2016 hasn’t been much of a year for Apple. The company’s biggest product announcement was the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar – which reviews are calling it more of a gimmick with inconsistent battery performance. Its long awaited iPhone update was a similar looking iPhone 7 with incremental improvements. More importantly, Apple took the “courageous” move of removing the 3.5mm audio jack – leaving iPhone users the option of switching to Bluetooth audio or make do with an additional 3.5mm to lightning adapter.
To help ease the transition and support its push for wireless audio, Apple also introduced the company’s first true wireless earphones – the AirPods. The AirPods look identical to the EarPods without the cables and now with wider stem. While it was introduced with the iPhone 7 in September, the AirPods were originally set to launch in late October but were further delayed till late December. Apple cited the need to ship a product only when it’s ready and the incredible pre-order demand as reasons for the delay.
The AirPods come in Apple’s iconic white box and includes the wireless AirPods earphones, a charging case and a lightning to USB cable. The earphones and case are charged and works right out of the box.
Connecting to your iPhone
One component of the AirPods that makes it magical is the custom-designed Apple W1 chip. Apple says that the W1 chip is super efficient to give it a 5-hour battery life with better wireless connection and improved audio. The W1 chip also allows you to pair the AirPods to your iPhone almost instantly and the optical sensors and motion accelerometers work with the it to automatically control the audio and voice functions.
With the W1 chip in the AirPods, pairing to an iPhone is super easy. Simply unlock your iPhone and open the charging case beside it and wait for a prompt to appear and voila! Your AirPods are paired. One really neat feature of the AirPods is that if you’re signed in with your Apple ID, your earphones are set up automatically on devices that are signed in with the same ID.
Connecting to other devices
Even though the AirPods are made specially for the iPhone, it will work with most Bluetooth devices. Ensure your AirPods are in the case and open the lid. Press and hold the setup button on the back of the case till the white status light flashes. In the device’s Bluetooth settings, search for the AirPods and select it to pair.
Design and comfort
True wireless earphones aren’t new. The Earin was previously reviewed on this blog and you might have also heard of the Bragi earphones from Kickstarter or seen the Erato Apollo 7 in stores. While most true wireless earphones in the market are in-ears and fit discreetly in your ear canals, the AirPods stick out of your ears like traditional earphones – with their wires cut off. It took some time to feel less self-conscious about wearing the earphones because even i myself have to admit that the design does look a little silly when worn. But since technically you can’t see the earphones once they are in your ears, it’s out of sight, out of mind right?
Honestly, everyone who saw the charging case was pleasantly surprised at how small it is. When placed in the case, the AirPods get up to 24 hours of listening time (or roughly about 5 full charges) and 11 hours of talk time. There is also a fast charge feature built-in which provides 3 hours of audio playback with just 15 minutes of charging. Magnets are used around the case to keep the earphones snuggly secured in its charging slots and to keep the lid tightly shut. At the bottom of the case lies a lightning port where you can charge both the case and earphones with a single lightning cable.
Much have been said about the design and comfort of the AirPods. I personally love how comfortable they are when wearing them and with no wires dangling around my neck, it’s just a magical sense of liberation once you try these on.
Each AirPod weighs a mere 4 grams which makes it feel almost negligible on the ears. And although it doesn’t really feel very secure like in-ear earphones, it never once dropped out of my ears during my daily usage or even when i deliberately tried to shake it off.
So there you have it. No matter how i tried to shake it out, the AirPods stayed firmly in the ears. Ironically, i think it’s easier for wired earphones or even wireless earphones with a cable to be accidentally tugged out of your ears as compared to the AirPods.
Apple said that the AirPods’ design has been tested vigorously on thousands of different ear shapes to ensure that the design is well enough to fit most ears. That said, it’s still best to try it with your existing EarPods or the actual AirPods at the Apple store to see if it fits nicely for you.
The first thing to know about the AirPods regarding its audio quality is that it provides little to none noise isolation. This means that you could nearly hear all the chatters on the street, the sound of the train even with the AirPods on. I find that tilting the earbuds down towards your ear canals does help to improve on the noise isolation and of course, you can turn up the volume a little louder to drown out those ambient noises too.
And if for some reasons you’re looking for audiophile grade earphones, you shouldn’t be looking at such earbuds, much less wireless ones. That’s not to say that the audio on the AirPods sucks. It doesn’t. In fact, I really liked the warm sound signature of the AirPods and even in such a small form factor, they were able to produce some really deep bass on the EDM tracks that I tested on. On more vocal heavy tracks, it offers clear crisp sound that is definitely not muffled like some bundled earphones.
That said, if you were to spend S$238 on any other headphones, it would most definitely sound better than these with even better noise isolation. So why should one fork out the extra dough for this?
The AirPods magic
With the AirPods, Apple didn’t just built a wireless Bluetooth headset. It is a personal voice assistant (Siri) which you can call upon anytime simply by tapping twice on the earbuds. While it’s unfortunate that the AirPods have limited gesture controls (you can choose to double tap for Siri, play/pause music or to turn off the earphones), Siri does help with basic music and voice controls.
Some of the commands that Siri can carry out over the AirPods include: turning the volume up or down, changing the tracks, calling a person in your contacts, navigating to your destination. Siri worked very well in a quiet environment but was a hit and miss outdoors especially in crowded area or on the train. It’s more of a fun and novelty feature to have as honestly, it’s wayyy faster to change track and volume on the phone itself than to have Siri do it for you.
Every Apple product you purchase adds value to the ecosystem Apple has painstakingly built and the AirPods are no exception. Once the AirPods are paired to an iDevice, all other devices that are signed in with the same Apple ID will have the AirPods set up automatically on it. That means that your AirPods should be listed as a paired device on your Apple Watch, iPad and Mac which you can just toggle between the devices that you’re using with.
The AirPods are really smart too. The optical sensors and motion accelerometers work in tandem with Apple’s proprietary W1 chip to detect if the earbuds are removed from the ears.
Remove one of the AirPods and the music will pause and only resume when you place it back. Removing both AirPods will cause the music playback to stop. Audio will then be played through your device’s speakers when your AirPods are not detected to be in your ears.
You can also choose to rename your AirPods (something which you can’t do with wireless earphones of other brands) and if you desire, you can only choose to wear just one of the AirPods as a wireless headset.
Taking calls on the AirPods are also really simple. Simple double tap on the earbuds when a call comes in to answer it. To keep your calls clear and audible, the AirPods’ voice accelerometer can detect that you’re speaking and activates the beamforming microphones on the earphones to filter out external noise. In my voice calls to several friends, all said that they could hear me really clearly even when i was just speaking at a volume similar to when chatting on the phone.
At S$238, the AirPods are inexpensive for a pair true wireless earphone, much less an Apple branded product at that. With its proprietary W1 chip, Apple managed to successfully made pairing a breeze with a very stable connection between the two AirPods and your smart devices. Audio is also really decent and with its smart features, the AirPods are really more than just a pair of wireless earphones.
If you own an iPhone or are very much invested in the Apple ecosystem, buying the AirPods would be a no brainer. You just have to decide if it fits well into your ears and if you can get over the lack of noise isolation and how weirdly the AirPods would look sticking out of your ears.
The Apple AirPods are now available direct from the Apple Online Store for S$238 with free shipping here. Due to the high demand for the product, do be prepared to wait up to 6-8 weeks for it to be shipped out to you.