Apple’s AirPods are — without a doubt — one of my favorite tech products of all time. But Apple, like basically every company on the planet, uses some hyperbole to advertise features. This AirPods review and fact check will help you cut through the hype and claims to find the truth.
Apple’s big headline for promoting AirPods reads: Wireless. Effortless. Magical. Okay, well the wireless bit is obviously true (and something I’ve fallen in love with) but effortless? And magical?
If by effortless you mean “achieved with admirable ease” (as Google puts it) then ya, that’s mostly true (although I did run into a few hiccups which I’ll mention shortly).
Magical… hmm. I was completely prepared to catch Apple red-handed for using a ridiculous word which no tech company should really be allowed to use as part of a marketing campaign or product description. I mean — clearly — these aren’t supernatural or paranormal. But they are, as the dictionary says, “delightful in such a way as to seem removed from everyday life”. In that sense AirPods definitely earn the right to be called magical. I’m as surprised as you are. If things like this surprise in you in my AirPods review, I think you’ll be even more (pleasantly) surprised when you pop them in your ears in real life.
Apple touts a one-tap setup for AirPods and that’s real and awesome in practice (at least when pairing with an iPhone, as you’d probably expect). But I did run into an annoying bug when I first tried to pair my AirPods with my iPhone. It took about 20 or so tries to get the setup screen to appear (not sure why). Suddenly it popped up, I successfully paired and it’s been a perfectly solid connection ever since. If I had to guess this isn’t a widespread issue (just a guess though).
According to Apple using AirPods is just as easy as setting them up. For me the answer is both yes and no to this. On the one hand it’s very easy to stick AirPods in your ears and start listening to music. On the other hand it’s at least a minor annoyance (maybe more) to adjust volume using Siri since there aren’t any dedicated volume buttons or touch/swipe gestures. In any case I would say the utter design simplicity “presents few difficulties.”
AirPods are supposed to get 5 hours of battery life per charge. That’s inaccurate… actually they get slightly more! For the battery to last for 5 hours you’d be looking for a drop of about 20% in power every hour and after 5 hours I still had 12% left which gave me about 25 extra minutes of listening.
Apple also claims a quick 15 minutes charge will give you 3 hours of battery life. I actually got closer to 4 in that amount of time!
In regard to the claim that there’s 24 hours worth of charging in the case, that’s true too.
No AirPods review would be complete without mention the sound which just so happens to be one area where Apple was super-ambiguous. At the very least there was a lot of exaggeration, at least without further clarification, in Apple’s description of the sound: clearly superior sound. My question is: clearly superior to… what? Here’s the thing: AirPods might sound slightly better than the wired EarPods — emphasis on slightly and might — but they absolutely don’t sound better than most headphones that cost the same price (and even some that cost a lot less). Now AirPods definitely sound good enough to enjoy but without some clarification this statement is either a major exaggeration or an outright lie.
Apple says your voice should sound clear when you speak into AirPods. To test this I called several people and they all noticed a difference vs me talking directly into phone. Like my brother said, “The difference wasn’t hugely dramatic but it was noticeable.” Two people even used the exact same language saying it sounded like I was talking into a tin can. So a person talking into AirPods sounds clear enough to understand but it’s not the clearest method of talking to someone on the phone. To be fair, though, I’ve never encountered a Bluetooth headset that sounded great.
According to Apple’s AirPods website talking to your favorite personal assistant is a cinch. The implication is that Siri is everyone’s favorite personal assistant which I take issue with because Siri isn’t my favorite by a long shot — it’s just not very capable compared to other AI assistants like Alexa and Cortana at the moment.
Also, I think there’s some sleight of hand from Apple here: clearly it’s easy enough to activate Siri with a double tap but Siri isn’t a cinch to use for many basic tasks. For instance when I asked Siri to repeat the last song it instead turned on repeat for the song that was currently playing. It’s these types of frustrations that make me dislike Siri (which I want to love, by the way).
Do AirPods instantly connect as soon as you put them in your ear as Apple says? Sometimes it’s instant, usually it’s close to instant and one time it took well over 10 seconds.
Auto pause and play does work really well every single time for me, though, just as Apple says it should. When I take an AirPod out of my ear it pauses my music and when I put it back in it resumes — and it even works to pause and play YouTube videos! Cool.
And yes, you can use just one AirPod at a time. I like doing that, in fact, and it works really well.
One feature Apple seems to proudly present is seamless switching. Switching between listening to an iPhone and an Apple Watch is pretty seamless but switching between listening to an iPhone and a Mac requires some manual selection. So is the process “smooth and continuous without and gaps or spaces”? Kinda. Mostly. It’s definitely not hard.
Apple says the AirPods experience is just as amazing whether you’re listening to your iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad, or Mac. I’d say ya it is “startlingly impressive” for the most part.
I knew doing an AirPods review was going to be fun. But I figured I’d sell em when I was done like I usually do when I’m done testing a product. But when it came time to sell I balked. I love these and they’re not going anywhere.