Apple AirPods 3 Review: The AirPods Pro Lite?

Right between the AirPods 2 and the AirPods Pro

by: - Last updated on: January 13th, 2022
Key Takeaways
  • The AirPods 3 are the latest AirPods released by Apple in the market, and are the third in the OG AirPods series, with the Pro being the other variant.
  • Although called the AirPods (3rd generation), the new AirPods seem to have more in common with the flagship AirPods Pro than with their own predecessors.
  • They come with great call quality, spatial audio, and the best battery life seen on AirPods, but at Rs 18,500, the AirPods (3rd generation) face some tough competition, not least from the AirPods Pro, which are available at below Rs 20,000 from many outlets.

Apple’s Airpods were one of those products that many had pegged as doomed to fail. The controversial EarPods-like design just without wires, the high price tag, and the fact that they were completely wireless in an industry that was still getting used to Bluetooth earbuds all contributed to this assumption.

Apple AirPods 3 review

Fast forward to today, and Apple’s AirPods are no longer just a product but a brand in their own right with millions of units sold over the last five years. Since the launch of the OG AirPods, Apple did release an updated version of the classic buds, the AirPods 2 that had the exact same design as the original AirPods. Then there were the AirPods Pro which were basically AirPods on steroids. Apple threw the kitchen sink at these buds and loaded them with features like ANC, Spatial Audio, Transparency mode, and more plus the design was remarkably different, setting them clearly apart from the AirPods and the AirPods 2 (which basically looked identical).

Now Apple has come out with the latest version of the AirPods– AirPods (3rd generation), which we will refer to as AirPods 3 henceforth– that certainly look very different from their predecessor(s) and come with quite a few added features. That said, these looks and features would cost some more bucks. At Rs. 18,500, the AirPods 3 basically sit in the middle of the AirPods 2 and the AirPods Pro, so should you be investing in them?

Look like AirPods Pro minus the ‘Pro’ bit

Apple may have launched the successor of the AirPods (2nd generation, hereafter referred to as the AirPods 2), but a single glance at the new AirPods is enough to tell you that Pro genes dominate its DNA quite heavily. As a result, the AirPods 3 look like AirPods Pro minus the ‘Pro’ bit.

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Apart from slightly (not even noticeable) shorter stems and the missing ear tips that go deep into your ear canal, the AirPods 3 have the same look as the AirPods Pro. This means the new AirPods follow the same ‘hang in your ear’ design pattern that the AirPods 2 come with instead of going all the way inside. But that seems to be the only similarity between the two in terms of design.

The tapping controls on the previous generation AirPods are replaced with force stems. Like the AirPods Pro, these come with small flat capacitive touch panels that have to be pressed to play/pause/change songs/ pick/ end calls. Many would love this upgrade, but there is something about an effortless tap that we love on the second-generation AirPods instead of the squeezing of the super-tiny touch panel on that teensy stem which often leads to the AirPods 3 falling out or being pulled out for some reason. Not all upgrades feel like upgrades if you know what we mean.

Slippery customers

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The AirPods 3 heads’ shape is entirely different from both the AirPods Pro and the AirPods 2, bringing in the new AirPods element to the mix. The heads of these earbuds are pretty bulb-y and round and are thicker than the AirPods 2. Also, because they are missing the ear tips that the AirPods Pro have, they do not dig into your ear canals but sit slightly further in because of their shape as compared to the AirPods 2.

These are the same as the AirPods 2 in terms of comfort and can be used for hours at a stretch which cannot be said about the AirPods Pro. The lightweight only adds to the comfort. At just 4.2 grams each, the AirPods 3 are basically feather-light compared to most other TWS in the market. In addition, Apple has introduced a skin detect sensor on the new AirPods. This makes the buds work only when they come in contact with skin, keeping them from accidentally playing while in one’s pocket, a problem many faced with the previous generation AirPods.

