AirPods: Buy Again?

I have had a set of Apple AirPods for over a year now, and used them heavily for conference calls, listening to podcasts and occasionally for music too. Having had them for a while though, and noticing that the battery life on them was dropping (especially the left one), I started wondering whether I would choose to replace them with AirPods again when they do finally fail.

Sound Quality

First up in my consideration is how do they sound. Let’s be totally up front here too, these are plastic earbuds. They have no noise canceling, active or passive, and they are small and light. That framed my expectations, and to be honest they sound good for conference calls, and for podcasts. For movies and music they’re not ideal, but in truth it is the battery life that makes them unsuitable for these use cases.

Comfort & Fit

They’re Apple earbuds, just without the wires. If Apple earbuds normally work well for your ears, these will work too. I was pleasantly surprised to find they do not fall out of my ears easily despite being just plastic. They’re also more comfortable than many other earbuds I’ve tried when worn for an hour plus. I can easily wear them until they run out of battery without them becoming uncomfortable.

Battery Life

They’re small, so don’t expect too much. Brand new, they may have managed two hours on a single charge, but now mine struggle to get beyond an hour. Interestingly, the left one fails first and that is the one I do not always wear – when on my scooter or bike, for example, I typically use just the right ear so I can still hear what is going on around me through the left.

The charging case is handy, and manages to top them up pretty quickly, but these are not the headphones you want for a long movie. Using one at a time might get you longer talk time on those conference calls though.

Connectivity & Pairing

The much heralded improvements to the Bluetooth connectivity of the AirPods is something I have not really experienced. In my experience, they tend to remain connected to the last device they were used with, even when you hold them near a different device and even see the battery level pop up on that device.

Many times I have held them near my iPad to connect them there, seen the battery info pop up on the iPad screen, but then when I try to join a call I find they’re still connected to my iPhone. I only recall one time where that didn’t happen: in that case they connected to my watch in preference to the iPad, which was not what I wanted at all.

Much like any Bluetooth device, they can be connected by opening the Bluetooth settings and tapping on the list to make the connection. Quick to fix, but certainly not the experience I saw talked about.

On my Mac Book Pro, the pairing was more complex, but once it was done they work just like any other Bluetooth headphones.

Durability

The charging case has an amazing ability to stick to my iPhone case when I pull it from my pocket, and has been dropped more than I typically drop electronics as a result of this. It is still going strong though. The only issue I have with durability, which does not affect performance in any way, is that the plastic case seems to have picked up the blue stain from my jeans. The magnets in the lid also attract dirt quite badly, but they’re pretty easy to clean.

Buy or Not Buy?

I’m a little on the fence here. I love the size and convenience of the package. I can throw them in my pocket or a bag and they take up no space. They are very expensive though for a “backup” headset. I had a much cheaper Bluetooth headset previously, which was just as easy to use and a tenth of the price. Given that, and the fact that for my home office I use a USB headset on my MBP for most calls, I would probably fall on the not buy side in future.

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