Review: AirPods are Apple’s “Okayiest” Thing They Sell Today

Posted on November 17, 2017 by Brad Sams in Hardware with 36 Comments

Last week, I found myself at an Apple store buying a pair of Air Pods. Why exactly I was doing this, I’m not fully sure, but I wanted a pair of Bluetooth headphones for use at the gym and these seemed like a good choice. After all, Apple makes quality products, right?

When the AirPods were announced, they were mocked much like the Apple Watch and iPad but those devices turned out to be pretty good. Yes, many might argue the Watch is not all that good but personally, I like it and Apple continues to make new versions.

But the AirPods are a bit different, they are taking Apple’s Earpods and making them wireless and I will say, they are just ‘okay’. Anyone who says that these things have excellent sound quality should be checked to see how many shares of the company they own.

Aside from the sound quality nailing the ‘sounds modestly better than a landline phone” benchmark, they are easy to use, quick to charge, and work as advertised.

The connection between the phone and the earbuds never dropped; they connect instantly once pulled out of the case and the battery life is good enough for a few trips to the gym. Even though I feel like an absolute tool while wearing them, they have yet to fall out of my ears while running.

That being said, I still feel a bit nervous that they may fall out at some point. But, this is something I must personally overcome if I want to live out my lifelong dream of wearing these to embarrass my wife and kid at the grocery store.

To adjust the volume you have a couple of not-so-convenient options. The easiest way is to tap the AirPod which activates Siri and you can ask it to turn down the volume but you don’t get to set the level as it only it drops it a few notches; if that’s not good enough, rinse and repeat as desired. If you have an Apple Watch, you can turn the crown down or up which is the best way to adjust the volume or you can pull your phone out of your pocket like a 13th-century peasant.

If you are looking for a headphone that blocks out no outside sound, you have found the perfect product. Apple’s choice of using hard plastics with no rubber gasket to create a seal in your ear means that they let ambient noise in like 1985 Camaro Z28. The side effect of this is that you must turn up the volume which means you have the choice of hearing your music or losing your hearing.

Apple missed a big opportunity to make it easier to adjust the volume, you should be able to slide your finger up and down the stem to adjust the level. Here’s to hoping V2 will include this so I can be given the honor of handing over another $159.99 to Apple.

For me, I need something that I can use at the gym that doesn’t that doesn’t have a wire. I know there are lots of options available and I’m sure i’ll get many unsolicited recommendations here in the near future.

If you are on the fence about these things, I’d probably say “pass” for now. The sound quality isn’t that good, the built-in gestures need some work, and they are about attractive as wearing socks with sandals.

That being said, they do nail the basics well enough that for early adopters, they will likely be pleased with their functionally. At the end of the day, they are very convenient to use which is one of Apple’s hallmark features and will likely keep me embarrassing myself on a regular basis at the gym.

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Comments (39)

39 responses to “Review: AirPods are Apple’s “Okayiest” Thing They Sell Today”

  1. tom_james

    "...wearing socks with sandals." Careful there -- your Ohio is showing!

  2. nicholson93289

    I have been liking mine since finally ordering a pair along with my iPhone 8+. I had picked up a couple of other ear bud-type Bluetooth monitors before that: I was still upset that after more than 18 months, there was still a 6 week wait after ordering them from Apple. But those were poor in comparison for sound quality, uncomfortable (for me), and even larger and more garish than the AirPods.

    I don't love them, but I think they do a good job for me when I am listening to podcasts in one ear while running errands and working around the house. Like all owners, the thought of losing one or both of them terrorizes me (at $80 an ear...). They do a poor job of blocking sounds: I tried mowing my lawn with them and that lasted about 10 minutes, as I couldn't hear anything but the mower. I used a pair of cheap Monoprice Bluetooth headphones that did a much better job.

    Sandals are inappropriate on anyone over the age of 10 unless the wearer is at the beach or in a public shower, with socks or not.

  3. jrs19

    I'm a convert to Apple/iOS from MS/Windows Phone etc. Recently got a Watch Series 3 along with airpods. I love both. It's easy to make fun of the "need" for the watch, but frankly I rarely have to take out my phone while walking around anymore, and that is great.


