Issue: 15.2 (March/April 2017)
Author: Marc Zeedar
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Article Length (in bytes): 9,532
Starting Page Number: 12
Article Number: 15202
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I generally try to avoid writing reviews about products that aren't too tied to programming and/or Xojo, but I'm going to make an exception for Apple's AirPods. That's because I see these amazing wireless earbuds as a great product for the Xojo developer.
First, I should mention that I'm not a big headphone user. I don't listen to music or podcasts that much, except when I'm traveling (travel was my main interest in having them, to be honest, as I hate the wires and poor battery life of other headphones I've tried). Most of the time I'm home alone and I can use speakers if I want. So I'm not the best judge of audio quality. But audiophiles who are really into audio fidelity aren't the target market for wireless earbuds.
A big part of the reason I don't use headphones much is that I find them way more trouble than they are worth. Wired sets are a huge hassle and they are always tangled. They also limit your movement. Wireless ones are nicer, but pairing is a nightmare, the physical controls are so convoluted as to be useless (when they're on my head, I can never tell from touch which button is which), and their batteries are always needing to be charged.
AirPods promised to change all that, and I must say, they are the most Apple-like product Apple has produced in years. Pairing is crazy-simple: just open the little case near your iPhone and it prompts you to connect. That's it. Even better, once you've paired them with one device, that pairing information is shared with all other devices that use the same Apple ID account. You can then switch between iPad, iPhone, Mac, and Apple Watch at the touch of a button.
Sound quality, as far as I am concerned, is phenomenal. I was shocked at how good it is and how much I enjoyed listening to music with them. Even mono (one earbud) is great and plenty good enough for phone conversations, podcasts, and audiobooks, though stereo is obviously better for music.
Perhaps more important to some people, the quality of the built-in microphones is excellent. I've done a lot of phone calls on my AirPods and I've asked people how I sounded and everyone thought I was wonderfully clear: far better than speakerphone or even phone mode. Not a one guessed I was using earbuds before I told them.
As far as fit and comfort goes, your mileage may vary. Everyone's ears are different. In my case, apparently my own ears aren't even the same. While my AirPods are comfortable in both ears, the one in my right ears stays in place fantastically—I can't dislodge it or get it to fall out no matter what I do. The left ear, however, is different. It seems to slowly grow lose and after 30-45 minutes, isn't very snug and will even pop right out. I find myself having to readjust it periodically.
This isn't a dealbreaker for me, though it is disappointing, since the right one is so great. I'd recommend you try AirPods in a store if you can—or at least buy them from a retailer that will let you return them if they don't fit you.
Battery life is excellent—with one caveat. The earbuds are rated at five hours of use, but just 15 minutes in the case will recharge them enough for another three hours. Speaking of the case, you charge its battery with a standard (not included) lightning cable (the same one you use to charge your iPhone). A fully charged case has enough juice to recharge the earbuds about five times—24 hours of use.
The only battery issue I've run into is that when I use AirPods for phone calls, they drain
muchfaster (especially Facetime Audio, which I use a lot). I get less than half the battery life in those situations (about two hours). I believe that's because the conversation is two-way (transmitting as well as receiving), thereby draining the batteries twice as fast. This isn't a huge issue, but you may need to plan around it (i.e. charging up the AirPods before a conference call).
For instance, I've gotten in the habit of just using a single AirPod when I'm on a phone call. If the AirPod starts to run low on battery, I can pop in the other one and once it's connected (it just takes a few seconds), put the low-battery one in the case to charge. By repeatedly swapping the two AirPods, I can theoretically have a 48-hour phone call!
Many wonder about the interface to the AirPods, since there really isn't one. There are just two gestures: removing an AirPod from your ear pauses the music, and double-tapping on one brings up Siri. Once Siri beeps, you can use voice commands to control the playback (skipping tracks, pausing, choosing a different artist or playlist, etc.).
Not everyone is a fan of Siri, and controlling your music by voice isn't always ideal, but in general this approach works really well. I personally vastly prefer it over physical controls that are too small or "overloaded" with functions (i.e. pressing different lengths of time does different things). That said, talking to yourself when in public isn't that great.
Because of the AirPods' beam-forming microphones and their proximity to your mouth, Siri understands you much better than on your phone or Mac and you don't have to speak very loud. It's also handy to be able to use Siri for other queries, such as the weather or sports scores, but Siri still too often won't respond in your ear but tell you to look at the screen on your phone, which is lame. Another limitation is that using Siri does require an internet connection as your voice commands are still processed in the cloud. While that makes sense for complex queries, it'd be nice if AirPod Siri could at least do basic song management without the cloud.
The "remove an AirPod to pause music" gesture is brilliant, and is one of my favorite things about them. It's a human gesture in multiple ways: unlike pausing music while still keeping a headset on, where another person can't tell if you're listening to them or not, taking an earbud out is a clear sign to a colleague of "Go ahead. I'm listening." It's polite, natural, and effective.
As a side effect, it helps you not lose an AirPod—if one falls out, your music stops, alerting you to a problem.
Speaking of losing AirPods, there's been a lot of criticism of them based on their tiny size. That's all overblown in my opinion. First of all, there are many even smaller, more valuable things—like wedding rings—we don't lose, so why would AirPods be any different? If something is expensive, you care for it. Plus, my AirPods are always in one of two places: either in my ears or in the charging case (which I keep secure in my pocket). I suppose I could lose the case, but that'd be similar to losing my phone.
So how are AirPods good for programmers? It depends on your work situation, of course, but whether you're in a cubical or have a home office, AirPods can make your life better. They are a terrific way to listen to music or podcasts while you work, and unbelievably good for handling phone calls.
If you work from home the way I do, I'm sure you often do minor household tasks while talking on the phone. While carrying a phone around is doable, AirPods make that even better, allowing you to work with your hands. Plus, because the microphone is so close to your mouth, it picks up less ambient noise. I can wash dishes without blasting out the person on the other end with loud water noises.
If you work at a "real" office, AirPods would be good for keeping out distracting sounds, and I already mentioned how they're superior to other headsets because of their lack of wires and the polite way you pause music—great if you're interrupted by a colleague with a question.
The portability of AirPods is great for phone conversations on the go. I've often been involved in a call and realized I had to go somewhere. Instead of an awkward transition of the caller to my car's Bluetooth speaker, I just continued the call on the AirPod and the caller never even knew I was driving.
The bottom line is that Apple's AirPods are everything the company promised: true wireless headphones that will expand your idea of convenience. I highly recommend them.
End of article.