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Apple AirPods review

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Apple AirPods review
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Summary

Our Score:

7

Pros

  • Strong Bluetooth connection
  • Great battery life
  • W1 chip is the future of wireless headphones

Cons

  • Sound quality not much better than average
  • Don't fit in all ear types
  • Design isn't for everyone

Key Features

  • W1 chip
  • 5-hour battery life
  • Included battery case provides further five charges on the go
  • Completely wireless
  • Works with iOS, Mac, and Android (with limited functionality)
  • Manufacturer: Apple
  • Review Price: £159.99

What are Apple AirPods?

AirPods are the first completely wireless earphones from Apple, and they’re sold as the perfect companion to the new iPhone 7. In lots of ways, they’re the best wireless earbuds you can buy right now, thanks to a rock-solid connection, easy setup and great battery life. It’s a shame that the limited fit won’t suit all ears and the sound isn’t quite worthy of the £159/$159 price tag.

Apple AirPods – Design

Announced alongside the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, the AirPods were meant to silence anyone who bemoaned the lack of a headphone jack on the new Apple phones.

Instead they quickly became an internet meme, compared to electric toothbrush heads that came housed in a dental-floss holder.

Yet, after using these dinky wireless buds constantly for a few weeks, it seems too easy and a little unfair to boil what is essentially a fantastic (yet flawed) product down to a few ‘funny’ online pictures.

Related: Best Bluetooth headphones

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Initially, my biggest concern was the odd design. AirPods look like someone has taken a pair of scissors to the cord of EarPods, leaving just the lonely buds.

They look just like Apple’s older earphones – the ones you got with your iPhone, and hopefully replaced with something much better – except the stem is slightly elongated to accommodate improved microphones. Some will think they look odd protruding slightly from your ears like an über-futuristic Bluetooth headset, but it doesn’t bother me.

They’re surprisingly subtle when you’re looking face-on and can easily be camouflaged by a tangle of facial hair. They do look a bit odd from the side, and I'm sure I've seen some lingering looks from passers-by, but I don’t feel quite as self-conscious wearing them as I thought I would. But your mileage may vary.

My bigger concern, though, is fit, because what use are earphones this small and delicate if they just fall out? For me, they fit perfectly and nestle comfortably into my ears. I can vigorously shake my head and they’ll refuse to fall out – same goes for if I accidentally knock them. I've run in them, slept on a plane with them on, hauled myself through rush-hour London in them, and they haven’t so much as budged.

But this is far from the case with everyone. I passed the buds around a group of friends and for about 50% of them they fell out after a slight shake of the head, while a few others managed some stronger movement.

It seems like it changes from person to person, and that's a naive move from Apple. Why aren’t there any tips included to improve fit? Other wireless headphones have often included 'wingtips' designed to catch your outer ear, holding the earbuds in place, although these would have undoubtedly disturbed the clean design. Sir Jony Ive probably vetoed them.

My advice would be to try them out before you buy.

Apple AirPods – Sound quality, W1 chip and Siri

If you plan on buying the AirPods because you’re looking for a sound experience that’s on par with the price, then don’t bother. But I can’t see anyone doing that.

EarPods were often lambasted for their meagre sound, and while there is some definite improvement here, they’re far from what would describe as ‘great sounding headphones’. For audiophiles these ain't.

As with lot of these completely wireless earbuds there’s a noticeable lack of crispness in instruments and detail in vocals. But, there’s a lot more bass when compared to the older EarPods and most sub-£100 earbuds. The bass isn’t too harsh either, and it doesn’t overshadow the other parts of a song. I’d say the bass is much more manageable than Beats cans, which often ruin genres of music that aren’t hip-hop.

Related: Best smartphones 2017

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Music with a very engineered sound – chart pop, for example – actually sounds quite impressive and there’s plenty of clarity in electronic beats that you wouldn’t get on EarPods. Pump the volume up to full whack and this will quickly disappear, but that’s hardly a surprise.

