I waited for the catcalls, odd looks and derision. They never came. Through two long walks along the streets and avenues of a crowded city, not a single person looked at my ears, asked me about them or, as far as I could tell, noticed me at all. I was just another commuter, wearing an unusual (and still very rare) pair of Apple AirPods.
In the days since Apple CEO Tim Cook stood on stage and introduced the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus and Apple Watch Series 2, most people are still fixated on the new wireless AirPods Apple presented as companions to the newly headphone-jack-shorn iPhone. Or maybe thats just my perception.
I was at the launch event and, in the minutes after Sia left the stage, I raced over to the demo room to see the new iPhone and those AirPods. After getting a brief demo, I instinctively stuck one in my ear and asked someone to take a photo, which I soon shared on Twitter. The response was, one might say, strong, and not in a good way.
When Cook first introduced the wireless, Bluetooth headphones the first ones Apple had ever made I posted a photo asking if they looked cool or ridiculous. Now, with my own perfectly framed photo of the an AirPod in one of my ears floating on the internet, I had my answer. People hated them.
One might assume that AirPods are the direct response the removal of the 3.5mm jack. Yes and no. Losing a port and asking the Lightning jack to do triple duty power, audio and data did mean Apple had to make some hardware changes. The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus both ship with Lightning EarPods and a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter. This hardware comes for free. No one has to buy a pair of AirPods.
But they might want to.
Wireless audio frees you from the tyranny of physical connection. I dont know of many people who are big fans of the existing Apple iPhone EarPods, but I do see many, many people using them. I use mine every day for everything from phone calls to music and listening to my favorite podcasts. On the weekends, I wear them and do house work, cleaning, yard work, cooking. Every once in a while, I lean down and when I stand up especially if I do so quickly the wire gets caught on my knee and painfully yanks the EarPods out of my ears.
And for as much as people “loved” the 3.5mm jack, it was another lint-collection port. When the wired controls (volume/pause) started failing on my EarPods, I found that it was because the jack was no longer seating fully. It kept jamming up against compacted lint at the base of the hole. I had to dig it out with a pin.
Suffice to day, wireless is probably a better solution.
What are these things?
As with anything Apple builds, the Apple AirPods have a design point of view. Apple and its Chief Design Officer Jony Ive dont market research products. They start with an idea and then work on it until its the best representation of their idea, built to what they consider aesthetic and mechanical perfection.
Wireless audio frees you from the tyranny of physical connection.
The AirPods arrive in a case that, as many have noted, looks like a plastic floss case. Of course, the look serves a purpose: There are no edges not even a flat bottom so you can stand it up to make sure it slides effortlessly in and out of your pocket or bag.
The case is also full of real utility. It has a built-in battery that can recharge the AirPods every time you slip them inside. 15 minutes will get you 3 hours of play time. In addition, theres 19 extra hours of charge in the case (I charged the case once during my tests). Opening the case, which has no Bluetooth connectivity, tells the AirPods to pair with your iPhone. They also work with other Bluetooth-compatible devices you just have to press the button on the back of the case to start the pairing process. I effortlessly paired my AirPods with a Samsung Galaxy S7.
To connect to my iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, I just placed the case (with the AirPods still inside) next to the phone and opened the flip top. A widget appeared with a picture of the case and the AirPods, and it also showed how much charge each of them had.
After that, I only had to select the AirPods as an audio output option when playing music or a podcast. I only had to do this once. Connecting the AirPods to one iOS device will also add it to all your other iOS devices on the same account. On my pre-production, non-final software unit, this only worked for my old iPhone but not my iPad Pro 9.7.
The AirPods themselves are actually quite familiar-looking. The portion that slips inside your ears is almost the same as the original EarPods, but with a few crucial differences.
There are more holes in each AirPod, which are there to accommodate optical sensors. Inside are a pair of accelerometers. These headphones know almost as much about where they are and how theyre moving as your smartphone.
Also in the in-ear portion is a microphone and the new W1 Bluetooth low energy chip that Apple custom-built for the AirPods. It handles connection to your devices, and acts as a traffic cop, reading data off the built-in sensors to know where to route audio and when to engage the noise-cancelling microphones for calls. It also operates at, according to Apple, a fraction of the power of traditional Bluetooth audio chips (Apple claims a third).
Each in-ear portion drains down to a long stem that, while looking a lot like the stems on traditional EarPods, is noticeably longer and thicker. Since the whole thing is white, it would be hard to miss a pair of these sticking out of someones ears. Even so, that stem design serves a number of functions. It holds the battery, the Bluetooth antenna, another microphone and the metal charging pads at the base. I found that the size made them easy to grip and kept me from fumbling with them as I stuck the AirPods in my ears.
Connected and smart
I had no trouble pairing the AirPods with my iPhone 7 and 7 Plus review units and, as soon as I placed one in my ear, I heard a tone, which indicated the AirPod knew I was wearing it. I put in the other one and turned on the music.
I know that most audiophiles hate Bluetooth audio and, perhaps, hate EarPods even more, but I loved the sound. It was balanced, meaning I heard the audio in the center of my head, and it was rich and nuanced. At the end of the song “Motherboard” from Daft Punks Random Access Memory album, theres just the sound of running water, which, on the AirPods, sounded as if I was witnessing a stream babbling by right in front of me. Similarly, the bongos on K.I.M. – B.T.T.T.T.R.Y (Bag Raiders Remix) sounded like they were being played just a few feet away from me.
Call quality was decent, though the noise-focusing microphones did not always help people hear me through background noise. In one call, I had to repeat myself a few times before the person on the other end understood me.
