It’s been a little over three years since Apple launched the first generation AirPods, and Apple’s wireless audio play has gone from being largely mocked to becoming so popular that you barely see any others in cafes and airports. So much so, the AirPods (and their sales success) have lent credence to a category that barely existed three years ago, to a point where every tech giant wants to get in on that truly wireless audio action.
Where then do the all-new AirPods Pro fit in? The latest in Apple’s portfolio to earn the “Pro” moniker, the AirPods Pro offer a big leg up over the more basic (and less costly, in comparison) AirPods – gym/rain friendly, sweat and water resistance, and a vastly improved audio experience courtesy a more secure in-ear fit and active noise cancellation. What’s to like about the new AirPods Pro, and where do they fall short? For the pretty penny they demand, how do they measure up against the competition, and should you consider these if you’re a die-hard Android user looking over the fence at what all this hoopla is about? Bottomline — should you pick one of these up? We’ve attempted to answer five basic questions about the all-new AirPods Pro.
The AirPods Pro are available for purchase in a single white colorway for Rs 24,900. They line up alongside the AirPods with Charging Case (Rs 14,900) and the second-gen AirPods with Wireless Charging Case (Rs 18,900).
Apple AirPods Pro: What’s to like
Comfort: No matter whether you faced any fit issues with the previous generation AirPods or not, these are, by far, the most incredibly comfortable pair of earbuds, bar none. You can keep them on for their full 4.5-hour battery life and not even notice they’re there. The boost in comfort comes from the silicon tips – the medium ones come pre-attached but you can choose a large or small tip based on comfort or via the ‘Ear Tip Fit Test’ on the iPhone. The latter is particularly novel – it plays a couple of seconds of music and uses the mics to analyse and identify any sound leakage. Helping the AirPods Pro feel ‘barely there’ are a series of vents that allow air to flow from the outside to your ears, which reduces the ‘vacuum’ like pressurised feeling that’s ever so common to noise cancelling earbuds.
Design and Build: For a brief moment, the AirPods look terribly familiar – the glossy white finish and the charging case in particular — but you soon realise how much has changed. The circular shape gives way to a largely ovular chunky design to accommodate the extra components, and the protruding stalks are shorter (and less conspicuous when worn) while housing new ‘force sensors’ for touch controls. Gone are the tap controls, you now squeeze either stem for track controls and to switch between noise cancelling and transparent listening modes. Gym goers rejoice, these buds are finally sweat and water resistance which means that they’re more resilient to the elements while they’re in your ears.
Noise Cancellation: The headlining feature, of course, is the active noise cancellation which works with two microphones on each bud listening to the outside ambient noise and the noise that reaches inside the seal to generate an anti-noise that quietens the world around you. The tech samples noise at 200 times per second, and boy, does it work! As with any pair of active noise cancelling earphones, the predictable, constant droning noises like trains and aircraft engines are almost completely silenced, with general office hubbub reduced to mere whispers. You’re not getting the user-selectable noise cancelling modes we’ve seen on other noise-cancelling audio equipment, with Apple it’s all or nothing. Except, there’s a neat ‘Transparency Mode’ which allows you to listen in to sounds from the outside, say when you’re walking on a busy street or airport and need to stay aware of your surroundings.
Sound Quality: The Pros are a distinct step in terms of sonic quality, and much of it is thanks to the better fit (noise isolation) and the active noise cancellation. There’s plenty of bass without being bass heavy, the highs are balanced and the mids are well defined, and while it’s not competing with audiophile grade hardware, the AirPods Pro certainly sound good enough to justify the price. The mic inside the ear detects the shape of your ear canal and adapts the sound so you end up hearing something closer to the original track, using tech Apple calls ‘adaptive EQ’. Clearly, one can’t tell how much of an impact this last bit has, but the detail and warmth of the music are impressive. Bear in mind, the AirPods Pros don’t match the more dynamic sound quality of the latest Sony WF-1000XM3 (yet to be launched in India), but they offer an airiness to the sound that I really took to.
Apple AirPods Pro: Where they fall short
Lack of Controls: Apple’s H1 chip is the AirPods secret sauce for quick pairing and exceptional wireless connectivity, but as quickly as the Pros pair with your iPhone, they still require you to pull the phone out to adjust volume. The competition has managed to add in touch controls, albeit a tad fidgety, for volume control and one often wished Apple would have added that in. The current touch controls on the stalks take some getting used to.
Battery Life: With a claimed five hours for the earphones (noise cancellation off) and another 19 hours from the charging case, the battery life remains middle of the road. With noise cancelling on, battery life dips by a little over half an hour, which means they fare worse than the non-Pro models.
How do the AirPods Pro measure up against the competition?
Pretty well, we’d say. In the absence of the exceptional-sounding noise-cancelling Sony WF-1000XM3 – Sony hasn’t launched it yet in India – the AirPods Pro go up against the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless, the Nokia True Wireless and the Samsung Galaxy Buds. While the similarly priced splash-proof Sennheiser buds offer excellent sound quality with better bass and a cleaner, more detailed sound than the AirPods Pro, they offer no noise cancellation capabilities, relying instead on a snug fit and noise isolation. It’s the same case with the Galaxy Buds or the Nokia True Wireless – no active noise cancellation — but both are priced attractively under ten grand, and the Galaxy Buds sound quite decent and come in a bunch of color options, a definite appeal for some. The biggest competition for the AirPods Pro, particularly for Apple users, is likely to be the plain Jane AirPods which, while they lack in noise cancellation and water resistance and those super comfy custom ear tips, offer the same intuitive ease of use and battery life at a far lower price point.
Are AirPods Pro worth it for Android users?
Owning an Android phone doesn’t guarantee you’re not going to be susceptible to coveting the new AirPods Pro. But what are the AirPods Pro really like as an Android smartphone companion? For starters, they definitely work with Android but — and no surprises here – you’re never going to get that native iOS integration and the same level of functionality with AirPods on Android. So, while active noise cancellation and transparency mode work just fine, as do the force gestures on the stalks (play/pause, skip/back), you’ll miss out on the stuff like the automatic pause capabilities when you pull one bud out of your ear. Or, for that matter, the ‘Ear Tip Fit Test’, audio sharing or Hey Siri functionalities, all of which are native to iOS 13 and inherent to the ecosystem lock-in that Apple does best. Oh, and you’re going to have to carry a Lightning charge cable solely to charge the AirPods Pro.
Apple AirPods Pro: Yay or nay?
At Rs. 24,900, these headphones land squarely in the premium truly wireless earbud territory and are a significant upgrade from the AirPod models that came before. They may not match the best in the category purely on sound quality, but the user experience and insane levels of comfort coupled with great noise cancellation and perfectly likeable sonic quality make the AirPods Pro a strong contender in the segment. If you’re on an iPhone and are yet to pick up an AirPod, there’s never been a better time, and the premium over the previous gen AirPods is well deserved. They’ll likely be the only pair of headphones you’ll need.