Issues do arise when running with the AirPods, as ambient noises overtake the audio thanks to poor sound isolation. If the AirPods aren’t stuck right into your ears, it’s easy for other noises to wash away the sound.

I love my Bose QC35s and I know our Homes Editor Ced swears by Sony’s excellent MDR-1000X, but even the best Bluetooth headphones still suffer issues. Audio is prone to cutting out when you put the phone in your pocket, and pairing is a cumbersome affair of pressing buttons and hoping the connection is made.

Most of what makes the AirPods so exciting is the W1 chip tucked inside that solves both of these issues. It's the same chip that's inside the Beats Studio 3 Wireless and will feature in many more of Apple's headphones down the line.

Pairing is a simple task of opening the battery case, popping them next to your iPhone and waiting. A message will appear, tap ‘connect’ and you’re done.

What’s even cooler is that those AirPods are now connected to every other iPad, MacBook and Apple Watch signed in with your iCloud account. I opened up my MacBook and there they were, sitting in the Bluetooth menu.

Range is excellent too, and audio never seems to drop, which isn't something you can say about Bluetooth which as a technology is prone to momentary drops and digital blips.

There are a bunch of accelerometers inside, too, just like an iPhone. These know when you put the AirPods in and start the music, and they pause when you remove one. You can keep one bud in the case and all audio will be routed through the one in your ear.

Tap on the center and Siri will pop up too, but due to Siri still being mostly rubbish I can’t say I use this feature much. Apple’s voice-assistant is still too slow and misunderstands me too often to make it worthwhile to stick with, and having it be the only way to skip tracks and alter the volume without reaching for my phone is annoying. I would like some virtual controls on the buds, but we’ll have to wait for version 2 for that.

They are not exclusively for iPhones and iOS either, with Android support being decent if not quite as good. You won’t benefit from the easy setup, or Siri integration, but the connection is still rock-solid and battery life just as good.

Apple AirPods – Battery life and charging case

While audio quality isn’t one of the AirPods' best attributes, battery life certainly is. Apple’s claim of five hours worth of juice per charge for the buds is almost bang on, though this does drop a bit if you’re on the phone a lot.

Five hours might not seem that impressive, but you’ve got to take into account the included charging case can fully charge the AirPods about five times. This gives you around 24 hours when all's said and done, which is quite a lot better than the competition. Motorola’s Verveones+, a similar set of wireless buds, are more expensive and offer just 12 hours of playback when you’re using the charging case. It’s a similar story with the Sol Republic Amp Airs, which lasted about 2.5-3 hours in our tests.

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Once the case is dead, plug in a Lightning cable and it’ll juice back up. It’s all very seamless.

A 15 minute charge in the case also gives you a good few hours of listening, so it’s actually quite difficult to be without charge.

Should I buy Apple AirPods?

Many, including me, instantly dismissed Apple’s first foray into wireless earphones almost immediately after they were announced.

But they are in-fact one of the best pairs of completely wireless earbuds available. They’re cheaper and better sounding than Motorola’s Verveone Plus, better looking than Sol Republic’s Amp Airs and have a stronger, more reliable Bluetooth connection than pretty much every other pair of wireless headphones.

Sound quality might not be on par with the price-tag, and some will still bash the design, but I think the complete package wins out. Yet, in the end, I can’t forgive the design for not comfortably fitting in a wide range of ear types – so make sure you try before you buy – nor can I overlook the lack of any controls beyond Siri.

Verdict

Ultimately, the Apple AirPods make me excited for what Apple can achieve for future versions as the first attempt falls short in some important areas.

Overall Score

7

PDAJah

December 21, 2016, 1:20 pm

Sound quality is the weakest part of the Airpods! And at a cost of £160!

Digitocrepitus

December 21, 2016, 2:47 pm

Top tip - cutting the wires off an old pair of pods provides almost all the benefits of the airpods. The sound quality is obviously terrible, but spending £0 on 0/10 sound quality is a better idea than spending £160 on 2/10 sound quality.

