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Apple AirPods 2 Review: Subtle Improvements but a Worthy Upgrade

The look and feel are the same.

Henry Phillips

AirPods ($159) are the best-selling true wireless earbuds in the world. Don’t expect that to change now that the second-generation models are here. The new AirPods, which are still just called “AirPods” and have taken the place of the original AirPods in all Apple stores, are more powerful, cost the same and look identical to their predecessors. The only aesthetic difference has to do with the optional Qi-wireless charging case, which has a LED light in its center to indicate battery life.

Aside from the new wireless charging case, all the upgrades with the new AirPods are internal. They are powered by Apple’s H1 chip, which supports Bluetooth 5.0 instead of the older Bluetooth 4.2, and improves the all-around performance of the new AirPods. They have improved microphones, 50 percent more talk time and they can switch faster between other Apple devices. Wearers can also summon Siri with a voice command, as opposed to double-tapping one of the earbuds. As far as sound quality, Apple says nothing has been changed.

Buy Now: $159+

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The Good: Apple didn’t try to reinvent the wheel with its second-generation AirPods. If you liked the fit, feel and sound of the original AirPods, you’ll like these new ones. You can get the new AirPods for the same exact price ($159) as the originals, but Apple now offers more buying options: you can purchase AirPods with a wireless charging case for $200 or, if you already own AirPods (first- or second-generation), you can buy a wireless charging case on its own for $79.

Apple’s AirPods have always been known for being great for phone calls and the new models are even better. Not that you’re likely to notice, however, as the improved microphones are designed to make your voice sound clearer, benefiting the people you’re on the phone with, not the other way around. The hands-free “Hey Siri” support is a nice upgrade for those who don’t want to double-tap their AirPods anymore.

Who It’s For: The new AirPods feel like a lifestyle upgrade as much as anything else. If you use a Qi-wireless charging pad with your iPhone every day, at work or at home, getting AirPods with a wireless charging case feels like a no-brainer. Just like with the previous AirPods, the new models are designed to live inside Apple’s ecosystem; they only make sense to get if you have an iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch.

airpods 2 review gear patrol ambiance 1
Henry Phillips

Watch Out For: The new AirPods sound a lot like the old ones. If anything, they might be a little louder. But Apple says the new AirPods have the same exact drivers and audio quality as the originals — so that kind of settles the debate.

The wireless charging case works well but it won’t fast charge your AirPods. If you’re looking to get a quick refill, you’re going to want to find the nearest Lightning cable. The new AirPods still have the same issues as before: they’re not sweat-resistant or noise-canceling, and they don’t come in any colors others than white. If the older AirPods don’t fit in your earbuds, these won’t either.

Alternatives: Apple offers a decent amount of buying options for AirPods, which is nice. You can buy the new AirPods with or without a wireless charging case, or you can buy just the wireless charging case and it’ll work with the original AirPods.

As far as true alternatives, Beats and Apple just released the Powerbeats Pro ($250), which are essentially sweat-proof AirPods. The Sennheiser Momentum TW or the Master & Dynamic MW07 are both great options that sound better but cost more.

Henry Phillips

The Airpods 2 charging case (right) next to the originals.

Verdict: The new AirPods are still the best all-around true wireless earbuds for iPhone users — by a lot. Like the first-generation AirPods, they’re super easy to pair with any iOS devices, and they’re arguably the most compact and travel-friendly of all true wireless earbuds. The improvements — better processor, battery life and connectivity, as well as wireless charging — are all nice features, but in the end, they don’t feel like night-and-day upgrades over the first-generation AirPods. If you already have the AirPods, the new models hardly feel necessary, especially if you can buy the wireless charging case separately. But if you’ve lost or broke your AirPods, or you just never got around to buying the first ones, you’ll be more than content with second-generation AirPods.

What Others Are Saying:

• “Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like Apple’s new AirPods are just Apple’s old AirPods plus Bluetooth 5 support. There’s nothing wrong with that! The new standards promise a lot of benefits, which you can read about on the Bluetooth website. It’s also nice that Apple is adopting the new standard now, though many other companies—including Jabra and its Elite 65t as well as Samsung and its Galaxy Buds—have done so sooner. The second generation Apple AirPods are undeniably better thanks to this new technology.” — Adam Clark Estes, Gizmodo

• “I can’t recommend that you get the new AirPods simply because Apple says they’re new and better. My experience from the first-generation AirPods to the new pair felt largely unchanged. Since Apple introduced the first generation of AirPods, the rest of the earbuds market has caught up to the concept, and the second-generation AirPods should move the category forward even more. In my opinion, they don’t really do that. And in general, it’s unwise to offer a blanket recommendation for a product that wedges directly into the ear. Earbuds are a subjective thing; what fits well on me (and the AirPods do) may not fit well on you.” — Lauren Goode, Wired

• “So should you buy them? If you have the first-gen AirPods and they are still working great, then no, you’re really not gaining anything here. If you must have wireless charging, you can buy the case separately without having to drop $200 on a full new set. But if your first-gen AirPods aren’t holding a charge anymore because you’ve been using them for years, then buying the new AirPods makes sense, since it’s basically impossible to fix these or replace the batteries in them. You’re getting the same basic experience, with a couple of new conveniences. (The fact that a nearly $200 product has a usage lifetime of less than three years, notwithstanding.)” — Dan Seifert, The Verge

Key Specs
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Sensors: beam-forming mics, optical sensors, accelerometer
Battery: 5 hours listening time (24 hours with case), 3 hours talk time (18 hours with case)
Key Features: Qi-wireless charging, hands-free “Hey Siri”

Buy Now: $159+

Buy Now: $79 (Case Only)

Apple provided this product for review.

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