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Lifewire / Jeffrey Chadwick Daniel
Easy integration into Apple ecosystem
Snappy device pairing and switching
Long battery life
Quick charging with lightning cable
Slow wireless charging
Volume control is voice-only
The 2019 (2nd Generation) AirPods haven’t changed enough to force current users to upgrade. But they’re still a fantastic-sounding pair of earbuds that deliver the performance, quality, and seamless integration we expect from Apple—with a premium price tag to match.
We purchased Apple AirPods (2nd Generation) so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
The second generation AirPods embody Apple’s proven formula of steady, incremental improvements in new product lines. These earbuds are faster than the original AirPods and have a couple of new features. The addition of wireless charging and Hey Siri won’t make early adopters feel like they should have waited, but they may add enough value to make anyone on the fence splurge for $200 earbuds.
We used the AirPods regularly for two weeks, introducing them into an Apple-heavy daily routine. We found them to be high-quality, comfortable wireless earbuds that produce amazing sound. And for those who are already deep in the Apple ecosystem, their integration into the world you’re already living in is the prime selling point.
On the other hand, if your tech world doesn’t revolve around Apple, you may sacrifice those seamless integration features, in which case they don’t have much of an advantage over similarly-priced Bluetooth earbuds.
The design of the AirPods is quintessentially Apple. They look virtually identical to the EarPods you may already own, just without the wires. And that little white tail fin has already become something of an iconic design.
The AirPods themselves and the new wireless charging case are nearly identical to the first generation model. The only visible differences are the relocated pairing button, an LED charging indicator and the wireless charging strip on the case.
The seamless integration into that type of environment is one of the AirPods greatest strengths. During our evaluation, we successfully paired our AirPods with an iPhone X, 5S, a 2014 iMac, and MacBook Pros from 2017 and 2013. Switching between paired devices is easy, especially on iPhones, which often pair and route sound to the AirPods automatically. It takes a few more seconds for Macs since you have to manually dig into your Bluetooth settings to make the switch.
Those further ensconced in the Apple universe will find additional utility in the AirPods’ ability to pair with their AppleTV and Apple Watch. They’re even compatible with iOS devices from as far back as 2013.
There’s no reason you can’t use AirPods with non-Apple products—they’ll work with any Bluetooth-enabled device you happen to have. Whether it’s a Samsung Galaxy or Moto X, you’d just set it up like any other Bluetooth accessory. But you’ll lose out on the seamless integration with Apple devices. We’d recommend products like the Samsung Galaxy Buds if you’re looking for an Android solution for wireless listening.
If you happen to lose them, you can locate them with the “Find My iPhone” feature in iOS and iCloud. This allows you to open their location in Apple Maps and get turn-by-turn directions to their location. If you’re in their general vicinity, you can play a sound just like with a misplaced iPhone. This is very convenient for a product that can easily get away from you.
The Bluetooth range of these wireless earbuds is highly dependent on the device they’re paired with. When we had our AirPods paired with an iPhone 5S, we could walk about 30 feet before the connection began to break up. With our iPhone X, we could easily get hundreds of feet away (without any major obstacles in between). Range gets sharply reduced if there are walls or objects between the AirPods and the paired device.
Apple credits its new processor, the H1 headphone chip, for the 2019 AirPods’ faster pairing, stronger connections, and quick switching. And indeed, they are snappy and won’t leave anyone wanting for better performance. It’s hard not to admire the amount of engineering that goes into something as seemingly simple as wireless earbuds.
You’ll probably have your AirPods ready to use before you get a chance to read the instruction manual. All you have to do is open the case near an iPhone and you’ll get an alert asking if you want to pair them. One tap and less than three seconds later, you’re listening to music. This is Steve Job’s mantra of “It just works,” still in full effect.
Pairing the AirPods with a Mac is a bit more difficult. A Mac won’t detect or connect to the AirPods automatically the first time, so you have to open the case and hold down the pairing button on the back. Then you can manually pair them through your Mac’s Bluetooth settings. However, you won’t have to use the button on the case to reconnect in the future.
When paired to a device, the AirPods automatically take over the sound when they’re placed in your ear. If this level of automation is too much for you, it’s easily disabled in your Bluetooth settings.
The AirPods have touch controls, even though there are no buttons. Double-tap on the buds while they’re in your ear to play/pause, skip forward, skip back, turn off, or summon Siri. By default, both the left and right ear are set to skip to the next track, but you can customize the command on each ear to your personal preferences.
The ability to summon Siri hands-free is great, but it’s not a grand revolution in the way we interact with our devices—it’s just the continuing evolution of it.
While the physical control over the AirPods is convenient, you only get two options: left and right ear. You also don’t get granular control over things like volume. Contrast that to the EarPods, which give you all that control without having to choose which two commands are most important.
