Apple AirPods

OK, the Amazon link on the left[1] is included for comedy reasons only. At the moment, these are in short supply, leading to naughty people on the Amazon Marketplace trying to charge nearly twice the actual price of the product.

But hey, I managed to buy mine in the Newcastle Apple Store a couple of weeks ago (they had three in stock at the time), so I’d suggest you try your nearest Apple Store, or just wait a while if you’re interested.

And I can already hear you asking why I got these. Surely those nice Bose wireless headphones are more than up to the job? Well, yes they are, and they’re still working nicely, thanks for asking, but sometimes it would be nice to have something a wee bit, you know, smaller, something easier to take off and put away, something that isn’t going to mess up your hair or get caught up if I raise my coat’s hood.

And so, when Apple announced these, I was intrigued. I waited until I’d seen some reports from people who’d actually used them before buying, as I’ve had poor experiences with in-ear phones before.

Anyway, to summarise what you probably already know:

These are wireless earbuds with an added twist of Apple cleverness. Rather than the usual pair of buds connected by a cable[2], these are two genuinely separate items. They come with a case that has a Lightning port for charging, and the case in turn charges the AirPods. There’s a single LED inside the case that does two things: with the AirPods in their sockets, it indicates their charge level – green for fully charged. Remove the buds and it’ll show the charge level of the case. A Lightning cable is included in the box, but no plug charger, presumably on the grounds that anyone who buys these probably doesn’t need another one.

Now getting Bluetooth devices to work with phones and computers is often a frustrating experience, he said politely. Well, it’s often an exercise in staring at your devices and pointing while shouting

It’s right next to you, what do you mean you can’t find it?

Devices arbitrarily lose all recollection of things they’ve been paired with and sometimes need to be removed, reconnected, wrapped in clingfilm, fed to a goat, extracted from its poop and recharged before they’ll work. I may be exaggerating a bit there, but not by much. So what have Apple done about that?

To pair with your iPhone, you hold the case next to it and open the lid. So long as you’ve updated to a suitably modern version of iOS, that’s it. AirPods are now able to play sound from your iPhone. And that would be quite clever enough, but there’s more. If your Mac is using the same iCloud account as your iPhone, it’s auto-bloody-matically able to use the AirPods as well. Just have them close enough and you’ll be able to select them as a device from the volume control in the menu bar.

There are no physical controls on the AirPods – no volume control, no play/pause/answer calls, but a tap will activate Siri, who will do things if you ask nicely. Personally, this isn’t an issue for me – the only control I ever used on the Bose headphones was the on/off switch, which isn’t needed here, as in a bout of extreme joined up thinking, the music stops as soon as you take one of the buds out of an ear, and it restarts when you replace it, making them ideal for any interaction with humans that you might find yourself obliged to engage in. If you have an Apple Watch, you’ll probably be used to controlling your music from your wrist, anyway, so you won’t miss the inline controller of Apple’s wired earbuds.

A common problem with earbuds (certainly for me) is that they’re often uncomfortable to wear (even the ones with numerous alternative rubber of foam tips), or have an annoying tendency to drop out. How do the AirPods cope?

Surprisingly well, as it happens. I’ve been wearing them on my journeys to and from work for the last couple of weeks, and I’m happy to say that they haven’t annoyed my ears at all. And, apart from on the first day I wore them, when I suspect I just hadn’t put them in quite right, they’ve stayed firmly in place, even when it’s been a bit windy and I’ve been walking around. I’ve heard reports from people who indulge in a strange activity called “running”[3] that even this doesn’t dislodge them, though as always, your ears may differ, insert disclaimer, etc.

But the main requirement is, of course, the sound. Well, overall, they’re not as loud as my Bose phones, but they’re as loud as I need my music to be consistent with still being able to hear traffic. The sound quality is clear and good enough for moving around – a test at home suggests that it’s actually very good when there’s no background noise to distract.

So, overall, I rather like them. There is the concern that these little things might be a bit easy to lose, of course. Apple will replace a single AirPod for less than half the price of a new set, or so I understand – though I’d suggest not losing any until the stock situation settles down.

Hmm, that’s my longest post for ages. Who’d have thought I’d manage over 900 words on a pair of earbuds?

[1] Assuming your ad blocker isn’t hiding it
[2] I had a pair like that, they just wouldn’t stay in my ears
[3] I wouldn’t know…

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