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The AirPods 3 also come with an IPX4 rating making them water-resistant, but they are still not the gym buds you need. The reason for that is the fit of the buds. The new AirPods did not quite stay put as well as the AirPods 2, let alone the AirPods Pro. They were just always a single bump or enthusiastic nod away from falling out. We even found them to sometimes slip out of our ears very slyly when we bent down. The missing ear tips also mean there is next to no noise isolation on these buds. It goes without saying, the fit on these is our least favorite of all the AirPods so far.

The case is in Pro-shape

The case of the AirPods 3 is slightly bigger than that of the AirPods 2 but is slightly smaller than that of the AirPods Pro and is shaped exactly like that of the AirPods Pro (them Pro genes)– more rounded edges with a basic rectangular shape. Other than that, the commons remain common here as well. There is a small LED indicator on the front, a tiny circular button on the back along with a silver hinge that connects the two parts of the case, and a lightning port sits on the base for charging purposes.

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Like all other AirPods, the case does not age well and picks up even the lightest scratches, and because the AirPods only come in the iconic AirPods-glossy-white shade, the scratches are usually visible from miles away, making even a new set look shabby. However, the IPX4 rating gets extended to the case as well, which means it might pick up scratches easily but can go diving like a champ.

Painless pairing as usual with some connectivity blues

One of the biggest pros (no pun intended) of AirPods, in general, is the ease of use. From the pairing process to connecting buds again to your device, Apple has really nailed the interface part of its TWS game. The pairing process with the AirPods 3 remains the same and as easy as ever. One simply has to keep the AirPods case open around the device they want to pair it with, press and hold the tiny button on the back and pair the buds when they appear on the screen. Once paired, the AirPods 3 will automatically connect to the last paired device whenever taken out of the case.

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If you wish to connect them to a different (a device you are not signed into with your Apple ID) device, you can go to the Bluetooth settings, unpair the AirPods and pair them with a different device. While they work with both iOS and non-iOS devices, you have to pair them to an iPhone (with iOS 15) to enjoy all of the features that they bring along like hands-free Siri Activation, Spatial Audio on group calls, and audio sharing. Once paired, the AirPods will get linked to your AppleID, and you will be able to enjoy the same one-touch connectivity feature allowing you to connect other devices with your AppleID seamlessly.

An odd issue that we faced with our pair was connectivity. It is almost absurd because we have never faced such an issue with any other AirPods. We would often only get audio in one earbuds when both would be in our ears, especially over calls. There were some rare connection-dropping accidents too initially, but those seemed to have been sorted out over time.

More balance than bass

The AirPods 3 come with new custom high excursion Apple drivers and a new dynamic range amplifier, but one thing that is common between all three AirPods (second generation, third generation, and Pro) is the H1 chip that they are powered by.

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Apple has been quite clever while crafting the AirPods 3. While the AirPods 3 bring a certain and noticeably better audio output as compared to the last generation AirPods, the difference is not going to blow you away. Unfortunately, this also means the improved audio quality still remains a couple of notches below that of the AirPods Pro, making the AirPods 3 sit exactly where they need to– right in the middle of the AirPods 2 and the AirPods Pro.

Apple claims that bass is the real star of the AirPods 3 show, but we would beg to differ. The AirPods 3 follow in the ‘earsteps’ of the AirPods 2 in the audio quality department, which means they offer a more well-rounded, balanced audio experience. As we mentioned above, the overall quality is better than that of the AirPods 2 – the sound is clearer and has more body, but at no point did it feel bass-heavy, as it can on the AirPods Pro.

We know this will disappoint bass fanatics, but we actually appreciated what we like to call the slightly ‘truer’ sound in general.

Invisible Adaptive EQ, very visible spatial audio

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Apple has also picked the Adaptive EQ technology from the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max and brought them to the new AirPods. This means the AirPods 3 have an in-ward facing mic on each earbud. These mics study the sound in real-time and based on the shape of your ears, and with the help of computational audio, the feature adjusts and enhances low and mid-frequency sound, which may be lost due to a loose fit. The problem with Adaptive EQ is that you do not know what it is actually and how it enhances your audio experience. You just have to believe (or not) that some part of the improved audio experience is because of Adaptive EQ.

