AirPods, Reviewed

March 29, 2017

Apple’s had a bad few years. Financially, things are great, but product innovation has not only slowed to a crawl, but in cases like the Touch Bar, has actually stopped, reversed, and is now chugging along at full steam in the wrong direction. I’d planned to ignore the release of the AirPods, but some personal anecdotes from a few early adopters were so strong, that I caved and bought a pair.

And boy was I wrong. These things are awesome. They’re easily the best new product that Apple has released in recent memory.

My biggest fear going in is that like the other wireless technologies that we know and love, they would occasionally just … not work. Having a call drop is annoying, but earphones that can’t consistently play music is a recipe for frustration so total that it borders on sheer agony. But now I’m a few weeks of use in, and that just doesn’t seem to happen; the AirPods’ connection is so seamless that you forget you’re not attached with a wire.

And speaking of wires, the future is bright. Not having a Gordian knot to untangle every time your take your earphones out of pocket, and not getting caught on anything you walk by that’s protruding ever-so-slightly is freeing, and you start to appreciate it immediately. Getting them in and out of your ears is as fast and easy as you could possibly want.

But it’s the minor touches in usability that make the AirPods a truly great product. For example, if you take one out of your ear playback is paused automatically, and resumes when you put it back in. The included charging case is every so slightly magnetic so that when you slide your AirPods into it, they’re sucked in with a satisfying click. Both ears have a built-in microphone so it’s trivial to throw one of them in for a phone call and have it feel as natural as if you were talking to the other party in person.

Their only weakness is lack of of sound insulation. If you’re anywhere but the most serene environments, whatever you’re listening to will disappear into the background noise, which vastly diminishes their functional usefulness. A street with even light traffic, a gym that’s playing background music, or even voices in a crowded room are all enough to make listening to anything over AirPods a very unfulfilling experience. I would have thought that Apple employees using their own products would eventually push development in the right direction, but years of disappointment on this front suggest that it’s not the case. Cupertino must be a very quiet place.

Despite that, they’re still great and a pleasure to use every time I take them out. Apple: fewer Touch Bars and dongles please, and more of this.

AirPods, Reviewed was published on March 29, 2017.

Find me on Twitter at @brandur.

Did I make a mistake? Please consider sending a pull request.