    The airpods compliment the watch really well. The design of the earbuds and case from which they charge is great. I was so annoyed screwing around with cables every day. Now everything is contained in something smaller than a tick-tacks box and i just pop them in and out. They never fall out, even while running (I use them for this every day) and I've never run down the battery on them due to the ability to charge from their storage case every time you take them out of your ears.


    I'm actually a minor audiophile. My home audio system cost me into the 5 figure range and so I generally seek high sound quality and shun the big name brands for speakers etc. That said, I'm not disappointed with the airpods because I wasn't expecting or seeking reference quality audio from something I'd be wearing while running, at the gym, commuting or walking on busy downtown streets. What I cared much more about was that they truly be wireless and that I can conveniently pocket them inside their pillbox-sized case. I didn't want big beats earmuffs. I believe the airpods are the only headphones that are completely wireless.


    Lastly, one of brads negatives, that they don't completely seal off the outside noise, is actually a positive for me. I don't want to completely eliminate my awareness of what is going on around me while out in public.

  4. Vladimir Carli

    these things are just wireless earpods, they are built for convenience, not sound quality. For sound quality there is a comparable product by beats. One might argue about the cost and value for money but it's not really fair to dismiss them for sound quality as that's not their primary objective. All sealed earbuds that I tried do have much better sound quality but they hurt after a short time, usually between 20 minutes and two hours. I wear the airpods the entire day with no discomfort at all. The fact that they let the sound in from the outside is a feature, you can keep them the entire day being also aware of what's happening around you. From your comments it seems you want airpods to be something that they are not. I would never wear them on a train or a plane. I agree about the volume control, it should be at least an option. You didn't mention that the case can be used as an iphone stand. I find it very useful.

    V.

  5. Jeffsters

    Love mine but think they could use a little improvement as you described. I’m going to give the foam bud cover hack a try as described on The Verge. I’d post the URL but...


    Title is: This simple AirPod hack can dramatically improve the sound quality.




  6. Bob Shutts

    The AirPods are interesting. I wanted a pair for the gym also, but went with the PowerBeats 3. I like the earpiece that holds everything in place. I wonder if Apple Watch can adjust the volume on the Beats product.

  7. nbplopes

    Hi Brad,


    I think if you bought the Air Pods for the purpose of using it main at the gym, this was not definitely the best option.


    Even though by the time I bought mine, sometime by the end of 2016, my tech kit was composed by an iPhone SE and a MacBook Pro 2015, before jumping on the AirPods I did some research and back than for the type of functionality these earbuds offered, the options were extremely limited and relatively more expensive. Even than, those options did not cover the entire spectrum of the features offered by the AirPods. Some were better at certain things such as sound, but were lacking or missed others.


    Since than things have changed. Competitors jumped in offering more and more AirPods like features so much so, that we could argue that today, almost all new bluetooth earphones over $100, come with a charging case for instance. The concept oF TRUE WIRELESS settled in the market after the AirPods.


    This I think was not down to Apple tech mastery, other could certainly have done a similar job if not better, but because its a company that its always open to go that extra mile for the sake of convenience and experience of the user.


    Most reviews I've read totally missed the point back than I thought, by comparing the AirPods with non wireless earphones on the same price range, or non TRUE WIRELESS earphones (bluetooth earphones).


    Regardless, the AIrPods its an expensive earphone kit!


    I already had two bluetooth earphones, one of 30 euros and the other of around 70 euros. One of my kids wanted some earphones and my wife was using the cheaper ones, so I decided to look for new ones and give mine, as always to my wife and hers would go to my son.


    I'm not a gym kind of person. I do day in day out a fast paced 45 mins walk around the area I live in, parks and so on. I also commute every day using public transport for about 45 mins to an hour each leg. On another note, my ears are quite sensitive to the fitting of the earphones. Never had found a earphones that I could use for more than an hour without starting to get itchy or uncomfortable. I have earphones supporting multiple fittings but still. Also, my bluetooth earphones charged either by USB or by plugging them to a power brick, this lead to me not charging them for days, weeks even ... for me charging the earphones was never a priority. So much so that most of the time I used the ones that came with the iPhones, non wireless.