The Hey Siri functionality does a bit to counteract that. You can control the volume by telling Siri to turn it up or down, but achieving the exact volume you want is more difficult and time-consuming than with EarPods. Plus, summoning Siri to change the volume sometimes interrupts what you’re listening to. Which is a huge distraction, especially if you’re zoned-in to music.
Outside of the volume controls, Hey Siri is quite useful. If you’ve owned an iPhone in the last few years, you’ve asked this digital assistant for directions, the weather, dictating your messages, and much more. The ability to summon Siri hands-free is great, but it’s not a grand revolution in the way we interact with our devices—it’s just the continuing evolution of it.
We used the new wireless charging case in our testing and found that the 2nd Generation AirPods, in conjunction with this case, delivered more than a full day’s worth of power. But if you forget the case, don’t expect them to last through the workday.
If your AirPods do go dead, it only takes a few minutes to charge them with the case. Apple claims that a 15-minute charge on dead AirPods will yield three hours of listening time. We found this to be generally accurate during our testing.
If you forget the case, don’t expect them to last through the workday.
Additionally, we found that it takes around half an hour to fully charge the AirPods with the case, and a full charge yields four to five hours of continuous listening. This is also in line with Apple’s advertised battery life.
It only takes about 45 minutes to go from a completely dead case to a full charge if you use the lightning cable. If you opt for wireless charging, charge time is totally dependent on the mat you choose. We used our AirPods with the Belkin Boost Up Special Edition Wireless Charging Pad, which is sold by Apple. We found that it takes about four and a half hours to fully charge the AirPod case.
However, since the case takes so long drain its batteries, it’s hard to imagine that they’d ever die if you put it on a charger regularly. We took fully-charged AirPods, put them in the case and let them playback sound continuously without being connected to power. It was more than 18 hours later that they both died.
The AirPods fit nicely in your ear. They’re also quite comfortable, and it’s easy to forget that they’re in your ears. If you’re already used to Apple EarPods, you won’t notice a difference. But if you’re switching from other brands, you’re likely to notice at least a change, if not an improvement.
As should be expected with earbuds at this price point, the audio experience is excellent. We used The Beatles album Past Masters to put the AirPods through their paces. Every note, chord, vocal, and instrument came through with perfect clarity and richness, and the sometimes-experimental sound mixing came through with excellent quality. Additionally, voice-centered media like podcasts and audiobooks were crystal clear. It would be hard to expect more from wireless earbuds.
Every note, chord, vocal, and instrument came through with perfect clarity and richness.
Call quality was also outstanding. Of course, it’s reliant on your carrier’s connection, but the sound comes through clear and understandable on both ends. If you experience any problems on a call, it’s highly unlikely to be the fault of the AirPods.
Longtime Apple users won’t be surprised at how expensive the new AirPods cost, currently retailing for $199 MSRP. This is on the high end of Bluetooth earbuds prices, but that’s how Apple tends to do things.
Even with how good the AirPods are, it’s understandable that one may hesitate to spend this much on a pair of earbuds. Fortunately, you can save a little money by foregoing the wireless charging and just getting the 2nd Generation AirPods with wired charging case, which retail for $159. This is, of course, still pretty expensive, but may be a good middle ground for those who don’t really want the wireless charging.
It comes down to how badly you want the Apple wireless experience—and how much disposable income you have. At this point, we think only hardcore audiophiles, wireless enthusiasts, and those firmly ensconced in the Apple ecosystem will find them worthy of shelling out that much cash. Everybody else may want to stick to the $30 EarPods.
On the other hand, if you were an early adopter of the AirPods and it’s just the wireless charging you’re after, Apple currently sells the case by itself for under $100. And since the first-generation buds are fully compatible with the new case, there’s no need to buy the new $200 version to take advantage of wireless charging.
The only peer the AirPods really have are their counterpart in the Android Universe, the Samsung Galaxy Buds. They have many of the same features including wireless charging, automatic pairing, high-quality sound, and seamless integration with the other devices in the Samsung ecosystem.
The one big thing the AirPods have over the Galaxy Buds is the battery life. Samsung advertises a six-hour battery life on a full charge for the buds alone and 13 hours total with the charging case. So, the buds themselves will last longer, but the AirPods plus their charging case blow the Galaxy Buds out of the water.
The Galaxy Buds are about $70 less than the AirPods and fully compatible with iOS devices. If you don’t need to live entirely in the Apple universe, they’re a great, less-expensive alternative.
Not a major upgrade, but they’ve added enough features to tempt first-time AirPod buyers.
The 2nd Generation version of the AirPods has evolved the line in typical Apple fashion. Apple users will appreciate how smoothly they integrate with their other devices, and the added Siri functionality and wireless charging aren’t huge upgrades but still a nice addition to a great-sound pair of earbuds. The biggest obstacle is the price—if you have the money to spend, they’re absolutely worth buying.
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