Apple AirPods arriving everywhere
Today I was lucky to be one of the first recipients of Apple's new AirPod Bluetooth headphones. After many production delays the first batch was snapped up in minutes just a couple of weeks ago. December 19 was the standard delivery date and I was happy to get the parcel just an hour before I was due to leave home to catch a flight to Berlin.
So far I am extremely impressed. The pod container, which has a built-in backup battery, is tiny and no doubt easy to misplace. This is going to be the major problem with the AirPods — the danger of loss. And at £159 the pair it could a painful loss.
On the positive side, the AirPods paired automatically with my iPhone 7 plus as soon as I opened the lid. The state of charge of both the AirPod container and the two ear pods themselves is shown on the phone's screen so you know exactly where you stand.
One of the big worries about the AirPods is that they can fall out easily. So far I have sensed no feeling of impending loss. They stay firmly in the ear. There is no cable which is the major cause of normal pods falling out of the ear. What's more, these AirPods are extremely comfortable. I've been wearing them for three hours and suffered none of the discomfort experienced sometimes with wired phones.
In use, the Pods are not as discreet as I had hoped. They look very much like Apple's wired earbud with the cables cut off. However, if you angle the stems flat to the cheek they are slightly less obvious. It's strange, wearing a set of wired buds is unremarkable these days. But wireless phones, even these sleek new Apple pods, are somehow geekier.
Not having cables to worry about is a major advantage however. Cables get tangled without effort and are always knotted and inconvenient to the point where I am often discouraged from using earphones. With these AirPods at my disposal I feel sure I will be more encouraged to listen to music and podcasts.
One significant annoyance is the lack of a volume or mute button as we are used to finding on the cable of a set of wired phones. Instead you have to negotiate with Siri, not always successfully. I feel self conscious blurting out "hey Siri louder" and similar commands. So all is not perfect. Incoming calls are handled well but I find the music track doesn't continue automatically when the call is ended. I am sure there are alternative settings, both to accept and finish calls and to resume music. I'll just have to break a lifetime's custom and read the instructions to find out what to say to Siri.
The sound quality is surprisingly good. It isn't quite up to that of some high-end ones I have tried but is perfectly adequate for my purposes. I am not an audio connoisseur so I overly critical. They sound very good to me.
The star of the show, though, is the neat, tactile carrying case. The AirPods slip into their little docks precisely and easily. There are two LEDs to indicate charge status. As soon as the pods are placed in the case they start to charge. The case itself, which contains the backup battery, is charged via a standard Lightning connector. In design terms the AirPods represent a prime example of Apple's uncanny knack of getting things right.
Although the AirPods come in Apple white, with chrome trim, and the little case is also in white plastic, I would have liked to see a black alternative. I would probably have picked black had I been given the choice.
All in all, my first day experience of Apple's new AirPods is extremely positive. I will add to three initial thoughts when I have had more experience of them on day to day use.
Note: This was a very quick review written on a plane from London to Berlin. Here is a much better in-depth first impressions article.