I love new technology; especially technology that holds the potential to disrupt the market and AirPods seems to fall into that category. Though the fact remains Apple didn't invent smart earphones, many companies already have smart earphones in the market. What Apple is capable of doing is making them mainstream.
When Apple announced AirPods, it met with mixed reactions. None of the negative reactions came after actual use; those were mostly knee-jerk reactions to a new product. There are only a handful of people who have actually tried them on and their experience have been positive. Since I own the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPad Pro (along with three Google Nexus devices and Pixel C tablet), I have been debating whether to buy AirPods or not. Here are some pros and cons that helped me in my purchase decision. They may help you too.
1. Pairing made easy
If you own Bluetooth headphones you already know how painful it is to pair and unpair them with different devices. Apple solved that problem by developing their own W1 chips that seems to be using Bluetooth standards, but with better connectivity and more power efficiency. All it takes is a push of a button on the AirPod charging case to pair them with iPhone 7. The most interesting thing is once you pair one device with AirPods they will automatically be paired with all of your supported Apple devices.
2. iCloud in your ear
Once you pair your AirPod with any of your Apple devices, it will be available across all of your Apple devices using iCloud. If you are someone like me who uses iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and MacBook, you will never have to worry about lugging around that wired headphone and plugging/unplugging it from one device to another. AirPod is smart enough to know the device playing the content and it will automatically switch to that device. This alone is a killer feature as when I work, I switch between devices: taking calls from my phone, watching Netflix on my iPad Pro, transcribe an interview on my MacBook then go for a run with Apple Watch. Now, no matter which device I am using, AirPod will take care of the switch. Isn’t that amazing?
3. Smart enough to work with my Android devices
The smartness of AirPods goes beyond just the iCloud pairing. AirPods are equipped with dual optical sensors, accelerometers, tiny batteries, W1 chips and a microphone. All of these work together to offer a great experience. The sensors detect how you are using them. As soon as you put them in your ear, the sensors detect it and you hear a tone informing you of connectivity. If you are listening to music and someone wants to talk to you, just take one AirPod out of your ear and the track will pause. Complete your discussion, put the AirPod back, and the music will resume. If you are using only one AirPod, then it will automatically switch from stereo to mono. If I want to use AirPods with my Nexus device; I can pair them just like plain old boring Bluetooth headphones.
4. AI in your ears
I am a huge fan of machine learning and artificial intelligence. Siri is the best thing about AirPods. A tap on AirPod wakes Siri up and I can perform many different tasks without taking my phone out. I don’t need to take my iPhone out to check the weather, to control audio volume, call my wife or to ask for directions. Anything that you want Siri to do can be now done right from my AirPods. Which also means when I work at home I don’t need to carry my iPhone around. I only wish Siri was as smart as Alexa on my Amazon Echo.
5. Compromising sound quality?
Critics say that wireless can never match wires. It’s partially true and partially false. Yes Bluetooth does compress data and you lose some part of audio, but if you are listening to mp3 or any music streaming service it’s already compressed so wired or wireless headphones are not going to make any difference. Keep in mind one more thing, it’s not the wire that makes the difference; it’s the electronics, magnets and coils. You can find wired headphones that sound crappy and wireless headphones that sound awesome. It’s also about what you are listening to. Audiophiles don’t listen to streaming services and mp3; they use lossless compression or CDs. If you are one of those audiophiles, just use the Lightning adapter that comes with the phone for free and use your existing headphones. Apple’s EarPods are music to my ears and I am not expecting anything different from AirPods and I am not an audiophile; I am just a regular guy listening to Porcupine Tree.
6. Five hours of battery life?
Apple promises 5 hours of battery life on one charge. Is that bad? Yes and no. I don’t listen to music for five continuous hours. The only exceptions are when I travel internationally for conferences. I mostly travel to Europe or the West Coast and many flights are 8+ hours long. The good news is that the AirPod case is also a charger that holds 24 hours of charge. I can put my AirPods in the charger for 15 minutes and I get 3 more hours of listening time. A 15 minute break is not a bad thing for such a long flight. Yes, five hours battery life is not ideal, but it’s not a deal breaker thanks to the 15 minutes charging time. I am expecting future improvements to W1 chip will improve the battery life.
7. Lost in commute
Many people have expressed worries about losing AirPods as they don’t come with any clasp or strings. I have worn my EarPods for running and despite dangling wires (I can’t wait for wireless AirPods) they never fell out of my ear. I have seen many runners who use EarPods for their runs; no one had EarPods dangling behind them. They stay put. That said, I will be wary of wearing $159 AirPods in the metro, Subway or any crowded places where you may brush against people and fear dropping them. Deal breaker? No, because I work from home and don’t use public transport, but I can easily slip them in my pocket if I do take public transportation.
8. They look absurd
The biggest criticism of AirPods has been their design. But looks can be deceptive. Do they look like cigarette butts popping out of your ears? Lance Ulanoff of Mashable was kinda disappointed that no one gave him odd looks when he walked on streets wearing AirPods; people barely noticed him. What’s really odd is to see two wires coming out of your ears and going into your pockets. What’s even weirder is those big bun shaped things covering your ears and wires dangling with them. AirPods, in my opinion are much more inconspicuous, once you get them in different skin tones. That said, I do agree that the design of AirPod could have been more elegant like Bragi smart earphones. Verdict: No they don’t make you look stupid.
9. They are expensive
The last, but not least argument against AirPods is that they are expensive. No they are not. Good hardware costs money. I paid $279 for my Bose headphones and I didn’t get Siri, automatic connectivity with devices and none of that smartness that I mentioned earlier. I won’t mind paying $159 for smart AirPods that can do all those amazing things.
Conclusion: I will be ordering mine
Looking at all these pros and cons, I see no reason not to buy AirPods. Beyond the small flaw in the design, there is nothing that I don’t like about these headphones, so far. In fact I believe AirPods will force the industry to move away from aging Bluetooth technology and get more aggressive around WiFi Direct-like technologies and smart headphones. I have made up my mind to buy AirPods, based on technological merits. What about you?
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