    So I went out to look not just for bluetooth earphones, or earphones for the gym, but some general purpose earphones that pushed me to get closer to the my music anywhere, something I like a lot. In other words, some that got out of the way while out and about and in front of my computer.


    So I would say my priority was not sound, as long it was good to very good, but mainly comfort and convenience!


    Before I talk about my experience, a note. I always found earphones a cumbersome solution, either wired or wireless. Yes, the only solution for listening to music and other stuff while walking around, but still ... cumbersome in many ways.


    Sound and Noise Isolation


    First let me get rid of things that AirPods are not stellar ... I've found that as far as sound goes the AirPods are very good inline with the TechRadar review. True, for its price range one get find WIRELESS earphones that sound better, yet the AirPods are no slouch.


    When it comes to environmental noise isolation, let's just say these are not designed with that in mind. Nor its designed to give the user a full sound emersion like the Jabra Elite Sport, which I think it might be the best option for the gym. Even though it seams the Jabra are no so comfortable for hours of use.


    But is this necessary bad? No, not for my use.


    Instead, the AirPods are designed for a person to walk around listening to music yet still have a sense of the environment. Useful for security purposes when walk in the street, crossing roads, as well as at the office considering that one might want still to ear someone engaging into a direct conversation. For me It strikes a good balance. Allowing me to focus on the work and music while not departing way into a different reality. In an no noise environment they sound very very good.


    If this is the kind of sound experience you want one will like it a lot.


    Comfort and Convenience


    This is were the AirPods shine in my experience... From an occasional earphone user, its convenient features working together lead me to use it everyday, anytime anywhere, making it the perfect companion to the my iPhone SE.


    The AirPods offers an almost perfect buttonless operation.


    I say almost perfect because my experience Apple totally dropped the ball by not implementing a gesture for volume control. Asking Siri to increase and decrease volume its slow and imprecise. Its one of the things were it requires the user to bend to the devices ways rather than the user needs ... frustrating. I wish Apple had implemented a slide up and down gesture for this task rather than requiring one to talk with Siri. So much so, that I prefer to put my hand inside of my pocket, and reach for my phone volume controls. This is not good.


    Yes, recently bought an Apple Watch, and this problem is somewhat resolved by rotating the crown to increase and descries the volume. In fact, the first time I used it for this purpose, it felt almost like magic. The combination of 3 devices working in tandem with each other to listen to music. Having said, this, its still a two hand operation for such a simple task, after awhile, well it would be just better if I could slide my finger on the AirPods to do this. If you have one bag in one hand, reaching the Apple Watch for the task is not that easy! If the swipe was available for such purpose, one hand would be enough for the task.


    But this is were "not good" starts and stops in terms of convenience and comfort.


    For the rest of the buttonless operations, like double tapping to summon Siri, tapping to answer or terminate a call, works every time and its practical. Ways better than looking for the remote on a wire, or trying to locate the button on the wireless earphones to do the same task (got several times frustrated on the other earphones I have for this simple tasks). It felt natural after a day or two of use. Being at the Office listening focus sounds while working and simply removing one of the plugs, the music stops, engage on a short work related conversation, put it back on and auto resume ... just works and feels organic.


    Yes, Siri sometimes its a pain, not to make calls, but to select music. For instance last night when I said "John Newman", Siri would systematically pointed me to "John Neumann", today it seams that It has learned the lesson. When I say "Play some Saxophone" it used to work giving me a playlist of Saxofone music, but now it points me to "Ill pleut (for Saxofone and Piano" ) ... But this is not down to the AirPods.


    For comfort, they are for me the first pair of earphones that I can use for hours without ever feeling uncomfortable. They don't attach to my ear in any way, they settle on it. They are so light, that sometimes I forget I have them on. Noticing it only when the iPhone rings for a call. Also they never fell of my ears due to movement, bending, jumping, shacking, they never fell. Nevertheless they did fell twice, when removing my sweet-shirt and while putting my backpack on, they simply got dragged out in the process.


    The small edgeless case, not only stores safely the earphones while charging them, it also allows me to effortlessly to slide it safely into the pocket along with the iPhone ... several times a day. In fact, it goes everywhere my phone goes. This is in contrast with other wireless earphones I have, both wired and wireless that for one reason or another was far less practical to carry around. The charging cases I saw on the other options they did not look as easy to slide into my trousers and out every day, any time. Sometimes even several times in an hour.


