The Apple AirPods Review: Wireless magic more than wireless music
Expensive. Magical. And they don’t fall off!
Let us begin by getting one thing clear – if you are looking for a pair of headphones delivering very high-quality audio, then the AirPods are probably not going to come into the picture. No, it is not because they deliver bad quality sound. But their sound is not really audiophile quality – in terms of sheer quality, you will get better headsets from Bose, Sennheiser and Sony at those (and perhaps even lower) prices.
Which of course, will lead to the question: then why on earth would someone splurge Rs 15,990 (or USD 159) on a pair of wireless headphones?
The answer in two words is, Wireless Magic!
For, let me make this absolutely clear: the AirPods are really all about showcasing what can be done with a wireless headphone rather than delivering stunning sound. Let me repeat: the sound quality on the AirPods is not bad at all – it is well above average in fact – but it is not the stuff of which audiophile dreams are made.
But take our word for it, when you do show off the AirPods – and you WILL show them off – the chances are that you will not be saying “just listen to these,” but rather “isn’t this COOL?” (yes, in capitals). For there is a rather “cool” element about these wireless headphones from Apple – something that has alas become a bit of a rarity from the brand that made tech cool in the first place (1984, anyone?).
And the coolness, rather strangely for an Apple product, does not flow from the AirPods’ design. Or at least not from the design of the AirPods themselves. They come packed in the battery case, which itself is surprisingly compact (very reminiscent of those floss boxes) and yep, we wager, a lot of people will get surprised at just how compact the entire battery and case package is, although its pearly white exterior will pick up smudges and scratches, we wager – the era of cases for AirPods cases beckons!
Taking the AirPods out of the box, into which they fit rather snugly, however, will result in a tiny twinge of disappointment. All that stuff the cynics had said about the AirPods looking like the normal EarPods with the wires cut off? Yeah, it is true. In terms of sheer appearance, there is nothing new, leave alone drop-dead-gorgeous, about the AirPods. They look like normal EarPods that have lost their wires. Yes, they are very light and even with the case, they are fantastically portable (they will slip into any pocket easily), but we do not see them winning innovative design awards. They are like slightly elongated buds without wires, really.
Fortunately, these ear buddies then go right ahead and prove the maxim about beauty (and we assume, the lack of it) being just skin-deep. We start with the pairing process. You switch on Bluetooth on your iPhone, flip open the AirPods box and press the button behind them, a light blinks inside the box, and a few seconds later, your AirPods are paired. Not just that, it will automatically also be connected with all the devices registered to your iCloud account. No codes, no permissions, nothing. And yes, the process is just as simple on Android devices as well!
And then comes actual usage. The AirPods fit snugly in our ears (a good thing too, because there are no different sized buds out there – it is one size for all). And while we did not do all the stunts that Lil Buck did in the AirPods ad, but take our word for it, the AirPods are not going to fall out of your ears, no matter how fast your run, or how much you shake your head. That said, we must confess that we were nervous about wearing them in public, for the simple reason that if they did fall, they would hit the ground and not be left dangling from our ears on a wire. Yes, some will say that this is applicable to ALL wireless headphones, but we just felt a little nervier wearing these ones in public.
In terms of sheer sound quality, we will confess that while the AirPods are a notch above their wired predecessors, the difference will not jump out at most normal users. Bass is better and we think those who love acoustic music will love the lack of tinniness in those Unplugged session recordings. Sound clarity is very good at high levels too with no breaking up. However, we do not see the Bose or Sennheiser audiophile crowd making a beeline for these – their sound ain’t THAT good, to be brutally honest. And the absence of even basic volume controls on them (you can either use the buttons on your connected device or ask Siri) can be a bit of deal breaker for some.
But if the AirPods are unlikely to strike a chord in the ear of the audiophile, they will appeal to the soul of the geek brigade. For, we have seldom seen Bluetooth technology used as smoothly as this. We have already spoken of the almost seamless way in which they connected to different devices. Taking and receiving calls on them was a smooth experience – we just had to double tap our AirPods to take a call. Double tapping on the AirPods also invokes Siri on iOS devices (it will pause/play music on Android), and you can then ask it to do a host of things, including calling up people, playing your favorite playlist, check the battery status of the AirPods and so on. Speaking of battery status, to find out how much juice lies within them, just put them in the case, and flick it open near your iOS device – the battery remaining in the AirPods as well as in the case will be displayed on the device. Oh, and if you take an AirPod out of your ear, the music playing on them automatically pauses. Cool, eh? Mind you, we still find asking Siri to increase or decrease the volume a very iffy process.
The charging case itself claims to be able to give you more than 24 hours of battery life, which aligned with the 4-5 hour battery life on the AirPods themselves, means that even heavy users can get through the better part of a week with a single recharge of the case. The “charge fifteen minutes to get three hours of battery life” also actually works. The range of the AirPods also is impressive – we were able to roam up to 20-25 feet away from our devices without losing contact.
No, they don’t drop off.
Yes, they look like EarPods with the wires snipped off.
No, they are not the most top notch in sound quality.
Yes, they work with near magical ease in iOS environments.
Yes, that case actually works!
The big question is whether all this is worth a Rs 15,400 price tag? We can see audiophiles wincing at the very notion and uttering the “B”(ose) word. But the iOS toting geek squad might well be attracted to them. As would be early adopters. No, they are not perfect – sound quality could have been better at that price, and we would really appreciate some volume or play/pause buttons ON them. But even with those flaws and THAT price, the AirPods subscribe to those three magical words that define so many Apple’s products:
They. Just. Work.