Here is a short list of products that Apple has released in the past few years:
- A stylus that only charges when sticking straight out of an iPad
- A mouse that doesn’t work when you need to charge it
- A $350 smartwatch that’s as useful as a $150 one
- A tablet the size of Jupiter
- A laptop with almost no ports
- A phone with no headphone jack that can’t connect to the port-less laptop
Apple was once lauded for the design, durability, and simplicity of its products. But in recent years, the company has lost its way. Many of its newer devices feel derivative of older ones—rather than incrementally better—or seem just plain odd. Consumers appear to agree: In 2016, Apple posted year-over-year declines in both profit and revenue for the first time in 15 years.
But amid at all this lackluster gadgetry, Apple did release—in a tiny container shaped like a Tic-Tac box—one of the simplest and best products it’s put out in years: the AirPods. These wireless headphones do something that few Apple products have in the Tim Cook era—they just work.
Really, they just work. Apple loves to describe its products as “magical.” Few have felt that way recently, but the AirPods sort of do. If you’re pairing them with an iPhone, the second you take them out of their packaging and open their container, you get a pop-up on your phone asking you to connect “[your name]’s AirPods.” There’s no messing with Bluetooth settings, no connecting to local wi-fi networks, and none of the setup typical of internet-of-things devices. Open the box; start playing music. No other wireless headphones I’ve tried out, or really many other products at all, have been so easy to start using.
AirPods can also connect to other non-Apple devices like regular regular Bluetooth headphones (there’s a button on the back of the case that allows them to be discovered by other devices). Theoretically, AirPods will also automatically connect to any Apple device associated with your iPhone’s iCloud account, but in practice I found that only happened sometimes. Sometimes I had to manually select my AirPods from the Bluetooth menu to get them to connect to other Apple devices.
They’re self-charging. Gadget cases are starting to do something useful: charge their gadgets. As Snap did with its Snapchat Spectacles, the AirPods’ case can (Apple says) provide 24 hours of charge to the headphones, which themselves hold about 5 hours of charge. I’ve had inconsistent experiences with AirPods holding a charge for 24 hours—I’m not sure if it’s me, or a battery discrepancy like the one affecting Apple’s newest MacBook Pro.
They’re self-pausing. If you pull one AirPod out, whatever you’re listening to will pause. If you take both out, it stops. You can also use one AirPod at a time to listen to music or make calls, if you’re feeling nostalgic for that mid-2000s Bluetooth headset look.
They’re so tiny. AirPods are far smaller than the average wireless headphone setup. The carrying case is easy to slip into even the smallest pocket, meaning they can go with you pretty much anywhere. They also charge off the same cable as a modern iPhone, so you only need to carry one cable with you.
Siri is in your ear. If you’ve ever wanted to feel like you have a personal digital assistant, the AirPods are perfect. Double-tap the side of one of the earbuds and you’ll activate Siri, allowing you to look and feel just a little bit like Joaquin Phoenix in the movie Her (minus, hopefully, the giant mustache).
They’re decently priced. Apple products tend to be on the expensive end of the market, but wireless headphones are rarely cheap. At $150, Bose’s wireless earbuds cost only $10 less than Apple’s, and (Apple subsidiary) Beats Audio’s newer wireless buds are about $40 more. Unlike both of those, the AirPods don’t have an aggressive “I’m working out” look to them. They just look like the wires fell off your regular Apple EarPods.
What’s not good
They look pretty silly. EarPods, which have shipped with iPhones and iPods since 2012, didn’t have the prettiest design to begin with. The AirPods’ stems also hang quite far out, making it look from a distance like you’ve gotten some very odd piercings.
They won’t fit everyone’s ears. Much like Apple’s wired headphones, the AirPods seem to be too big (or small) to fit snugly in some people’s ears. There were also concerns that they would fall out with enough shaking, but I haven’t encountered that issue. Other reviewers have had no issue running with them.
Siri is still useless. It would be great to have Siri so readily available… if she were of any use. Apple’s digital assistant rarely understands my requests, and frequently tries to throw me to a Safari search-results page, which kind of defeats the purpose. In your iPhone’s Bluetooth settings, you can switch the AirPods’ double-tap function from activating Siri to playing/pausing whatever you’re listening to, which I’ve found more useful.
No skip-song or volume button. It’s odd that Apple made Siri a double-tap on the AirPods, but included no other tap actions. If there was a way to tap the earbuds to skip songs or change the volume, without having to ask Siri in the middle of a crowded subway car, AirPods would be pretty much perfect.
Should you get them?
If you have an iPhone and listen to music on your commute, or take a lot of phone calls on the go, AirPods work perfectly. They’re not going to replace noise-canceling headphones for long flights, or high-end headphones for listening to physical audio, or aggressive “I’m working out” headphones for people who are into that sort of thing. But if you’re a casual listener, AirPods are a great pickup. For the first time in what feels like a long time, Apple has created a product that doesn’t try to do too much, and does what it’s supposed to do very well.