As there is no headphone socket on the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, you have either got to go Lightning connector or Bluetooth wireless. The company hopes you will opt for the latter and buy into its wireless in-ear AirPods.
If you have got wired headphones then Apple includes a Lightning to 3.5mm adapter in the iPhone 7 box. On concord, that has not stopped the £159 AirPods from causing a bit of a storm. Does their divisive design render them a disaster or Is their wire-free vision the future of wireless listening?
Apple AirPods review: Wireless and wire-free
The dinky Apple AirPods have no wires connected to your mobile. There are also no wires to connect the two earphones together. They connect via Bluetooth and are genuinely wire-free.
Such as the new wave of Bluetooth headphones starting to come on to the market. The AirPods are intelligent enough to wirelessly connect to each other and then to your iPad, iPhone, MacBook, or Watch.
The design is typically Apple, simple, and white. The ‘Pods sit in the opening of your ears, with a small rod protruding out and down your face. The outer rod is touch-sensitive. It allows you to engage with Siri or pause the music. The design is very similar to the wired EarPods that ship in the iPhone 7 box, albeit with their connecting wire cut off.
The only way to charge the AirPods without connectors is via the accompanying charging case. That is also a battery that gives you more juice when on the go. The size of a dental floss box, it will easily slip into a pocket or even bag.
With the promise of five hours of listening time from one charge and up to 24 hours of total listening time from the case. The worries about the AirPods running out of battery are probably moot. We have not had any problems yet.
You will also have the fear of losing the headphones themselves, aside from the concern of what happens if you lose the charging case. As they are light and small, we suspect they are also as good as lost within days of getting them.
There doesn’t appear to be a lost-and-found feature that could ping you a tracking signal if you have left them behind somewhere.
Apple AirPods review: Connecting the music
Once you have connected it to one device, the AirPods will be available via iCloud to all your Apple devices. Automatically know which one you are listening to music on. For instance, it may be a MacBook, the iPhone, or the Apple Watch.
AirPods are ready to go and connected. Just put them in your ears when you want to listen. Seamlessly, they switch from a call on your phone to listening to music on your Mac, iPad or Apple Watch. Really, it’s very simple and cool.
Apple AirPods review: One headphone or two?
It isn’t just about listening to music in the same old way you have always done. The AirPods include a new wireless processor. Dubbed the W1, which has some tricks up its sleeve.
Pop the AirPods into your ears. The music will be started. Take one out, and the music will pause. Rather than playing in stereo, will only play mono on the remaining single headphone in your ear. They automatically pause the music by removing them completely until you pop them back in. After using, you do love that feature.
Double-tap you AirPods, you can access Siri to select and control your music, check your battery life, change the volume, or perform any other Siri tasks. There are no more buttons.
While you are speaking, an additional accelerometer in each AirPod detects enabling a pair of beam-forming microphones. So that you can focus on the sound of your voice, filtering out external noise to make pickup of your voice clearer for the best results.
The experience isn’t as intelligent though on the Mac. There is no single-to-stereo or auto-pausing functionality. But a double-tap still engages Siri in MacOS Sierra, if you have not upgraded yet. Nevertheless, they do work just as you would expect a set of Bluetooth headphones to work.
Apple AirPods review: Hey Siri, skip track
Everything is controlled via Siri if you aren’t handling your iPhone, with zero physical buttons on the AirPods.
If you want to turn the volume down, tap the AirPod. Wait for a beep, then give Siri the command. Wait for that command to be processed and then carry on. It’s the same with skipping tracks and other commands. At that time the music will be stopped.
It feels sluggish. Certainly not as easy as tapping a remote on a wired set of headphones. Using your voice might sound futuristic. But some form of basic controls such as volume and skip the track. Either through strokes or taps would have been welcomed.
Apple AirPods review: Listening to music, taking calls
We have tested the AirPods with an array of different Apple devices such as MacBook Pro, iPad Pro, Apple Watch Series 2 and iPhone 7 are really impressed with the simplicity of connection and switching between devices.
While coming to sound performance, the AirPods are virtually identical in performance to the EarPods included for free in the box. That £159 price tag is for the wire-free freedom. Additionally, the included charger rather than an audio upgrade.
Such as EarPods, the AirPods have clearly been designed to suit a wide range of music tastes rather than a particular segment. They are not as bass heavy as Beats. For instance, but should be more than suitable for most people.
Mainly we have experienced zero drop outs and zero pops whichever device we have been using to listen. That’s something that can otherwise hurt the Bluetooth listening experience in so many other devices.
When it comes to taking calls, the AirPods microphones allow you to be heard and to listen clearly. We have tested it in a variety of situations from busy London streets and bars. Through to quiet rooms with no one else around. No callers could tell we were using the AirPods compared to the iPhone’s speaker. Although a few did mention that when we were in a loud environment they could tell there was some form of noise-cancellation and compression.
Apple AirPods review: Sitting, walking, running
The AirPods have been designed to sit in your ears and come with no additional clips, paraphernalia or clasps to stop them falling out. That clearly worried a lot of people as to whether the AirPods have the ability to stay put. It also likely depends on the shape of your ears and how well you get on with in-ear headphones in general.
Mincing around the house, generally lounging on the sofa, or sitting at your desk and you will have no problem. Walking to the shops and back and the AirPods are comfortable.
With a lack of wires, there will be an appeal to run in them. Especially if you connect them to your Apple Watch. We ran 5km and 10km with the AirPods in our review.
On the 5km run the AirPods stayed in our ears, worked flawlessly, and we enjoyed the freedom of not only running wirelessly. But also without a joining cable between the two Pods bashing on the back of our neck.
On our 10 km run, we found the experience wasn’t as pleasurable. Not only did the sound performance deteriorate ass the headphones loosened in our ears with the constant movement. But the left headphone fell out twice when we went to wipe our brow of sweat sending it flying into the road. Apple doesn’t sell these as a pair of sports headphones. Sure, but that does negate one of what could be a potential strength.
The AirPods have already polarized opinion when it comes to their design. Everyone we have asked would be conscious about wearing them. Both because of the stick that protrudes from each ear and the fear of them falling out and getting lost.
Nevertheless, in terms of connectivity, the AirPods are great. In which where they come into their own. In terms of functionality and sound isolation for voice calls, they are really clever. Whether you like the look of them or not.
The simplicity of connectivity, automated cross-device use via iCloud and automatic start/stop controls based on whether one or both AirPods are in the ears is a glimpse into the future of wireless listening. In these regards, Apple sets the benchmark for a wire-free future.
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