AirPods 2

A Geek’s Best Friend: AirPods (Part 1)

Somewhere in the space-time continuum, a young geek looks down at the tangled mess that is his EarPods. Deep in his heart, he knows there must be a better way. Often, he dreams of frolicking on the trail, unencumbered by the tyranny of annoying white wires.

At school, he has seen the busy bodies walking down the hall, ostensibly talking to themselves with these strange contraptions protruding from their ear. Could this Bluetooth technology be the solution he was looking for?

Was the sound quality acceptable? Was the connection reliable? What about the other ear?

There was only one way to find out.

Bluetooth Beginnings

I never liked phones, and, relative to my peers, I was late to get my first cellphone. After the iPhone was released, that all changed. Still, I was not the biggest talker, and I used my iOS devices for listening to podcasts and music more than anything else.

Throughout grad school, I frequently saw people walking around with Bluetooth headsets, chatting away. The headsets were not attractive, but they did not look that bad, and I wondered if they could stream other audio content, besides voice calls, as well.

Bluetooth Geek

After I found out about A2DP, I decided to get my first Bluetooth headset. The Plantronics model I settled on was light, comfortable, and had decent battery life/audio quality.

The headset's connectivity and reliability was not perfect, and it did look a little weird, but the convenience of going wireless more than made up for the imperfections. I stuck with it, and since around 2007, I have been rocking the wireless lifestyle, without regrets.

However, I always longed for something better. The wireless Bluetooth headphones that were being sold seemed like a cop-out. They had a wire going between the two ear pieces, and while using a single-ear piece is fine for podcasts, you really need two earpieces for enjoying music.

Long did I dream of having a Bluetooth wireless headset that was truly wireless. When Apple announced the AirPods, I, like many other geeks, was very excited.

Our X-ray imagery (provided by Creative Electron) shows quality issues in the AirPod case’s processor. Excessive empty spaces in the solder, known as voiding, could be evidence of low quality standards, or a rushed product release. Could issues with the AirPod case be what delayed release?

AirPods Are Disposable and Hard to Recycle, iFixit

After the AirPods were delayed, I grew concerned. The preview units that went out seemed to be working well for the reviewers, but maybe Apple misjudged their ability to produce this product in mass quantities. Observations from iFixit seemed to indicate quality control issues, and I began to doubt whether Apple was going to deliver this time.

Perhaps, it was too good to be true. Then, I heard they were taking orders about a week before Christmas. I managed to get in an early order, and delivery was scheduled for right before the holidays.

Did the AirPods live up to my expectations? The answer is complicated.

The Good

The Good

The initial impressions of the AirPods experience remind me of why I became enamored with Apple in the first place. The AirPods have a touch of whimsy that seems to be too often missing from other Apple offerings these days. From the satisfying snap the case makes, to the ease of the initial pairing process and the way the AirPods get snugly sucked back into the case, it all screams of quality and attention to detail.

I never found Apple's EarPods to be uncomfortable, and I can say the same thing about the AirPods. Actually, I find the AirPods to be more comfortable, since there is no wire pulling down on them. I can easily wear them for more than an hour without discomfort.

Even though they are comfortable to wear, the fit is snug, too. Like many geeks, I am often wearing a hoodie, and as long as I was not too careless when taking it off, the AirPods did not have a problem staying in place. I am an active person, and no matter if I was walking, crouching down, or doing kettlebell swings, the AirPods stayed in my ears without an issue.

That being said, everyone's ears are different. If the EarPods worked for you, the AirPods should be fine, too, but there is no way to know until you give them a try.

I was pleasantly surprised at the audio quality of the AirPods. I had heard they were comparable to the EarPods, but I think they sound better, particularly for voice and podcast listening. In this regard, I am very pleased. Voice quality for VoIP calls was good, as well.

Once a connection was made, I found that the AirPods seemed to hold the connection better than most Bluetooth sets that I have used. Lost connections and brief dropouts were practically non-existent. If you have been streaming audio with Bluetooth for a long time, you will appreciate what a feat that is.

Keep in mind, the AirPods do not seal off your ears and are not noise canceling. For some, this may be a plus, as you can use both AirPods simultaneously without being oblivious to your environment (unless you have the volume cranked all the way up).

Personally, I consider this a strength, as I found that while AirPods work OK independently, they deliver the best user experience when used together. This becomes particularly apparent when using their Automatic Ear Detection feature.

For example, if you are wearing both AirPods and listening to music or a podcast, removing one of the AirPods will pause playback. Placing this AirPod back in your ear will resume playback. Removing both AirPods out of your ears will stop playback (i.e., if you place both AirPods back in your ears, you will need to manually resume playback).

This procedure changes if you start your listening session with only one AirPod in an ear. Here, if you remove the single AirPod, music or podcast streaming will stop (i.e., placing the AirPod back into your ear will not resume playback). For this reason, I tend to use the AirPods with both units, simultaneously.

I have found battery life to be excellent. I have never used a set of headphones for more than 2-3 hours at a time, so the estimated 5 hour playback from Apple is more than enough for me. In regard to battery feedback, the real star here is the case, which is just as much of the AirPods experience as the AirPods themselves.

It is tiny, and while it is a little thick, I had no problem slipping it into my tiny jeans change pocket, even with my hipster, skinny jeans (that little pocket finally has a purpose)! For such a small case, it has no problem fully charging the AirPods multiple times, and most importantly, it charges them fast.

This is excellent design. If you are not using the AirPods, they are going to go in the case, and therefore charge quickly. Since the case is so small, you will have no problem carrying it around with you. This is a win-win. Form and function working beautifully together.

In short, battery life is not an issue.

Tasty Tip: I have not covered the details of AirPods pairing and customization. If you want that information, head on over to iMore.


However, there are issues, several issues. We will save that for the final part of my AirPods review. Stay tuned.

Paul Ciano

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