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Apple AirPods Review: Completely wireless earbuds that blow the competition away

Written by Jason Cipriani on

Apple AirPods

$106.97 at Amazon
  • Simple setup
  • Battery life
  • Excellent Range
  • Don't easily fall out.
  • Siri can be frustrating
  • Need more control gestures.
  • Editors' Review
  • Specs

If you pay attention to the narrative following every Apple product announcement, it's loaded with disappointment and declarations that Apple has lost the innovative touch to create a "magical" experience consumers have come to expect from the company.

Some of the complaints are warranted, such as those about the TouchBar on the new MacBook Pro. It's useful, sure, but it's nowhere near as profound as the Apple commercial comparing the TouchBar to discoveries that helped shape the way we look at the world makes it out to be.

However, after using Apple's AirPods for over a week, it's clear Apple still has it.

How Bluetooth should be

Apple AirPods' battery status is automatically shown on a paired iPhone when the case is opened.

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

AirPods were first announced in September, alongside the iPhone 7. The AirPods are equipped with a new chip Apple developed, aimed solely at eliminating Bluetooth pain points such as pairing, distance, and battery life. Originally slated for release in late October, Apple had to delay the release. It's still unclear what caused the delay.

Shortly after the keynote and experiencing a brief hands-on demo of the AirPods, I wrote "Apple not only got rid of the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, but the company is in the process of killing Bluetooth."

Looking back, I was wrong. I should have said killing Bluetooth as we know it. AirPods still use Bluetooth, but in tandem with the W1 chip -- that's where Apple's magic takes over.

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For example, pairing AirPods to your iPhone is a three-second task. That's not hubris on my part. (You can view a GIF of the entire process here.)

After unboxing the AirPods, with your iPhone unlocked and at the ready, you open the lid of the charging case. A second later, a popup displays on your phone asking if you want to connect to the AirPods. Tap Connect and you're done.

Not only are the AirPods now connected to your iPhone, but they're also paired to every Apple device you are signed into with the same iCloud account.

Meaning you don't have to sit down in front of your Mac, go through the pairing process again, then again on your iPad, and again on your Apple Watch. You only need to select the AirPods as a listening device.

Apple AirPods charging case.

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Furthermore, Apple designed AirPods so that you can switch between devices with a tap or click, instead of the frustrating experience of disconnecting a Bluetooth device from your iPhone just so you can connect it to your Mac.

When using AirPods I was able to walk around both levels of my home with zero stuttering or interference while listening to music, something I had yet to find a single Bluetooth headset to allow for.

Apple estimates five hours of listening battery life, and my experience has been right in line with that claim. As an added bonus, the charging case tops-up the AirPods rather fast. Fifteen minutes of charge time gets you three hours of listening time.

I took several calls, including an hour long conference call, wearing AirPods and the call quality was just fine. I could hear participants, and was told I sounded just fine.

Apple has once again set the bar for its competitors, and after using the likes of Samsung's Gear IconX, it's clear no one can even come close right now.

Fit and sound quality

AirPods fit well in my ears, despite discomfort when wearing the standard EarPods.

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The fear of losing AirPods is a legitimate concern, especially at a cost of $69 for a replacement. They are small, and lack any sort of wire attaching them to one another, making them easy to lose -- in theory.

Despite all attempts of running around the house, going up and down stairs, head banging (my neck still hurts), not once did the AirPods fall out of my ears.

This won't be the case for everyone, of course, but as someone who never liked the way Apple's EarPods (the earbuds included with every iPhone) fit I was surprised the AirPods fit as well as they do.

Not only do they fit, but they're very comfortable. I was able to go a full work day wearing AirPods (save for a quick break to recharge) without any discomfort.

I'm no audiophile, but I found the AirPods to offer clear and crisp sound. They're not the best sounding headphones or earbuds I've used, but are good enough for my liking.

Not to mention when you have both AirPods in, noise from the outside world is all but turned off.

Siri as a control

The charging case uses a Lightning connector to charge.

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Despite high praises for AirPods thus far, they aren't perfect.

The biggest frustration point right now for AirPods is controlling music playback, which is done entirely through Siri.

When using AirPods, you can double tap on either pod to activate Siri on a connected device, be it an iPhone or Mac. This is the lone gesture the AirPods are currently capable of, meaning if you want to change volume or skip a track you have two options: activate Siri, pausing your music and waiting for Siri to process your request, or pick up your phone and change it manually.

Neither solution is ideal. I would love to see Apple add more tap gestures to AirPods through software updates, starting with triple-tap to skip the current track.

You can change the double-tap action to play/pause or turn your AirPods off, but more actions are needed.

Not to mention, Siri is all but useless without an internet connection.

Should you buy AirPods?

The charging case looks more like a dental floss container.

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

At $159, AirPods aren't cheap. And with a current estimated ship date reaching well into February, you have some time to make a final decision even if you order them now. Apple doesn't charge you until the order is actually shipping.

That said, I think AirPods are one of the best Apple products to ship in the last few years. The entire experience, from start to finish, screams Apple. The company took an existing product made by a lot of different companies, from Motorola to Samsung to Jabra and vastly improved the experience.

$159 is a lot to pay for wireless earbuds, but as of this writing there's no other company that can come close to providing the same experience Apple does with AirPods.

Despite what critics are saying, it seems Apple hasn't lost its mojo -- at least not entirely.


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