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.