AirPods: One Week Later

Before receiving my AirPods last week, I had previously been using a combination of three different sets of headphones, depending upon the activity:

  • Bose QuietComfort 15 noise-canceling headphones for when I'm working at my desk
  • JLab Epic2 Bluetooth headphones for workouts
  • EarPods for listening to podcasts and music on the go

I think the AirPods are fantastic. They're one of the best sets of headphones I've ever owned and are worth every penny. They've already replaced both my EarPods and JLab Bluetooth headphones entirely, and I'm even using them at my desk from time to time. The AirPods aren't perfect, but they're pretty damn close. Here are a few thoughts and observations from my experience with them.

The word "magical" genuinely applies

The "W" in W1 must be short for "Wizard" because pairing the AirPods is witchcraft. It's as close as you can get to doing away with pairing entirely. After pairing, they were immediately available for use on all my other devices and switching between devices was seamless.

When used indoors, they work over distances far greater than the limits of Bluetooth. I don't have any problems wandering around the apartment while using the AirPods, something that other Bluetooth headphones have struggled with.

The charging case is a stroke of genius

I love this case. It's light, well made, and small enough that if you need to carry it, it'll fit into the smallest of pockets. Having a useful carry case that also doubles as a charger is inspired, and it fits quite nicely onto Apple's iPhone dock for easy charging.

Far superior to traditional Bluetooth headphones, but not without imperfections

My JLab Epic2 headphones, like most Bluetooth headphones, are completely hit-or-miss. The audio cuts out frequently and the connection is unreliable at best. I'm actually surprised these are a top pick by The Wirecutter, which makes makes me wonder how bad the others must've been. I'm even on my third set due to warranty replacements for connection issues.

I don't dispute that there are many people who have had a good experience of Bluetooth audio–I have an AmazonBasics Bluetooth audio receiver that works perfectly with the Amazon Echo Dot we have at home–but my experience of Bluetooth headphones has been terrible.

With AirPods, however, I finally have a set of wireless headphones that aren't garbage. I sometimes forget that AirPods are wireless, and I've even tried to find the remote buttons on a nonexistent cable out of habit.

But every now and again, there's a little hiccup.

I live in a dense area of the city and, on certain streets, turning my head to the right (seriously) causes the audio to completely cut out. This happens even if my iPhone is in the breast pocket of my coat and the distance between AirPods and iPhone is literally inches away from one another. It's completely reproducible, but can go unnoticed.

This is possibly due to the many wireless signals bouncing around the buildings, causing all manner of interference, though it is interesting that turning my head in one particular direction causes the connection issues. None of this is specifically a fault of the AirPods and it's far less of a problem when compared to other Bluetooth headphones, which would just crap out entirely. But if you're expecting them to have none of the trouble that Bluetooth experiences, you'll need to be a little forgiving.

Where the AirPods far exceed my expectations, however, is how well they work directly with my Apple Watch-it's practically faultless. Trying to use Bluetooth headphones with the Apple Watch required many hours of therapy afterwards, so it was never worth the hassle. This meant taking my iPhone (or iPod shuffle) along if I wanted to listen to music. When you have a computer strapped to your wrist that supposedly works with Bluetooth headphones, it's somewhat ridiculous that another device is needed.

But with the AirPods, I can finally leave those devices at home. Music plays perfectly from the Apple Watch and the connection process is simply a swipe and a tap.

They're as comfortable as EarPods

This might be a benefit or a drawback, depending on your own experience with EarPods. I regularly use them and like how they fit. While there are certainly more comfortable headphones on the market, I don't find EarPods uncomfortable, nor do they fall out. The fact the AirPods are basically the same is something I consider a benefit.

Having worn the AirPods at the gym, I have no concerns that they'll fall out mid-workout. Although they're very light, the fit feels firm and secure. They've stayed in place during some pretty vigorous exercise and perspiration doesn't seem to degrade the fit. However, I do wonder how well they'll handle perspiration over time.

Audio quality is better than EarPods, but not by much

If you're shopping for a premium set of headphones, go wired. You're not going to find a great-sounding set of wireless headphones for $159, let alone from Apple.

AirPods have a bit more bass than EarPods (which is a benefit) but the quality isn't measurably better. They do seem be louder than EarPods, making them a lot more useful on crowded subway trains.

The double-tap for Siri functionality works as expected, but you might feel embarrassed to use it

It's pretty cold here in New Jersey right now. The AirPods respond to double-taps but do need a little more force when wearing a winter hat. I've had a few strange looks when I'm repeatedly tapping the side of my head with some vigor and saying "next track".

That said, I do find the double-tap to be similar to Siri, in that I don't feel comfortable using it in public. This isn't a criticism of the AirPods, this is just my own social awkwardness. If you're not a fan of talking to Siri in public either, you may find the double-tap is a feature you don't often use.

Using Siri to control playback is frustrating

Speaking of the AirPod's controls, it's frustrating that the only way to control playback through the AirPods is with Siri, especially as it frequently doesn't understand my commands. This method also needs an internet connection, so if you're on a plane or deep underground, there's no way to control playback without looking at your iPhone (or Apple Watch). I've changed the double-tap behavior so it just play/pauses music–removing Siri entirely.

I do have an Apple Watch so I try and use that to control music playback with AirPods. But with gloves and a thick winter jacket, I end up needing to dig out the iPhone. This is a minor annoyance, and one that'll dissipate as the weather improves and I have easier access to my Apple Watch.

All things considered, I'm somewhat surprised that Apple didn't incorporate an option to use taps that align with button presses on EarPods so a single tap play or pauses, double-tap skips, and a triple-tap rewinds. At the very least, that'd make it much easier to control playback.