“Should you spend Rs 15,400 on a pair of AirPods?”
Before I even talk about Apple’s new AirPods, here’s the thing: you can’t buy one in India even if you wanted to right now. After scouring the internet and checking with a few authorised Apple resellers, I managed to find only one or two sources with ready stock, obviously being sold at a markup of a minimum of Rs 3,000. The AirPods have no doubt been a runaway success for Apple. Even Tim Cook said so.
If you have for some reason missed the ad showcasing the AirPods-toting dancer pulling off some swag dance moves to Marian Hill’s catchy Down, here’s what you need to know: AirPods are essentially truly wireless EarPods that eliminate the wires entirely. Although, Apple is not the first company to achieve this feat. Samsung, Motorola, Bragi, Jabra, and a few other brands have already tried their hand at making truly wireless earbuds before the Cupertino-giant decided to join the party.
What’s good and bad about the Apple AirPods? Stay with me to find out.
The W1 chip is magical, but the AirPods look awkward
The very moment you open the dental floss case-lookalike that holds the AirPods, your iPhone (in my case the iPhone 7 Plus) prompts you to pair it for the first time. Once you do that, the AirPods are synced for eternity to your iCloud account. Which means that even your MacBook (if you have one that is) — if it is connected to the same iCloud account, that is — will show up the AirPods in the Bluetooth devices panel. Such seamless connectivity is what sets the AirPods apart from the cumbersome connectivity experience you have with most Bluetooth headphones out there. Also, I can’t even begin to describe how awesome it feels to remove one of the AirPods from your ear and have the music stop playing at that very same moment. What’s more, when you put it back it starts playing music again. Unlike what some other reviewers experienced, it worked every single time without fail for me. Magical, indeed!
All of this is possible thanks to a tiny little chip called the W1 inside the AirPods. This chip has a smattering of sensors like optical sensors, motion accelerometers, and voice accelerometers. It is this combination of sensors that works in tandem to do all of what it is mentioned above. The microphones can also be used for SIRI to control playback controls on the phone. After trying it once, I realised using voice commands to change the track or pause music is not very effective. I think Apple misjudged the plot here, and urge it to actually include buttons or some form of touch controls in the next iteration of the AirPods, if there will ever be one.
Let’s talk about the design. I am not going to make any jokes about how ugly the AirPods look but I will tell you this, you won’t look like a hipster wearing it. In fact, a colleague was so annoyed at me wearing it in office that he actually yanked it out of my ears and screamed “douche.” Oh, the embarrassment!
Note that you can connect the AirPods to an Android smartphone or any other Bluetooth-compatible device. Although, it drops connection way too often and you don’t get the advantages of the W1 chip either.
Not a perfect fit for everyone; not the perfect sound for everyone
Let’s address the elephant in the room – do the AirPods fall off from your ears? Well, yes and no. They don’t fall off unless you vigorously shake your head, which means the AirPods are not really suited for rigorous exercise sessions.
As far as the sound signature is concerned, it sounds very similar to the regular wired EarPods you get bundled with the iPhone. This means that you get U-shaped sound signature that favours the bass frequencies. Although, the mid-bass was bloated and I couldn’t hear the sub-bass frequencies in Jai Paul’s BTSTU. Moreover, the instrument separation was really bad as was evident from the crowding of instruments in the penultimate section of Do I wanna know? by the Arctic Monkeys. I did think that the sound was fairly spacious thanks to the fact that the AirPods do not really go inside your ear canal. But, this has a drawback too – even at max volume the ambient noise doesn’t get cut out. Essentially, the noise isolation is not too great. The AirPods do a fairly decent job of reproducing vocals and are therefore a good buy for those who listen to a lot of podcasts.
The one area where the AirPods excel are in its microphone performance. You get crystal clear call quality and the noise cancellation is pretty good too; the person on the other end of the call had no problem hearing my voice. As far as the battery life is concerned, the AirPods themselves can easily last five hours of continuous music playback and the case can charge it about thrice from 0 to 100 percent, not four times like Apple claims. This is still not pretty bad because if your case and the AirPods are fully charged you can easily use it for close to 15-16 hours before searching for the lightning cable. Another added advantage is that it doesn’t take too long to charge either; full charge can be achieved in under an hour. However, there is no clear indication of the exact amount of charge available apart from a tiny LED that glows yellow to indicate low charge levels and green for full charge.
Should you buy it?
The alien-looking AirPods do not offer an appealing sound signature for audio purists but the simplicity of using them is unparalleled. For all intents and purposes, I am an entry-level audiophile and use a Shure SE215 as my daily driver, but for the duration of testing the AirPods I locked the SE215 inside my drawer and forgot they even existed. That’s how convenient it is to use the AirPods, especially if you are already locked into the Apple ecosystem.
At Rs 15,400, the AirPods are by far the coolest accessories you can own for your iPhone. Granted the price is a bit steep, especially since you can get better sounding and feature-rich Bluetooth headphones, like the Jaybirds X2 and the EOZ One, for cheaper. Moreover, Apple-owned Beats also sells a pair of wireless earphones called Beats X wireless with the W1 chip for Rs 11,990 in India. They are cheaper and are bound to sound better, but you will still have to contend with the wire connecting the earphones themselves; they are not really truly “wireless” by definition. In any case, it doesn’t really matter if you buy the Beats X because eventually Apple will still be laughing all the way to the bank because it owns the Beats brand.
Overall, I like the AirPods for what it really is: an ingenious audio product for all iPhone users who aren’t really audiophiles. Also, I really want the W1 chip to be installed on all Bluetooth headphones in the future by default. Is it too much to ask for? I think not.