Before I first tried AirPods, I was firmly in the camp of: "I do not need those things." I would untangle my stringy headphones every morning and be on my merry way to work while listening to my daily podcast, only to fold them back up, put them in my pocket, and leave work with yet another knot to untangle on my way home.
I am here to tell you that I have been converted. AirPods contain multitudes: You can use them to talk on the phone, listen to music while working out (without the fear of them flying out of your ears), with your Apple Watch if you feel like going phone-less, while doing the dishes — no strings attached. And since Apple released its second-generation AirPods in March, you can now use them to talk on the phone for a lot longer and make Siri commands, plus charge wirelessly.
The exception: airplane travel. This is the one scenario I can think of in which I cannot use my AirPods and need to revert back to my old-fashioned headphones if I want to watch TV on the airplane screen, which I almost always do. Until airplane screens become Bluetooth-enabled, this will be the case. But for other devices, like my iPhone, my AirPods remove the need for a dongle, which I deem a victory.
How The New Generation Stacks Up
The new AirPods have an Apple-designed H1 chip, which means up to 50 percent more talk time for phone calls and faster connections. Switching between AirPod-connected devices is easier now, too, which is great for users like me who use their AirPods with their work computer, personal computer, phone, and Apple Watch. And the new battery life is a lot more impressive — now you can have more than 24 hours of battery life with the new wireless charging case, and three hours of talk time from just a 15-minute charge. The latter upgrade was the most noticeable to me of the AirPod updates — I have to charge my AirPods much less frequently now than I did my old ones.
There's also the new "Hey Siri" functionality. Just say "Hey Siri" while wearing your AirPods, the way you would with your iPhone, Mac, HomePod, or Apple Watch, and you can adjust the volume of whatever you're listening to, ask what the weather is like outside, or get directions to wherever your next destination is. That is, if you feel comfortable saying "Hey Siri" out loud when you're in public (and I, admittedly, do not). But it's definitely helpful for when you're lacing up your sneakers and need to map out your route for your run but don't have a free hand to do it on your phone.
In terms of appearance, the new AirPods look just like the old ones, save for an LED charging-status indicator on the front of the case that wasn't there in the old model. This feature lets you know at a glance when your AirPods are fully charged — which is certainly helpful and has already curbed the number of times my AirPods have died on me when I've been on the go.
Wireless Charging — Is It Worth It?
And then there's the wireless charging. AirPower, which was once going to be Apple's forthcoming wireless charging mat, has since been canceled, so at the moment there are no Apple-designed wireless charging pads on the market. Which means that if you want to use the new AirPods and their wireless charging case to their full potential, you have to buy a third-party wireless charger. The one I've been using is Satechi’s Qi-certified Aluminum Type-C Fast Wireless Charger, and it definitely gets the job done. But you can also charge your wireless charging case the old-fashioned way, too, via the plug-in Lightning port that you would use to charge your iPhone or first-gen AirPods.
If you already have first-gen AirPods, you don't need to rush out to get the new ones. The differences, though certainly improvements, aren't noticeable enough to necessitate an upgrade. And if you don't already have a wireless charger, you don't need to rush out to grab the wireless charging case either, unless you want to pay for a charging mat, too. But if you're looking for wireless headphones, I highly recommend AirPods. They will convert you like they did me. I mean, they know how to sense their placement in your ears and automatically start and stop your music accordingly!
How To Set Them Up
Setting up AirPods just requires one tap. To pair with an iPhone, it's as easy as opening the lid of your AirPods case and holding it near your phone until you see it pop up on your iPhone screen, at which point you just have to click Connect. Doing so connects the AirPods to all of the devices linked to your iCloud account, which makes switching audio between them pretty seamless. If you're connecting to a Mac, make sure Bluetooth is on in your System Preferences and then open the lid of your AirPods and press the setup button on the back of the case. Once the status light turns white, the AirPods should be discoverable by any Bluetooth-enabled device. Click on the AirPods in your list of devices and then connect.
How Much They Cost
If you're just now jumping on the AirPod bandwagon, you're in luck — the new AirPods are being sold for $219, the same price as their predecessors. If, however, you just want the wireless charging case, you can get that for $99 to use with your first-generation AirPods. And if you want to upgrade both your AirPods and case, the combo goes for $269. Apple also just released another wireless headphone option via its Beats line: PowerBeats Pro, which have the same H1 chip as the new AirPods and retail for $329.95. They offer better battery life and a more comfortable fit around the ear, though they don't yet support wireless charging.