    For instance, yesterday I was coming back home, nearby the train station I was listening to music with my backpack on. There was a street vendor selling peanuts, chestnuts ... and decided to by some. In a matter on a few seconds took the earphones off, put them on the case, back to my pocket, selected what I wanted, payed, stored the bag of chest notes in the back pack, toke the case out of my trousers, got the AirPods back to my ears, tapped on one of them, said "Resume" and of I went. No fuss.


    I only charge the case once a week (once in 7 days) for half an hour or so. That is enough for the entire week of use for me. But even for this simple task, I use my iPhone docking acessory on my bedside, so it a no brainer task. I take my iPhone and the case out of the pocket and put one or the other charging in the docking device (a 20 euros accessory) that just it.


    Connectivity


    Everyone is talking about how easy it to pair this with the iPhone in comparison with other options. But for me I've never felt that pairing bluetooth stuff needed much of an improvement. I always found NFC for such purpose silly. It was already a easy that one does just once and that is it. Were its quite nice, is that one pair once with a device and all devices registered to the same iCloud account of the device are automatically paired. That is very very very nice, no need to redo the pairing process it self on each device. I have an iPad Pro and a MacBook Pro also, they immediately provided me the option to output the sound to the AirPods, no need for individual pairing operation.


    Taking about other devices in the same iCloud account ...The initial Apple marketing literature passed the impression that somehow the AirPods would "automagivally" comute from one device to another as per usage scenario.. Giving the impression that for instance if I had the AirPods in use with the iPhone, and engaged my MacBook Pro for work, it would automagically comute, or at least ask me if I wanted to, but that its not the case. I need to commute manually between devices. It always auto connect to the latest device it was connected when it was put back in the case. If the latest device is not in reach it connects to ... nothing. Which is unfortunate. Several times I have it connected to my MacBook Pro, close the laptop, put the AirPods back in the case, go out. When I put it back in my ears while out and about, I still have to pick up the iPhone from my pocket and connect it manually. Furthermore, the UI for connection is somewhat hidden the the music control widget in the control center f iOS 11.


    I've never tried with non iDevices, never felt the need considering my tech kit, but in that regard it said to work like any other.


    I do experience some sound drop outs sometimes, for split seconds, unlike other reports. It looks that its more down to my iPhone SE, depending on the position that it is in my pocket, blocking the internal Antenna than the AirPods. Other people seam to use it with iPhone 6s and onwards with no such gliches. While on this, I've found that commuting devices sometimes takes more time that its needs. Say between my iPhone and the MacBook Pro ....but it does commute. Still in that regard, it does not look like it is any different from other bluetooth earphones. It is just that instead of going to the bluetooth devices and connect, I simply go to the speaker control and connect, so it mostly a UI trick Apple plays here.


    Conclusion


    As far as my experience goes the AirPods are the state of the art in terms of general use wireless earphones. I wish the Apple has not dropped the ball in terms of volume control, I wish that it would automagically commute between iDevices somehow, I wish I was certain that some sound drop outs I have experienced was down simply to the iPhone SE ... Still its is the first earphones I can use everyday for hours without preparation or disconfort, and I do. And for that it worth the price.


    When Apple sorts out the pointed issues without adding others I will give 5 starts, until than 4 seams adequate.


    You see. the AirPods are not fo technology for technology sake addicts :) I mean. imagine that to lighten up a chandelier one needed to plug and un plug the damn thing from a socket. It would, work right? You might even get use to it considering that there was no other option. Than someone came in, and put a button on the the stupid thing and bang, after a few years no one would be plugging and unplugging lighting stuff to switch it on and off ... the AirPods are a bit like that. Actually, the changes they introduce to the theme, collectively are a bit more than that ... But I can imagine that someone in this scenario could always say ... "why pay $60 for a button in the chandelier, plugging and unplugging the thing from the socket its fine for me". Of course those people would even feel more self-righteous in their opinion if the button worked intermittently ... In that case for a difference reason I would agree as people would revert back to plugging and unplugging. But it does not!!! That is a huge difference!!!!


