Apple AirPods Firmware Update

Apple recently released a firmware update for their AirPods wireless headphones. It was a silent update, meaning that in all likelihood, your AirPods have already updated and you didn’t even know or have to do anything. If you want to check to make sure that you’re running the latest version, here is what you have to do.

You can find your AirPods firmware version number buried in your iPhone’s General settings. First of all, make sure your AirPods are connected. Tap on Settings, and then tap on About at the top of the next page. If you scroll down this page and your AirPods are connected, you will see an entry labelled as “AirPods” with an arrowhead in the right side indicating a deeper page with more info. Tapping on this will present you with some info about your AirPods: Manufacturer (Apple Inc… duh!), Model Number, Serial Number, Firmware Version, and Hardware Version. As of this writing, they are up to version 3.5.1, which I believe was the first update to them. The other entries on this page are somewhat interesting, if you’re into that sort of thing. All Apple devices have a model number, and you can see here that AirPods are A1523. (Comparatively, here’s a list of all the iPhone, iPad, and iPod model numbers.) This screen also suggests that there will be minor hardware revisions produced before major new upgrades are introduced, based on how the Hardware Version number includes more than a single, whole number. In all likelihood, for something like a fix for a minor speaker issue, not bringing any new hardware or features, people with those models will probably have version 1.1.0 or something like that. For now, this early in the AirPods life cycle, we have version 1.0.0.

If, by any chance, your AirPods info indicates you are still on version 3.5.0 and it hasn’t updated yet, you can try to coax them… but not really. They automatically will update when both ear buds are in the charging case, and presumably, the case has sufficient charge to power the update. When I first checked, mine had not updated yet. But I just left them in their case and checked back in a while, and they were on 3.5.1. There’s nothing to do to force them to update.

As for what the update actually provides, there isn’t a lot of information about that. Some people have suggested that before the update, the charging case was draining too quickly while charging the AirPods, or it was reporting incorrect charge remaining. After the update, some feel this has been corrected. Some people have also suggested that it improves the quality of some calls, specifically FaceTime audio. Most likely, it only contains minor connectivity bug fixes. I assume that if there were any great new feature made available, Apple would let us know!

If you’ve updated and discovered that it has fixed a previous annoyance or problem, let me know in the comments!

My AirPods One Month Review

When Apple announced their AirPods wireless headphones, their eventual purchase was not an immediately obvious conclusion. After a lot of consideration, as I presented in my AirPods Decision blog post, I became much more confident that they were the headphone solution that I wanted. Having had my AirPods for more than a month now, I can happily say that I made the right decision. Here is my one month review of one of my favourite pieces of Apple tech.

I love everything about my AirPods. Well, almost everything… but I’ll get to that later. But first, let’s talk about the things that are great about them, which justify spending the money for these costly devices.

I’ll start with the obvious advantage that these headphones have over almost all others: they are truly wireless. They are virtually incomparable to anything else I’ve ever used. When I put them in my ears, I have complete freedom of motion. With traditional wired headphones, like the EarPods included with your iPhone, you have to plug into your phone, and it has to move with you. I’ve inadvertently pulled my iPhone off a table several times using those headphones, and a more serious repair at the Apple Store seemed to be an inevitability. Even if you keep your iPhone safely in your pocket, the wire snaking up to your ears is like a magnet to get caught on door knobs or any other thing that happens to intrude in your path, which causes either your EarPods to come flying out of your ears, or much more seriously, yanks your iPhone from its confines and drops it on the floor. With my AirPods, none of this is a concern. I can move around the house or office completely carefree and without worry of looping my cord on a drawer handle, or standing up abruptly and catapulting the phone. And I can do everything without ever missing a beat of the music.

Even if I compare my AirPods to other wireless Bluetooth headphones that have a wire connecting the two sides, they are still awesome. While those headphones also let me move around unrestricted, the connecting wire still has potential to stick to my neck or tangle in my shirt collar, which can provide just enough of a yank to loosen or free the earbud from my ear. Not a problem with AirPods.

