Here's What It's Actually Like To Use Apple's AirPods

Photographed by Christina Bonnington.
Apple's new wireless earbuds, AirPods, are perhaps more controversial, more debated, and (at first impression, at least) more hated than just about anything else the company has come out with recently. But is all the snark and criticism deserved? We put the AirPods to the test to find out.

The Design

AirPods come in a clever, dental floss-shaped case. This case has a magnetic lid that flicks shut with a satisfying click. Inside, each AirPod also magnetically snaps into place. An LED inside glows green when the case is charged.

The AirPods themselves, well, you've seen them. They look like tiny Barbie blowdryers — or the tips of Apple's wired EarPods. While the stick poking out of the end of the AirPods looks awkward, it does make inserting and removing them from your ears simple (and perhaps slightly more hygienic than inserting and removing more discreet earbuds).
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Photo: Apple.

The Pros

Once the pods are in your ears, you forget they look so odd. You're just listening to music, same as you normally would. They feel similar to EarPods — no surprises there — but now, you're not tethered to your phone (which is great if you have a tendency to forget you are tethered to a phone or desktop with wired headphones, like I do). This freedom is perhaps my favorite thing about the AirPods. They also connect to your phone super-quickly and easily. Just hold the encased pods near your phone, flip open the case, and connect. This is also how you can check their, and the case's, battery life.

They sound similar to wired EarPods, as well. While that's not exactly a pro, considering that audio signal is now wireless, it's not bad. They do let in outside audio, which is convenient both for safety and conversation: You can tell if someone is talking to you, or if you totally didn't see a car coming straight at you while you were playing Pokémon Go while crossing the street.

At the bottom end of each AirPod is also a beam-forming microphone, so you can still take phone calls as you normally would. This mic works really well — thanks to accelerometers and other tech hidden inside, it can detect the vibrations when you start talking, and perform some superb noise cancellation. And double-tapping the side of the pod lets you hail Siri. This is convenient if you need her to look up some information, such as the weather conditions outside, but can also be a little annoying.

The Cons

That annoying part? Well, it depends on your preferences, but having to use Siri to switch songs or adjust the volume is a little superfluous. I'd love to just be able to slide my finger up or down the AirPod, er, shaft to adjust the volume, rather than summoning Siri or tapping the volume button on my iPhone.

While they have a respectable battery life that should get you through the workday or a cross-country plane flight (five hours of listening in one sitting, 24 hours of charging from the case), they do still have a battery life, and forgetting to charge could mean you're music-less if you don't have backup earbuds.

And the threat of losing one or both of these $159 earbuds (not a cheap buy in the first place) is real. Keeping the case handy helps, as does their ability to let you hear outside sounds so you don't need to remove them to carry on a conversation.

Verdict

AirPods are still a month out from shipping, so you've got plenty of time to decide if this product makes sense for you.

For me, the price is what makes me hesitant. If these were under-$100 earphones, I'd order them in a heartbeat. But the tech inside is undoubtedly cool, and for the most part incredibly useful — did I mention that when you take one AirPod out of your ear, both automatically stop playing music? Pretty cool. But if you enjoy the safety and "unavailability" of headphone wires when in public, the AirPods certainly don't offer that. And while the fit is solid and walking around with them is fine, I'm not sure I'd trust them on a run just yet. But if you're ready to embrace this wire-free world Apple is proposing, they're still cheaper than some other wireless options (with a ton more built-in capabilities, too). They still look awkward, though.
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