of my ears. The AirPods do not, even when I shake my head. I walk more than two miles during my commute through various terrain and the AirPods have never fallen out.
  • Convenience: Apple made the AirPods magical by eliminating the hassle of Bluetooth management. The AirPods simply connect when you remove them from the case, every single time. Pop them out, use them, and pop them back in the case at the end of the commute. Simple, quick, and easy.
  • Power: The AirPods easily last me through a full daily commute and with the carrying case also serving as a charger you should always have charged up AirPods. I am also very pleased that Apple uses a Lightning port to charge up the case. Many other Bluetooth headsets use microUSB, which is being replaced by USB Type-C, but neither of these standards are used to charge up an iPhone. There is something to be said of a single universal cable system.
  • Call quality: While phone calls may be rare today, they can still be important, and with most Bluetooth headsets I have tested, the recipient states I sound like I'm in a tunnel or something. The AirPods aren't perfect and people can tell you are on a headset, but the incoming call performance is nearly perfect, while the outgoing is higher than most every other headset I have tested.
  • Awareness: The Bluetooth headsets I typically use have foam or silicone ear tips that fit deep into the ear and block out nearly all external sound. This may be fine in the gym, but I walk through a few sketchy areas of the city and near moving trains so I like to still have some awareness of my surroundings. The AirPods fit well into my ear, but they don't block out all outside sound. I can also ride my bike with one AirPod in one ear and still have full awareness of cars and bikes around me.

After realizing how great the AirPods are for commuting, I was thinking of using them for running. While the AirPods never fall out on my commute, I know they would if I sweated, so I then saw that some companies, such as Earhoox, have the perfect solution. I almost bought some. However, there is no water- or sweat-resistant rating for the Apple AirPods, so I will continue to use Bluetooth headsets from Jaybird, Bose, and BlueAnt for running.

Hopefully, AirPods version 2.0 is launched with some level of water resistance so I can go running with them. Until then, I have no regrets paying nearly $200 (tax and shipping on top of the $159 price) for the perfect commuter headset.

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