What about the fit, you ask? Do the AirPods ever fall out of my ears? I can honestly say that they have never fallen out. Not once. I constantly move around with them, I exercise with them, I lie down with them. They have never once fallen out of my ears. They don’t hurt after prolonged usage either. I know that not everyone’s ears are the same shape, so I guess I could just be lucky. But I suspect that for most people, there isn’t going to be an issue of them falling out. I seriously believe that all the complaints of EarPods falling out of ears is because of the weight of the cord, constantly dangling and fighting the pull of gravity. With AirPods, they are so light and fit so right that it would take some pretty strong force to dislodge them from my ears inadvertently.

Next, let me talk about their battery and charging system. It’s fantastic too! Apple advises that you can expect about 5 hours of playing time from a fully charged AirPod. Then, you can pop it back in the charging case for a 15 minute quick charge to get another 3 hours of listening time. First of all, I rarely listen to anything for 5 hours at a time, so I can easily say that I have never run out of battery in these things. On top of that, whenever I am not listening to something, I immediately store the AirPods back in their charging case, which starts to charge them up again. The charging case is supposed to provide up to 24 hours of additional playing time. My feeling is that I don’t quite get this much charge out of them, but I’ve never listened so constantly or tried to count out just how much charge the case provides. On top of that, I feel that the case charges the AirPods more efficiently after recent firmware updates, and doesn’t lose as much charge itself to do it. I haven’t actually measured this either. For my uses, I am completely satisfied with the amount of charge that the AirPods themselves hold, and it takes virtually no effort to plug in and recharge the charging case at my desk once every few days, just to quickly boost it back up.

How about their use? Do they actually work as well as Apple says they do? Absolutely! They pair almost instantaneously when you open the charging case lid next to your iPhone. Then, once it has paired to your iCloud account, it is recognized by all your other iOS devices as well. It’s truly magical, when you consider the alternatives offered by nearly every other headphone out there. They also sound amazing; I think they sound even better than regular EarPods. The sounds just seem a bit richer, or the bass a bit deeper – not by a whole lot, and they certainly don’t compare to higher end listening headphones, but definitely good enough for me. The double tapping feature to activate Siri works very well, and Siri is arguable more responsive and better at understanding my voice than when I activate it on the iPhone itself. Probably because of the beam-forming microphones, and their proximity to my voice. But I can get Siri to work and understand me even when I’m speaking just louder than a whisper. After years of using Siri on my iPhone and iPad, and the frustration of it not triggering or understanding me correctly, AirPods make an amazing difference for this!

Controlling the AirPods is also super simple. Since Siri is so good at understanding me now, it is effortless to just ask for the volume to go up or down, or skipping or replaying songs, etc. I honestly don’t think that having physical buttons on the sides of the devices, as some people clamour for, is a good solution. It would add bulk, would be a physical point of wear, plus wouldn’t it be uncomfortable to push a button on something that is in your ear? Tapping for Siri is so easy! Any change in volume can also be controlled by your iPhone in the typical way, with the side volume buttons. And if you want to truly embrace wireless freedom, the AirPods also sync with your Apple Watch. So, I regularly play music on my iPhone, listen through my AirPods, and control playback and volume with the app on my Watch. It’s a fantastic system, and I don’t know if I’d ever want to go back!

I don’t think they look are dorky as some people make them out to be. I think the white colour of them is classic Apple, and they seriously just look like headphones without the wires. I’ve had jokes from friends saying that I look like I have Q-tips sticking out of my ears, but I pay no attention to them. Knowing the freedom that my AirPods give me, and then to walk by these same friends huddled over their phones with wraps of cord dragging papers around their desk and threatening to spill it all over, I’m the one that laughs in the end.

So, is there anything I don’t like about my AirPods? Well, there are two things…

For the first point, I don’t honestly know how much of a concern it actually is. AirPods are not marketed as being sweatproof, and I am scared to run or workout vigorously with them, for fear of sweat getting into them and short circuiting something inside, like I have done with countless EarPods over the years. However, they are incredibly well built, with seams barely visible. I suspect that sweat is not likely to get to the inside of these devices, but for the amount of money I paid for them (in Canadian dollars!), I am very hesitant to do something to them that has a chance of wrecking them. Maybe if I read enough stories about how they perform for other people using them like this, then perhaps I will start to run with them as well.

The second frustration I’ve had with them is with temporarily dropped connections. I usually am using them with my iPhone 6S, though also have them working with my iPad. These devices also have other Bluetooth accessories associated with them, so I don’t know if there is some kind of device confusion going on. Whatever it is, once in a while, the music will stop playing, and them I will get the “connection chime” to indicate that they are paired again. It doesn’t happen frequently, but when it does, it takes away a bit of the magic about them. That being said, I have never been unable to connect, and I am only ever a moment away from listening again.