    Brad, hopefully you will feel less embarrassed by your purchase with this description.

  8. SvenJ

    Another plus for these is their ability to understand they are in your ears. If you have them in and playing, and you notice someone talking to you, just take either side out. The music pauses. When done, stick it back in and it starts up again. If the person asks what you are listening to, just hand them the one you took out and hen the put it their ear, again it resumes play. It's great if you get a call on a different phone. Just take one out, take the call and replace when done. Wish the Beats X did this. I think the sound is better than the AirPods, but I actually think the AirPods are fine. (1 share, if you must know). They are also very comfortable...to me. My wife said one hurt after about 60 seconds. One size doesn't fit all.

  9. HellcatM

    A friend of mine has a pair of these and when I first saw them I called them earpons because they look like tampons for the ears. They sound very dull, but they go well with the boring iphone. The noise reduction sucks too. He was at Trader Joes and I heard every conversation in the background. Worse noise reduction I've ever heard. How people buy apple products boggles my mind, way to expensive for what you get. I give them a D or 1 star. or 5 out of 100 or 1 out of 10.

  10. jbuccola

    Brad, one important aspect of a BT headset is the phone use case. On that front, these are the most “handset sounding” BT earpieces around, with stellar noise reduction and excellent battery life. In addition, the ability to seamlessly transition between devices amazes me; I previously had a set of wired headphones (backup), innumerable tacky BT headsets for phone calls, then a set of BT headphones for working out. This all consolidated to one set of AirPods. There is simply no product that competes with them, especially Google’s recent flop.

  11. akcanuck

    I have had a pair for about a month. The connection is great and works every time, battery life is really good. I have had a couple of other pairs of completely wireless earbuds and the connection sucks. One earbud would stay connected but the other would fade in and out. I used them when I take walks and that would make it even worse. I have none of that with the Airpods. I mainly listen to podcasts and audio books with them and the sound quality is great for that. They do let a lot of outside noise in compared to the other pairs with rubber tips. For my ears they do tend to come out but not fall out. When walking I have to push them back in from time to time. I love how small the case is. I keep them in my pocket all the time and always have them available. I wish they weren't white. I bought some black skins on Amazon which I like better.


    I really like them but wish I could tweak a few things and make them perfect for me.

  12. Brett Barbier

    Thanks for the tip about using the Apple Watch to adjust the volume... I also just recently bought a pair of AirPods, and was annoyed there wasn't a better way to adjust the volume other than Siri or my iPhone.

  13. PincasX

    I have a pair and I really like them but I think I had different expectations for sound quality. I more or less expected them to sound like the earbuds that come with the phone and I think they probably sound a little better. I think my biggest gripe with the product (besides the fact that they look ridiculous) is the volume control part but since I can control that using the digital crown on the AppleWatch rather than having to fish out my phone or use Siri I am not entirely bothered by it. I mostly use them running with music playing off my watch so all the controls that I would want on earbuds are more or less easily accessible on the watch, especially with the newest WatchOS. As for them falling out? I have done several half marathons and have never had to so much as adjust their position. I did have one come out while running but that was due to me pulling off my shirt which would probably be likely to happen no matter what I was using.

  14. jwpear

    I thought they looked odd when Apple first introduced them. I saw a guy wearing them at a restaurant recently and didn't think they looked as ridiculous as I had imagined. My conclusion was they look just like regular Apple earbuds, but without the wire.


    I happen to mostly like the wired Apple earbuds. I like using them to listen to music or podcasts at the office. They also work okay when I need to jump on a conference call. In those instances, I like being able to hear the ambient noise. It's easier to hear someone call my name or know that I'm not yelling when speaking on a call.


    I do not use my wired Apple earbuds at the gym because they tend to fall out easily due to the dangling wire. And like you, I want to block out the ambient sound at the gym. I have a pair of cheap (i.e. $20) Bluetooth earbuds I use instead. I like that they're connected with a wire. I can't lose them as easily. I can also catch them more easily if one does happen to fall out. And it seems pretty much all silicon earbuds fall out when you get sweaty and are moving a lot.


