The AirPods look stupid. There, I said it. They look like someone played a prank on you by snapping off the wires from your pair of EarPods that come with the iPhone, and the stalks just hanging out from the ears are a bit disturbing to look at. The design just feels wrong and incomplete. It’s as if the first generation AirPods are prototypes, where engineers are still using the casing from the EarPods to hide the real thing — ones that reside discreetly in your ear.
But if you get over the design and looks, you can get a sneak peek at Apple’s wireless world of the future and it is almost magical. One where Apple wants to rewrite the rules. Where wireless does not have to be complicated or a compromising affair. The AirPods mark the beginning of Apple’s quest to make cords redundant.
So what’s the big deal?
Over the last decade I have used a number of Bluetooth headsets but I have never managed to stick to one for long. The thing about most Bluetooth headsets is that they are far too cumbersome to use for the benefit they offer — a wireless, hands-free audio experience. Most of them are painful to pair, need to be charged every day and don’t even provide a satisfying user experience.
Apple thinks it can change all of that with the AirPods that come equipped with so much tech that sounds impossible to fit into such a tiny footprint. The earphones come with Apple’s proprietary W1 chip that the company claims improves wireless connectivity and battery performance (more on that shortly).
Each earphone comes with optical sensors and accelerometers, which enables the connected device to know whether you have both the earphones in your ear or just one, and which one it is, so it can transmit audio automatically and seamlessly. The AirPods have some AI chops too, such as double-tapping either one to activate Siri. You can ask questions or give it commands to change the track or fiddle with audio.
The AirPods are the smartest wireless (or for that matter, wired) earphones I have ever used. But how do they perform? Let’s find out.
Apple AirPods Performance
The magic starts from the first time you pop the AirPods out from their storage case, which also doubles up as a charging case with a built-in battery. Open the case near your iPhone and it will automatically detect the AirPods and ask whether you’d like to connect to it. Press the option to connect and you are done! Yeah, there’s no complicated pairing process or the need to press any buttons or pin codes. What’s more, the AirPods are now not just paired with your iPhone but any other device — Apple Watch, iPad or MacBook — where you have signed up with your iCloud account.
If you use the EarPods that came with your iPhone, you’d know exactly what to expect with the AirPods. These too are made of hard plastic casing with no ear tips to try and see which fits well. Apple believes one design will fit all ears and thankfully, it did fit well in my ears. Having said that, I have seen some others complain about them falling off. I have used the AirPods while running, walking, sitting and even once when I dozed off on a flight, and they remained in place. In fact, for me the experience is better than that of the EarPods because there is no wire dragging them down. Yes, it takes time getting used to and my ears did hurt initially if I wore them for more than a couple of hours at a stretch, but a month later, I don’t feel any discomfort.
Like most Apple products, the AirPods are foolproof, in the sense that there are very few controls. Just two, in fact, double tap around the stalk of either AirPod to invoke Siri or single tap when a call comes to accept it. Whether the lack of controls is good or bad depends on how often you use Siri because that’s how you’d control most of the settings. I, for one, haven’t used Siri for anything more than setting alarms and reminders (and I use two iPhones on a daily basis), and I found myself reaching out for the phone for everything from changing volume settings to making calls. This, to some extent, mars the hands-free experience.
Having said that, the AirPods are smarter than your average Bluetooth earphones. Thanks to optical sensors and accelerometers, your device knows exactly when you take off any AirPod from your ear. If you were listening to music, the act of removing both earphones would pause the playback immediately. What’s more, the software automatically knows when you are using just one AirPod and in which ear, and it transmits the audio accordingly. The ability to decide on the fly whether the output needs to be in mono or stereo is simply brilliant.
Like I said, I have been using the AirPods for over a month now and the experience has been pretty impressive. Once you get used to it there is no going back, irrespective of the looks people give you when you walk past them.
The AirPods delivered good in-call quality, though there is a noticeable drop when compared to the phone’s earpiece. Mostly people on the other side could not figure out that I was speaking to them over a pair of Bluetooth earphones. There were a couple of instances people did ask me if I was on a speakerphone but those were a rarity. If you are an audiophile, who invests in high quality headphones for music, the AirPods won’t cut it for you. The audio quality is just marginally better than the EarPods when it comes to music playback.
What impressed me the most is the battery performance. On their own, the AirPods easily lasted me about a working day’s worth of usage. Charged to 100 percent, they lasted me from 8AM to about 6PM daily, which included about two hours of music playback and an hour’s worth of calls. I would simply pop them back into the case and take them out while leaving for work the next day. With the case battery included, I could go on from Monday to Friday on a single charging of the case, and that’s phenomenal.
Are the AirPods worth buying?
Are the AirPods revolutionary? Absolutely. Are they necessary? Probably not. Priced at Rs 15,400, the AirPods are not affordable by any stretch of imagination. For that sort of money, you can easily buy some pretty good cans that sound better than the AirPods. So if it is a question of affordability, the AirPods won’t make sense.
But if you are an iPhone user looking for the smartest pair of Bluetooth earphones to take calls and go about your day, the AirPods have no competition. And once you get used to them, there is no going back. So if you can spend that kind of dough, or are a fanboy who must own everything Apple, you should.