Apple’s AirPods may look strange, but they’re an interesting shake-up in what you expect from wireless audio
At first glance, the Apple AirPods might look a little strange, as they’re plastic earrings jammed into your ear canals. When the AirPods were announced, they created a large debate. This is due to their very high £159 price tag and the ease of losing them individually.
If you get over its odd design, the AirPods go well with a shiny new iPhone 7; made for the ultimate Apple fan look. But how do these do sonically and are they as easy to connect as Apple make it out to be?
While looking almost identical (the “stems” on these are thicker, and they also have an infrared ear sensor), the sound quality is much better than with the freebie. As you’d hope.
Apple has clearly given a lot of thought to the inconveniences that have held back wireless buds from mass adoption. Let’s take the first one: pairing. The Apple AirPods live in a little plastic case, around the size of a dental-floss container. Flip the lid on that, put it next to an iPhone 7, and the iPhone will ask if you want to pair. Do so, and you’re good to go.
That case is also the answer to the next problem with wireless earphones: battery life. Left running constantly, the AirPods will give you five hours of battery life, which doesn’t sound that great. The trick, however, is that the AirPod case doubles up as a charging station/battery pack, holding an additional 24 hours of juice for your buds when fully charged. In other words, you could let your AirPods fill and drain almost five times before the case won’t charge them anymore, and topping up the dock is as simple as plugging in a Lightning cable.
You might still argue five hours is inconvenient, but it’s pretty rare you’ll find yourself listening to music for that long, and if you really must, then a quick 15-minute burst in the box will grant you an extra three hours. Battery life virtually becomes a non-issue, unless you go out of your way to make it so.
I touched on sound quality earlier, and it’s very good indeed – far better than standard Apple earphones. Some will hope for a bit more bass, but most listeners will be pretty happy with their output. What’s more, they make a lot of noise. On my iPhone, putting the volume up to the halfway mark was the dream spot. I did push it to the top of the slider, and was rewarded with music so loud it was actually almost painful. Unless your ears are seriously faulty, these will do the job nicely.
But how do they actually feel? Surprisingly comfortable, at least in my ears. Unfortunately, the hard plastic does mean they’ll be more comfortable for some than others, but you can get a rough idea by comparing them to the bundled Apple wired buds. Essentially, wearing the AirPods feels like wearing some good wired earphones, only without the cable constantly getting in the way. I can also put to rest any fears of them being easy to lose – I tried hard to dislodge them through movement alone without success. You’re possibly more of a target for thieves, but they’re not quite as obvious as they appear from press shots. I haven’t tried running with them, but in daily non-sweaty usage, the risk of losing them seems pretty remote.
The sensors on the buds also mean you can take one out and the music will instantly stop until you put it back in, so even should you manage to miss one slipping out your ear – which really isn’t likely – the iPhone will give you a clue to stop what you’re doing and look for it.
So there’s definitely room for improvement, but this is far from the dud product that many predicted from early press shots. Apple has evidently given a lot of thought to sidestepping the typical pitfalls of wireless earbuds, and the result is a pair of earphones that are undoubtedly expensive, but genuinely exciting. There are a few niggles to iron out, and the next release will undoubtedly be better, but it looks like Apple is ready to apply its brand of market disruption to audio.