    My biggest hesitation with Apple's Air Pods (and the wired earbuds for that matter) is their color. White just stands out like the socks with sandals you mention. What self-respecting dude wants to wear white earbuds at gym? That completely works against the fit, super cool, tough dude image. For most guys, anyway. I'm none of those. Still, I don't want to wear white earbuds to the gym. I'm holding out for space grey.

  15. DaddyBrownJr

    You alienated Z28 owners, 13th-century peasants and people with socks and sandals all in one post. Blogger's hat trick!

  16. Gregory Steeno

    I always appreciate constructive, balanced reviews of products. Sprinkled with humor is even better.


    But I don't feel this was one of those. Sorry Brad. A bit too juvenile in places, IMO.


    Counter to Brad's opinion, I was recently in NYC, where they are not such a niche item at all. That prompted me to make a stop at Apple Store on 5th Ave and try them. I was incredibly impressed, not just the sound in the loud environment, but by their ability to stay in my ears. Granted, I only played with them for 5 minutes, but that experience + a majority of reviews extolling them, I'll make the leap this holiday season. Maybe even add EarSkinz for a bit of noise-isolation.


    (Although I do agree that the lack of volume control is a slight bummer.)

  17. chasbo

    I bought some over the summer and I hate to say this, but they "just work". I can seamlessly move between my iPhone and iPad with them. They connect right away and the battery life is great. I also hate the cord that many Bluetooth headphones come with and these solved that issue. Yes, they are expensive but sometimes the money is well spent.

  18. jimchamplin

    This I feel is the case with pretty much all of Apple’ accessories. I own the Magic Mouse 2, and yes it is an affront to ergonomic design, but it also feels amateurish. You can scroll on its glass touch surface. Fine. But there’s no logic built into it that allows your finger to lean as you move the mouse without scrolling.


    It gets annoying to see the contents of a window twitch occasionally just because I rest my finger on the damn mouse. Does Apple intend for me to keep it raised? That’s absurd. They could have designed some hysteresis into the mouse or the driver to require a certain amount of motion before a scroll registers. But they didn’t. And it makes a cool device become quite meh.


    Re: the terrible ergonomics of Apple peripherals, maybe they simply expect their customers to be well-heeled enough to afford carpal tunnel surgery out of pocket.

  19. Edward Grego

    The AirPods sound ok, middle of the road, but they work flawlessly and battery life is great. If you were to rate that on a ten point scale, 6 for sound, 10 for operation and 8 for battery, that’s 8 out of ten average. That’s a damn good device! My opinion is, buy them, you won’t be disappointed.

    Also, I like the ambient noise leaking through. When you’re walking or jogging in a park, or just outside listening to music, the music also becomes ambient and you truly feel “outside”.

  20. cyloncat

    One of the okayiest things about AirPods is that they are so minimally intrusive when using them. They weigh next to nothing and you can easily forget that they're there. I've used Bluetooth headsets that have worse sound, look even more nerdy, and are a distraction every second you have them on your ear, so yeah, these really are pretty okay. They also seem to have excellent microphones; I'm told that the sound quality on the other end is pretty good. Certainly better than using the Apple Watch for phone calls.


    That said, I've had a couple of Bluetooth drops with them. They don't recover without putting them back in the charger, so it's pretty disruptive; you really have to switch to a wired headset or, horrors, be that 13th century peasant and use your phone.

  21. creugea7

    I was on the fence about purchasing Apple ear pods awhile back. I liked the idea of them but I needed something that would also block out background noise as I work in an open cube environment. What I found was the Beats Solo 3 (https://www.beatsbydre.com/headphones/solo3-wireless). These include the same W1 chip as the Air Pods and last 40 hours. I have had mine since they came out and I love them. I charge them about once a week with moderate daily use. The W1 one chip is pretty amazing and makes setup super easy with Apple products. If you want an over the ear headphone that sounds better and works just a good as the air pods I would look at these. Just my 2 cents.

  22. ayebang

    There is one important missing function of this expensive Airpods is that it just can be paired with one device at a time.


    That means if you pair it with Iphone, you cannot pair it to your notebook. This function - to pair 2 devices at a time, is common in this price range headsets.


    Sadly, not of this one.


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