So, that is my review of my AirPods after having them for more than a month now. I love these things! If I’m not actively using them, I usually have them in my pocket, charged and ready to use. They may be pricey, but with all the miniscule tech buried away inside, plus the incredible functionality of them, I think they are completely worth their price. You can buy $30 wireless Bluetooth headphones on Amazon, but you won’t get the tight integration with the rest of your devices, or the surprisingly good sound that come from these. I haven’t tried the new BeatsX wireless (connected) headphones, or any of the other W1 chip-containing headphones like the Powerbeats, and I’m sure that those headphones have their target audience, but for me and my listening requirements, I am completely satisfied with my AirPods!

The AirPods Decision – To Buy or Not To Buy

When Apple announced their new wireless earphones, the AirPods, I had mixed feelings about them. I initially thought that these things were really cool, but then had second thoughts after really considering if I wanted another costly gadget that functions similarly to things I have already. However, even though they are still not available, I have now decided that I am firmly on the side of wanting these new headphones. Here are my reasons why, and then some points that made it a more difficult decision that I first thought.

With the AirPods, you get the latest in wireless tech, and the latest tech is always cool to play with. With Apple’s custom W1 chip embedded inside each earphone, you’ve never had as much computer inside a set of headphones before! These smarts allow the AirPods to know if you are using only one or both earphones, and to smartly play sound as either mono or stereo appropriately. Optical sensors and motion accelerometers are included so that they can even tell when you take one out of an ear, and they will then switch from stereo down to mono sounds automatically. Put the seconds bud back in your ear, and you get switched back to stereo sounds just as easily. There are also beam-forming microphones and voice accelerometers in each AirPod , so that you can even talk very quietly and they will be able to focus on your voice and not any background sounds. And with just gentle taps, you can trigger Siri or answer a call on your iPhone. On top of all that, the W1 chip is smartly managing battery life, so that you can get the most use out of them on a charge. These tech features alone make AirPods smarter than any headphones I’ve ever owned.

The fact that AirPods are truly wireless, with no wires connecting the two earphones at all, is another of the reasons that make these so attractive to me. With traditional wired headphones, there is always a wire dangling from your head to your pocket or wherever you have your phone/device. This isn’t always a nuisance, but when it is, it really is. For example, how many times has your iPhone been on a desk or table, you’re listening to music through the bundled EarPods, and you suddenly get up without remembering that you have a wire connecting you to your phone. Next thing your know, your phone is tumbling to the floor, and if you’re really unlucky, you then have to make a trip to the Apple Store for some repairs. Or, you have your phone in your jacket pocket and the wires running up to your ears, and the extra length of wire catches on the door knob as you pass through the doorway, causing you to jump backwards to prevent your device from being pulled out of your pocket. AirPods clearly don’t have this wired connection, so they don’t have these problems.

Of course, these examples are specifically for wired headphones, but wireless Bluetooth headphones that have a cable connecting to the two earpieces also have some downfalls. I have some sport headphones in this style, and there are two things in particular that drive me crazy. The first is that if the cord running behind my head is too long, it can catch on a shirt or towel and tug the earphones right out of my ears. Also, while running, the cord bounces on the back of my neck, and this sound gets amplified into the earphones. So I end up hearing my music, but with the beat of my running cadence over top of it. Without a cable connecting the two AirPods, neither of these issues are present either.

Another great feature of the AirPods is their charging solution. A single charge can power an AirPod for up to 5 hours. That’s more that enough time for a typical use for me. In fact, this would probably be good enough for 2 or 3 typical listening sessions. But by putting them back in their charging case, they automatically start to recharge. They’ll have enough power to go for another 3 hours after only a 15 minute quick charge in the charging case. The charging case itself needs to be recharged periodically via a lightning cable, but a fully charged case can provide enough power to the AirPods to keep them going for 24 hours. Considering that when I am finished with listening to my AirPods, I would always put them right back in their case, that means that they would potentially never have a dead battery for me. All I have to do is remember to charge the case periodically. Too many times, I’ve picked up my current Bluetooth headphones, thinking that they were charged (they even report 40% charge sometimes), only to find that 10 minutes into a run, they are screaming “low battery” into my ear until they go silent completely moments later. This AirPod charging solution seems like it is going to be great!

