Just as Apple ushered in a new era in cell phones with the iPhone, Apple is using their new AirPods to usher in a new era in wireless headsets. Up until now, most so-called wireless headsets had a cable connecting the two ear pieces to sync the audio.
Apple’s New Approach
Apple’s approach is quite different. There are no cables. Each earbud is totally wireless. Apple’s new custom-designed W1 chip is how Apple performs their magic. Each AirPod receives its own independent Bluetooth channel at the same time. The W1 chip handles the syncing. It produces an efficient wireless connection and improved sound with low latency. In fact, the W1 chip also manages the battery life allowing for fast charging and a new type of case that may well be industry changing.
Apple stuck with the shiny white hard plastic of the earbuds that have come with the iPhones for years. Many people, including myself, do not use those earbuds because they are quite uncomfortable. To overcome this, Apple redesigned the shape of the earpiece. Instead of being round, the AirPods sport a more oval-shaped design. They are much more comfortable than their previous design. Apple states that these were designed to fit all ears, so there are no removable tips.
The earbud fits inside your ear while the small white microphone boom hangs on the outside of your ear. I can’t say I am enamored of the design. While some devices make you look geeky, which is an acceptable thing, the AirPods just make you look slightly out-of-place. Perhaps, though, these will develop a cult following like many other Apple devices.
Apple’s expertise in developing something truly ground-breaking with each product is shown not only in the design of the AirPods, but also in the unusual storage and recharging case that they come in.
As expected, the case is a hard white shiny plastic to match the AirPods. The diminutive case is about 2” tall, 1 ½” wide, and ¾” deep. It has rounded edges and a flip-top. The end of each microphone boom has a metal tip which when inserted into the case magnetically grips the interior bottom of the case, both holding the ear pieces securely in the case as well as providing the contact needed for charging.
The case itself is for both storage and charging. The bottom of the case has a lightning port for recharging the case itself. However, the case holds enough power to recharge the ear pieces themselves several times before the case needs recharging. Charging the ear pieces in the case is quite speedy. 15 minutes in the case give the earbuds enough power for 3 hours of listening time.
It quickly became evident that when pairing with an iPhone, the AirPods are the easiest Bluetooth device that I’ve ever setup. Just make sure that Bluetooth is turned on in the phone and place it near the case. Open the case and a setup screen appears on the phone. Tap on “Connect” and you are done.
This setup works only when pairing with other Apple devices. The AidPods will pair quite well with an Android phone, but you will have to go through the normal Bluetooth setup process.
The sound quality is excellent with a good balance between treble and base. Apple’s 256-Kbps AAC-encoded music sounds especially good, but the AirPods also sounded great with Pandora, Amazon Music, and just about everything else I threw at it. The music starts when you place the buds in your ears. When you remove one earbud, the music pauses. When you remove both, it stops. (This also works on Android devices.)
Another advantage of using the AirPods with an Apple device is that when you double-tap on either earbud, you will hear a bing telling you that Siri is listening. You can converse with Siri to control the music. You can also ask her other questions as well have her make phone calls for you. This is functionality is not available when the AirPods are connected to Android devices. The AirPods allow ambient noise to come through so you can easily use them when walking down the street. However, when you are talking on the phone more background noise is filtered out enabling you to hold a clear conversation.
When used with Apple devices, you can access the AirPods in the easy-to-access iOS Control Center. In this area, you can also see how much charge is left. Of course, you can always ask Siri to give you an update about the battery charge, as well.
You can change a setting so that a double-tap will play/pause/answer/hang up instead of waking Siri. This is the default when connected to Android devices. You can also turn double-tap off completely.
You can rename your AirPods in the settings. Also Apple provide easy switching between Apple devices. When using the AirPods with the Apple Watch you can control the volume by using the watch’s digital crown.
As long as enabled in the Settings, you can move a voice call from your iPhone to your AirPods simply by placing one of them in your ear.
The AirPods loose a little of their magic when used with an Android device. However, not only do they work with Android devices, but they offer the same excellent sound quality on Android devices.
Unfortunately using Siri is to control the music is not ideal. I longed for an easier way to adjust the volume without an Apple Watch. While the rounded corners on the case look and feel great, I would like to have the case have a flat bottom so that I could stand it up. When it is lying flat it is just too easy to loose in a stack of papers. I would also like the AirPods to provide storage for a certain amount of music.
Obviously, the pluses of the AirPods outweigh the minuses, especially if you have an iPhone. The AirPods are truly a breakthrough product.