Let me get this out of the way: Apple’s AirPods are good. They pair seamlessly, sound at least as good as their wired equivalents, and are fun to use. From what I’ve read, no other company offers truly wireless earbuds anywhere near as good as these. And “truly wireless” matters; I love that I don’t snag my headphones on every doorknob. It’s nice that I don’t have to snake a cable through my many layers when prepping for a cold-weather run.
But I have my quibbles:
Control issues. Nerds have fretted about the AirPods’ lack of playback / volume controls since Apple’s initial announcement back in September. After ten days using them, it’s clear to me: using Siri for this is annoying. Two examples:
First, skipping podcast ads with the AirPods is a chore. I can command Siri to jump ahead two minutes, but playback does not restart automatically afterwards. I then have to invoke Siri again and say “Play.” In other words, it takes two separate double-tap gestures, two spoken phrases, and at least ten seconds to complete this simple task. With the wired EarPods, accomplishing the same thing took literally two seconds.
Second, this shouldn’t happen:
Yes, I have a “Ray” in my address book. But Siri has to get smarter than that.
- If you own an Apple Watch, you can control playback and volume there instead of via Siri. But that has its own challenges; Apple has made it difficult to get at the “Now Playing” screen from inside other Watch apps—especially if you’re on the move. You must tap the side button and scroll to the “Now Playing” view before you can skip around or adjust the volume. Again, this is a downgrade compared to the wired earbuds, where the process was simple: tap, tap, done.
- The “double-tap-for-Siri” gesture isn’t as reliable as I had hoped. One morning, I repeated the invocation three times before Siri chirped up. Another day, while out running, Siri wouldn’t respond no matter how hard I tapped. Only re-pairing the AirPods fixed the issue and enabled the double-tap gesture again.
- When listening to the Airpods, I find myself unsure what to do with the sleek little AirPod carrying case. Should it live in my pocket? In my bag? What about when I’m running—should the case come with me? With the wired EarPods, the device was a single, connected unit and thus easier to keep track of. Now, I have three separate dinguses to track, and I’m just not sure how to do it efficiently.
- Relatedly, I spent over an hour the other night hunting for the AirPods case. The smooth little pebble had slid out of my pocket while I was sitting and fallen onto the floor. The old EarPods, by virtue of being a rubbery tangle of wires, never did this. I wish the AirPods case were less glossy and more grippy.
- AirPods owners have noticed that the case seems to lose charge constantly—even after the earbuds have been topped off. I’ve seen this, too. Regardless of how much (or little) I use them, the AirPods case needs a recharge at least every two days.
- The AirPods’ sound quality is decent—at least as good as the stock earbuds that came with my iPhone. But they do produce some noticeable low-level static—a buzzing whine that I can hear distinctly in a quiet room. It’s not enough to bother me, but I’m aware of it when the environment around me is silent.
Again, AirPods are delightful in many ways. They’re an impressive technological achievement. But in introducing new conveniences, Apple has also eliminated some familiar, critical benefits of the old tech. This give-and-take makes me hesitate to recommend the AirPods. For $160, your experience will be both better and worse than using the free EarPods that came with your iPhone.
But as a proof-of-concept, the AirPods’ potential is clear. If Apple can pare down the price and sand off the rough edges—particularly by adding physical playback and volume controls—AirPods v2 would be a no-brainer purchase for many iPhone owners.