The AirPods’s built-in intelligence lets them do things that aren’t possible with EarPods or most other Bluetooth headphones, for that matter. When I pulled one EarPod from my ear, the music stopped. As soon as I put it back in, the music resumed. Removing both AirPods stops the music entirely. (this only works with iOS devices, by the way). You can fool an AirPod into playing music outside of your ear by closing your hand tightly around it, which fools the optical sensors.
You can fool an AirPod into playing music outside of your ear by closing your hand tightly around it.
It’s also easy to access Siri, which negates the need for a variety of touch-based controls. When I tapped either AirPod with my finger twice, it activated Siri on the phone, who would speak to me through the AirPods. She understood all my queries and I could hear her voice was loud and clear. I used Siri in all the ways you normally do: Getting weather, news and directions, making calls and, obviously, playing music and podcasts. I did have to get used to waiting to hear the Siri tone in my ear before asking my question.
I could also hold one of my AirPods next to the phone and then ask Siri to tell me how much battery life it still had.
Speaking of battery life, each AirPod is supposed to have 5 hours of battery life. I wore them for hours and never got a warning that I was about to run out of power. On the other hand, I always stored them in the AirPod case, which charges them every time you put them in. As I noted earlier, I only charged the case (via its Lightning port) once during my entire five-day test.
Dont lose them
Aside from how AirPods look, the biggest complaint I got from people on Twitter and in the office was that they looked easy to lose. People joked that they had lost them just be seeing my tweet.
I have to admit, this is my concern, too. The AirPods are small and light. Theyre not slippery, but you do have to take them out of the case, one-at-at-time and then place them in each ear. If one slips out of your fingers, theres no wire to stop it from falling to the ground or, worse, down a sewer grate.
I can say with some assurance that the AirPods are, at least, safe in their case. When the AirPods are in it, it snaps shut with a magnetic enclosure and even if you open it, the AirPods are held inside with magnets. I was able to open the case, turn it upside down and shake it without the AirPods falling out.
I took one or both of the AirPods out of my ears dozens of times without dropping them once. This is likely because I was being careful. One morning when I went to get my coffee and bagel from a New York City coffee truck, I took out one AirPod so I could hear what the coffee truck guy was saying to me. I held the AirPod in one hand and then grabbed my money in the other. He handed me my change and then started to hand me my bag. I hesitated for a moment, wondering which hand to use. Fearing I would drop the AirPod, I quickly placed it back in my ear my podcast started up again and grabbed the bag with my now free hand.
Its these kinds of calculations which AirPod users may regularly face as they know they cannot simply drop one pod with the knowledge that the wires will keep it tethered until they put it back in their ear.
Theres also the concern about misplacing an AirPod. I got around this by never putting one down on a surface. Instead the AirPods always went from my ears to the case.
Even so, I think it would make sense for Apple to add some sort of “Find my Airpod feature for when you lose one, say, in the couch. Also, an optional tether that you can attach by looping over the stems wouldn’t hurt, either.
Comfort and fit
Considering how long I wore the AirPods, I was surprised they never became uncomfortable. However, it occurred to me that the lack of wires had another benefit: There was nothing pulling down on my ears. The majority of the weight of each AirPod is in the bud, the section that sits inside my ear, which means the weight was not pulling on the outside and, obviously, there were no wires to tug on my ears.
Did the AirPods stay in my ears? Yes.
No matter what I did walking, running, jumping, jumping jacks the AirPods stayed put. Perhaps my ears are perfectly designed to accommodate these AirPods, because thats how they feel, like they were made for my ears. Most people I spoke to about the AirPods, though, insisted that they would never be able to use them, My ears wont hold them.
From what I can discern, the prominence, or lack thereof, of a Tragus and the depth of your Intertragic incisure will significantly impact your ability to wear AirPods or any other similarly styled in-ear headphone. My Tragus, the part of the outer ear that shields the ear canal, is fairly large and my Intertragic incisure, the space behind the curve of cartilage right below it, makes a perfect hanging place for the AirPod stem.
In other words, your ability to comfortably wear Apple’s AirPods will depend largely on the design of your ears.
Do they look stupid?
If you were to ask anyone in my office or Twitter feed, theyd say that that the AirPods look ridiculous or something far less kind. However, as I noted at the start, New Yorkers werent phased by my look. Maybe theyve seen everything, and a simple par of odd white stems hanging from someone ears doesnt rise to the level of take notice. I really dont know.
What I do know is that my fears of being laughed at on Broadway never materialized. The more I wore the AirPods, the more I enjoyed them and it occurred to me that the more people who bought them, wore them comfortably and enjoyed using them and even started singing their praises, the more public sentiment on the AirPods’ look might shift.
They are not cheap earphones. At $159, a set of AirPods costs almost as much as a subsidized iPhone (remember those?). But you are getting to technology-packed headphones along with a smart charging cases, and who hasnt paid almost $100 for a decent pair of wired headphones?
After a commute through the city, a trek through a crowded Penn Station and a ride home on a busy train (the conductor noticed my iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, but didn’t comment on the odd white devices hanging from my ears), I arrived home with the realization that opinions on Twitter are one thing, but reality may be another another.
Comfortable Great sound Long battery life Intelligently switch between devices Fast, easy pairing
Expensive If you drop one, it’s hitting the ground or worse Might look dorky
The Bottom Line
Apple AirPods have enough utility, smarts, sound quality and wearability to overcome what some see a potentially awkward design.
Read more: http://mashable.com/