RonRoyce

December 21, 2016, 5:13 pm

Sound quality is everything, if they sound poor at £150 there is no point in buying them.

The design is stupid if it only fits certain ear canals. Moreover, you would have to try a dummy pod for fitment and the shops would have to sterilise them after each try. In ear phones cannot simply be taken back if you have used them because of hygiene issues. This from Amazon's returns policy:-

"Please note we are unable to accept returns for in-ear/canal headphones due to hygienic reasons."

PGrGr

December 21, 2016, 7:23 pm

I'm more interested in hearing how well they stand up when compared to the myriad of other wireless earbuds floating round the pages of Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Any comments to add on this subject?

Ben Shayler

December 21, 2016, 9:46 pm

I got hold of some airpods on monday, having tried them for a couple of days i have returned them:
Up until this week I have been using a cheap TaoTronics bluetooth earphone (with wire) and been perfectly happy with them. The airpods connect brilliantly to my iPhone 6 and do not dropout and the distance they will stay in range is fantastic. I have tried them on the tube and buses and with so much background noise the music was almost inaudible or you end up turning the volume to full which isn't good for your hearing.
Secondly the lack of a volume control and skip function means i would always have to get my phone out or use my watch. Granted not hard to do but nowhere near as convenient as having an inline remote as the TaoTronics do.
For now I'm going to stick with the cheap pair..

TacticalTimbo

December 23, 2016, 2:29 am

I have the iPhone 7 Plus and Bose SoundLink around-ear 2, and NEVER have they broken up/lost connection. Also pairing is instantaneous, and the battery lasts forever, like ridiculously long!

sproc

January 2, 2017, 9:07 pm

That's like an issue from ten years ago.

TacticalTimbo

January 2, 2017, 9:31 pm

That's what I'm screaming?!

toboev

January 18, 2017, 9:35 pm

Try before you buy? Hmm, what happens to all the ones that weren't bought? Like that moment when you realise, too late, that your own toothbrush is still in the mug.

Chris B

January 19, 2017, 12:54 pm

I use Syllable earphones. They have ear hooks, on-device controls, have more than adequate sound once the correct tips are fitted, and cost £30 from Amazon on a daily deal (they're normally £40). They have 4 hours playback, with a small case that will charge them 4-5 times between full recharges.

I've used them in the gym, and not experienced any drop outs. I can handle having to click "connect" if I've used them with another device between workouts.

I would post a link, but TR decided the last time I did that that I was a spam account. They may eventually work out how to make links work on the internet without blocking you, but I'm not holding my breath.

I think TR need to do a roundup of "cheap" bluetooth earphones - I have 4 pairs - the Syllable ones are the most expensive at £30 - but they're all perfectly adequate for gym workouts - sweat-proof and stay in your ears (for contrast, I do collect "proper" headphones, so I know £15 won't get you much - but for the purposes of listening to something to delay the tedium of the gym, they work perfectly well - plus, if they stop working - none have so far - £15 is a cheap price to pay).

Chris B

January 19, 2017, 12:58 pm

I have a pair of TaoTronics BT earphones, and they're great - I use the earplugs that are larger than the ones I would normally use, and once you get the isolation due to that, I find I don't have to turn up my music too much, though obviously your mileage may vary. :)

Samuel Vancea

May 19, 2017, 8:25 pm

I had the AirPods for a month now.I has e tried headphones that cost as much as £400.I can not believe how many people complain about the sound quality on AirPods.They are very loud and bass heavy.Everything about them is top notch.They are probably the only headphones I would ever dream on using from now on.They even replaced my beats and bose collection of headphones.I only wish that more AirPods were available on the market because the stock is very limited at the moment.Price will also hopefully decrease in the next year or so for those people complaining about the £159 price tag only because they look really similar to the ones that come free with iPhones.They are awesome and I love them. Recommend to absolutely anyone

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