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Airpods Review: Apple Enters The Brave New Wireless World

The technology is great and so is the price.

12/01/2017 12:22 PM IST | Updated 12/01/2017 8:13 PM IST
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Last year, Apple declared a war. And, as a result, some members of its loyal fan base crossed over to the dark side to fight the company. The war was called 'Courage' and it was fought over the standard 3.5 mm headphone jack that Apple, catching everyone by surprise, decided to discard in the new iPhone 7.

The announcement, made during the keynote address at the launch of iPhone7, was met with an outcry. But, along with news of the 3.5 mm headphone jack being phased out, Apple also revealed a new product, called the Airpods. Basically, two wireless earbuds in a case without any attached chords. "We will lose them in 5 minutes," the world cried out as soon as the first pictures of the Airpods flashed on the screen.

After several delays in shipment due to technical reasons, the product finally arrived in stores last month. I have been using the Airpods from more than 10 days and during this period have tried to gauge how good are Apple's vaunted ₹15,400 wireless earbuds.

Beck Diefenbach / Reuters
AirPods are displayed as Apple Inc CEO Tim Cook makes his closing remarks

Design wise, the Airpods look just like the Earpods shipped with the iPhone minus the wires. The two completely independent earbuds are enclosed in a nifty little case. Each has a separate little battery inside. Each bud weighs only 4 grams, which is basically nothing. Even their case, at just 38 grams, can hardly be felt in the pocket, at least weight wise.

Lets first deal with the widespread concern over the Airpods slipping out of the listener's ear. Apple's wired Earpods fit my ears well and I enjoy using them because of the padding and the freedom to choose different sized buds. So, I tried on the new wireless buds with some trepidation but the Airpods fit my ears really well and my verdict is that they don't fall off.

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My method of testing their ability to remain stuck to my ears was quite simple -- I put them on and headbanged to Lamb of God and Slayer songs. They didn't fall off. Then, I went for a run and climbed some stairs fast to emulate a better shake effect, still they didn't fall off. I travelled in a Mumbai local wearing them and in this instance too, they didn't fall off. Sure, some of my friends did manage to shake off a bud. And, despite Apple's claims of lab testing the Airpods to ensure that are a fit-for-all, I am sure that they won't be an ideal fit for some people. So, I'd advise people to try them out first before investing in them.

Most of you have probably used Bluetooth earphones or speakers. What's the most annoying thing about them? Pairing. Hold down that button to let the light blink or press the button two times to take it to pairing mode or stand on one leg and hold the device between the first two fingers of your right hand. Okay, the last one is made up but you get the drift. Apple's Airpods take that hassle away.

For pairing the Airpods with an iPhone, you just need to flip the case open, switch the phone's Bluetooth on and bring the case near the phone. The instructions will appear on the screen and you are ready to use the Airpods in just a few seconds.

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Once I was signed in, I could use them with any Apple device without needing to do any pairing. I just had to plug them into my ears to start playing the audio. So far, I have used the Airpods with the iPhone7 Plus, MacBook Pro, Apple TV, Apple Watch and even the Android-based OnePlus 3T.

I was pleasantly surprised by the sound quality as well. Deep bass and trebles are handled very well. Nor did I face the grogginess of the earpods. While it is safe to say that Airpods won't be the best audio solution you will ever listen to, the W1 chip does perform its magic.

The proprietary chip could be the most game-changing thing to have happened to the wireless earphones community. In most Bluetooth based headphones, the audio signal is sent to one of the ear buds or to the central controller and then it travels to the left and right. So, there is always some amount of latency. Airpods, on the other hand, have an individual connection to the phone and the W1 chip handles the sync between them. So, during my use, I found some initial latency while using them on the Android device. Otherwise, the experience was as smooth as it could get.

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Philip 'Phil' Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Apple Inc.

During calls on the phone and even a hangout call on the Mac, the connection was consistent. The quality of the audio was also superior. Apple uses beam-forming microphones in each of the buds, along with the accelerometer, to ensure that there is no problem in the call audio. Unlike most Bluetooth headsets, the Airpods worked fine even when at a little distance from the device.

However, there were instances where I didn't enjoy the Airpod experience that much. For Apple TV and Android pairing, I had to hold the button on the case down for it to appear in the pairing menu. After that step though, I faced no hindrances. There are also a couple of gestures involved in the Airpods. If you remove one of the buds from your ears, the audio will stop. Put it back in your ear and audio resumes instantaneously.

Although there are no volume controls, I can double tap and activate Siri to increase or decrease volume. But that is certainly something I won't be doing if I am on a run. A double tap without Siri will play and pause, which is good. I hope software updates in the future bring more to the platform.

After using the Airpods for an hour or so, they do feel uncomfortable in the ear. Apple really should work on the design part to make it a fit-for-all. And, if I am out of the Apple ecosystem the Airpods don't really solve any purpose for me because the pairing part is still manual for multiple devices.

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The 398 mAh case battery will serve you a good few days before it needs a charge. The Airpods themselves carry more than 5 hours of listening power. Mostly, you wouldn't really be using them for that long. Pop them in for a few minutes -- ideally it takes around 15 minutes for them to charge fully -- and you're good to go.

The company claims that the case will give you 24 hours of listening time per charge. During my 10 days of usage, I had to charge the case only twice and I hardly used any other earphones with all my devices. That's pretty impressive.

Overall, the technology is pretty awesome. The audio quality needs to be cranked up for sure, along with some tweaks in the gestures, and the look and feel. In India, the Airpods are priced particularly high at ₹15,400, so I am not really sure that besides enthusiasts and people completely into the Apple ecosystem anyone would buy them. But for sure, you'll draw some looks on the street if you're wearing them.

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