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Review: Apple’s AirPods Are an Excellent Upgrade, for Some

Apple’s first crack at wireless earbuds is a promising glimpse into the future of personal audio.


Adding Apple’s new wireless AirPods to your tech every day carry works if you meet the following criteria:

1. You find Apple’s current line of wired EarPods fit comfortably in your ear.

2. You own an iPhone or an iPad.

3. You have cash to burn.

4. You’re not looking for an audiophile-approved experience.

5. You prioritize freedom of movement over control.

Check those boxes, and you’ll love the experience.

Pros and Cons

Thanks to Apple’s new W1 chip, AirPods offer the best pairing experience of any Bluetooth device I’ve used with iOS. Setting them up consists of opening the lid of the AirPod’s carrying case near the device you’ll use — and voilà, they connect. Once pairing is established, a small pop-up window shows you the power level of the AirPod carrying case and the individual AirPods themselves.

Sound quality on the pods is also noticeably better than Apple’s wired EarPod counterparts, particularly in terms of bass response.

The AirPods’ battery life works for my daily listening routine, and in the four days I spent using the AirPods, I only had to charge the carrying case once. The Pods are good for 5 hours of listening in a stretch, though I haven’t pushed the limits taking phone calls. The included charging/battery case is also a welcome insurance policy, offering up to 24 hours of additional juice and another 3 hours of listening time after just 15 minutes.

Sound quality on the Pods is also noticeably better than Apple’s wired EarPod counterparts, particularly in terms of bass response. It’s still far from the quality of dedicated music-listening headphones, but it’s no longer an obvious liability. And as to the comfort question, Apple’s current EarPods are an accurate gauge of what you can expect with the AirPods. If Earpods work for you, so will AirPods.

airpods gear patrol ambiance 2
Gear Patrol

As for downsides? After a week of commuting with the AirPods, the lack of physical buttons for switching between tracks or adjusting the volume is my biggest issue. To Apple’s credit, the company did dream up a few intuitive features to mitigate some of this frustration. You can pause whatever you’re listening to by removing one AirPod from your ear, which has come in handy. And, when putting the AirPod back in, the audio automatically starts again. You can also double tap an AirPod to activate Siri, though I found this action to be much less reliable in practice.

Final Conclusions

There’s no question that wireless headphones add a liberating convenience to the personal listening experience. Once the novelty wears off, though, pinning down the true value of ditching the cord boils down to personal priorities and habits, especially if you aren’t running or moving constantly while wearing them.

Does the loss of a wire outweigh the hassle of needing to charge something regularly in order for it to work? Does it make such a difference that it’s worth paying a large premium for it?

a pair of airpods

After or day or so, I debated whether cutting the wire was worth the nuisance of having to pull my phone out of my pocket to switch tracks or tweak volume. Yes, I could ask Siri to handle these things, but this kind of question-and-answer interaction is still too slow and awkward to be of much practical use, especially in public. Given that Apple included finger-tap functionality for controlling Siri, I also can’t help but wonder why the company didn’t at least add a similar tap action for skipping. Perhaps it was to avoid tap confusion. Or perhaps it’s to push consumers to interact with Siri more, forcing people to become friendly with Apple’s personal voice assistant as a way of getting a leg up on the AI platform wars.

Whatever the reason, it’s in this area that the AirPods most noticeably feel like a first-generation product. There’s plenty of perks packed in the AirPods that make them a clear pod upgrade, and a few sacrifices. Before taking the plunge, assess your listening habits, weigh the true cost of cutting the wire, and don’t rush into cord liberation just to be on the front end of the trend — pods ordered today won’t ship until mid-February, as is.

Buy Now: $160

Other Thoughts

2. The magnetized snap of the AirPod case lid and the way in which the AirPods snap into the case feels so damn satisfying.

3. A little worried that the white case might turn a shade of light blue with heavily dyed indigo jeans.

4. Remember it is $69 to replace a lost AirPod or the charging case. This is only the beginning.

5. The introduction of the W1 chip as a proprietary gateway for accessing the best wireless audio experience with Apple devices does introduce some deep concerns about competition and consumer choice. The Verge Editor in Chief Nilay Patel does an excellent job of hashing out these issues.

6. The pairing magic of AirPods doesn’t work with Android devices. I also encountered a few hiccups with it while pairing with Apple laptops and desktops.

7. I don’t get the concern over the weird looks. What earbuds actually add to your appearance?

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