This brings us to the most talked-about feature added to the AirPods 3 – Spatial Audio with head tracking. Apple basically applies directional audio filters to selected content and places that content in a 3D sphere, making it more immersive. The audio output then feels like it is coming from every angle, and the added head tracking feature basically monitors the movement of your head and changes the audio output accordingly, making it more realistic. This means if you move your head to the left with Spatial Audio turned on, you will feel the sound get slightly distant in that direction.

In our experience, the feature works beautifully, and there is a noticeable, pleasant difference, giving you the right kind of theater feels.

A calling star, but no ANC

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AirPods 3 follow in their predecessor’s footsteps and deliver excellent output over calls. The call quality is clear, and never while using them, the receiver asked us to repeat what we said, which is a great sign considering the smaller stems, a problem we faced with the AirPods Pro.

That said, Apple has kept one feature to the Pro variant from these new AirPods, and that is ANC. There is no active noise cancellation on the AirPods 3, and because they come with an open design, there is next to no insulation from ambient noise. Yes, the audio is much more dynamic and can hold itself up against some really noisy environments, but because of the open design of the buds, it is unlikely to drown out those annoying ambient noises, and the lack of ANC does not help its case.

Best in battery

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Apple claims the AirPods 3 can last up to 6 hours in one go, which is more or less true and makes these the best AirPods in terms of battery life. We got about five-five and a half hours’ worth of battery life out of the buds, which are pretty close to the company’s claim. Depending on your usage, the case can charge your AirPods running for about half a week or more and has an official 30 hours of battery life up its sleeves, which is a step up from the previous models that had about 24 hours.

The case of the AirPods 3 also comes with wireless charging support and supports both Qi-certified chargers and Apple’s MagSafe charging technology. But, of course, you can also take the good old-fashioned route and use the lightning port on the base of the case to charge the AirPods.

We would have liked to see reverse charging on the buds, which is pretty standard now in the market, and would have loved to charge them off the backs of our iPhone, but that’s still a no-go with the AirPods 3.

It’s more about the fit in your ears

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At Rs. 18,500, the AirPods 3 technically sit in the middle of the AirPods Pro (Rs. 24,900) and the AirPods 2 (Rs.12,900). But with the price of the AirPods Pro dipping below Rs 20,000, these can prove to be a real headache for the AirPods 3. While the official price of the AirPods 2 may suggest, there is not a big price gap between the second-generation AirPods and the third-generation AirPods, the fact that the AirPods 2 are retailing for less than Rs. 10,000 on several platforms can make that gap quite wide, making it difficult for people to leap onto the AirPods 3.

The AirPods 3 would have been a no-brainer at Rs 15,000, but they are in the Pro zone at their current price. What’s more, if you are willing to look beyond the Apple eco-system, you will find any number of high-quality TWS (often with features like ANC) at a relatively lower price – the Sony WF-1000 XM3 are available at Rs 14,990, the Jabra Elite 85t at Rs 17,999, the Bose Sport TWS at around Rs 16,5000 and the OnePlus Buds Pro at Rs 9,990.

So why would one buy the AirPods 3? Well, the AirPods 3 are light, comfortable, and come with features like Adaptive EQ and Spatial Audio with head tracking. This makes them the perfect ear-buddies for those looking for comfortable earbuds that can be used for prolonged periods without digging into their ear canals like the AirPods Pro do, and simultaneously enjoy Apple’s Spatial Audio feature, better audio output, and longer battery life as compared to the AirPods 2. So they are kind of like the AirPods Pro Lite!

Buy AirPods 3

Pros
  • Good sound quality
  • Good call handling
  • Lightweight
  • Effortless to use
  • Better Battery Life
Cons
  • Expensive
  • No ANC at this price
  • Some connectivity issues
  • Scratch prone case
Review Overview
Design and Looks
Sound Quality
UI
Fit
Price
SUMMARY

The AirPods 3 are the latest AirPods released by Apple in the market, and are the third in the OG AirPods series, with the Pro being the other variant. Although called the AirPods (3rd generation), the new AirPods seem to have more in common with the flagship AirPods Pro than with their own predecessors.

3.8

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