The sheer convenience afforded by the smarts behind the W1 chip in the AirPods is a huge selling feature as well. Currently, with multiple devices in the house, I can have my Bluetooth headphones simultaneously connected to 2 or 3 of them. Anything more that those connected devices, and I have to go through the pairing process all over again. That then causes the original pairings to be lost, so the process has to get repeated over and over again. With the AirPods, once you open the charging case next to your iPhone for the first time, you will be asked if you want to pair them. Simply by tapping to agree with this, you pair with not only the iPhone, but with all the iOS devices connected to your iCloud account. You don’t so much as pair to a *device* as much as you pair to an *account*, which connects TO all of your devices. Beyond your iOS devices, the AirPods can connect as a traditional Bluetooth-connected device as well, which means you can pair it to your Apple TV or even your non-Apple devices. This is a much better solution that my current Bluetooth devices, and I will not miss the frustrations that come with pairing and repairing them!

The last point that I appreciate is the design of the AirPods. I know this is a contentious point, but I don’t think they look as bad or weird as some people make them out to be. They look exactly like traditional Apple EarPods headphones if their wires were cut off. They may look a bit odd or out of the ordinary, but I’m convinced that this impression is because there is nothing else like them. I’m sure that in time, as more people use them, they will seem more commonplace. This happened when Bluetooth headsets first came on to the market. If you saw someone walking around with a black thing sticking out of their ear, you thought they looked weird. But nowadays, everyone knows what it is and no ones pays it a second thought. It took a while to find acceptance, but it eventually happened. I think the same thing will happen with AirPods, and I don’t mind being one of the early adopter trendsetters. On top of that, I have never had a problem with the fit of EarPods. If AirPods fit my ears the same way, then that will be great. The only times that EarPods have ever fallen out of my ears has been when the cord tugged on them. But when I’m sitting at rest, they don’t hurt my ears, they sit comfortably, and I actually appreciate that they *aren’t* noise-cancelling or sound-isolating. While those techs are great in their own right, when I’m walking down the street, I would prefer to be able to hear the car horn or the police siren or the person on the trail announcing they’re about to pass me. As far as fit and design go, I am very pleased with EarPods, and if those are carried over to the AirPods, then I’m not going to have any problems at all.

Of course, there are some important points that have made me think a lot harder about my decision that I originally imagined. At $159 USD, or $219 in Canada (where I am), these are not a cheap gadget. This is a sizeable amount of money for something that essentially does the same thing as the free earphones included in the box with an iPhone, albeit with extra functionality. Furthermore, for that price, you get a first generation product. First gen products are always a bit risky. You basically are paying to be a first adopter, and to go along for the ride with the evolution of the product through its generations. The first gen product usually shows a lot of rough edges that get worked out in subsequent versions. In the case of the AirPods, one common complaint I’ve heard from early reviewers is that the lack of volume controls on the device itself is a bit of a nuisance. Sure, you can change the volume with Siri, or manually on your iPhone or iPad, or even more easily with your Apple Watch. But considering that the AirPods have motion accelerators and can respond to touch, it might make sense for future versions to have volume controls available through certain touch gestures right on the device – like a two finger tap and drag up or down. Early adopters fight through the growing pains, but if you wait until the device is “perfect,” you will never get one. Future generation models may also come in different colours, but for now, AirPods are limited to the traditional Apple headphone white. The tech itself may also become more refined, and therefore the design of the stems of the AirPods can become shorter and not look quite as odd as some people suggest. Evolving tech may also mean that wireless audio becomes more comparable to wired audio, as any audiophile will be quick to say you lose a lot of quality when you lose the wires. And finally, it does not sound like AirPods are sweatproof. I’ve killed several EarPods by running with them, especially ruining the button controls. I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable running with these expensive ear buds and risk sweating into them and wrecking them.

Despite these points that have made me seriously reconsider getting these, and for the reasons I’ve outlined earlier, I am very much looking forward to purchasing some AirPods as soon as they’re released. There are so many things about AirPods that are better than my current Bluetooth device, and I can’t wait to get a set and see how much better it makes my listening experiences.