Update, December 27, 2020: This Apple AirPods review was updated to address the Apple AirPods Max.
The AirPods came out a while back, but only recently have they been updated with new hardware and software features. While they may have made true wireless earbuds popular, they’re not the best by any means. Still, that’s not to say they’re bad. If you can get them to stay in your ears, and if you have an iOS device, and if you don’t mind the — uh, unique — design, then you might find yourself really liking them.
But what is it about the new Apple AirPods (2019) that makes them so desirable? Branding aside, they actually nail a couple of key aspects of what makes a good pair of wireless earbuds.
What are the AirPods (2019) like to use?
Simple. That’s true whether you’re on Android or on iOS, though you will get some added perks if you’re rocking an Apple device. These includes the new “Hey Siri” feature, which won’t work with any other assistant. If you want to access the Google Assistant with your new AirPods you’ll have to double-tap the Airpod same as always.
Earbuds aside, the charging case is probably the stand-out feature of the AirPods. It’s well-built, small, and easy to handle, and if you opt for the newer 2019 version it’s even compatible with any Qi wireless charger. It’s hard to beat in everyday use. The case is small enough to fit in your pockets easily and flipping the case open can quickly become a twitch just because of how satisfying the magnetic lid feels.
You’re not getting premium materials with the new AirPods. While the case and buds do feel nice, they’re unchanged from the original AirPods and are still made of hard plastic.
Unfortunately, that level of satisfaction doesn’t hold up when you start using the earbuds. The one-size-fits-all design is just like the wired earpods that come with any iPhone, so if you have trouble keeping those in your ears as I do, you’re going to have a similar problem here. Plus, there’s the added anxiety of losing one should it fall out at some point, but to be fair, that’s a fear for all true wireless earbuds.
If you do get them to stay in your ears, then you can take advantage of a cool feature that auto pauses what you’re listening to as soon as you take them out. Handy, seeing as playback controls are fairly limited due to the lack of physical buttons. Unfortunately, this is another feature you’ll be missing out on if you’re going to be using them with an Android device.
What’s new with iOS 14?
The iOS 14 update introduced a host of improvements to the AirPods line, among which is automatic device switching. This functionality allows users to seamlessly switch from one device to another, so long as both devices are associated with the same Apple iCloud account. If you’re playing a video from your MacBook Pro and start playing a podcast from your iPhone, the AirPods will automatically detect new media playback and switch source devices.
The AirPods have optimized battery performance
Apple announced a host of improvements to its AirPods line of headsets, including the Apple AirPods Pro, among which was the addition of Optimized Battery Charging. This function will be included with iOS 14, and allows for the AirPods to learn a user’s charging routine. After a given period of time, the earbuds won’t charge beyond 80% until needed.
This is a huge improvement because true wireless battery cells are tiny and their lifespans are short. Users reported issues with the first-generation AirPods, and their inability to hold a charge. This new battery software should extend the life of your AirPods, so you won’t need to replace them every year or two.
Accessible audio settings
Accessibility features are now available. Users may enable volume safety onitory and customize audio setting, so it’s easier to hear certain types of media. To do so follow these steps:
- Open the Settings app.
- Tap Accessibility.
- Select Audio/Visual.
- Choose Headphone Accommodations, and switch the toggle on.
- Tap Custom Audio Setup.
- Follow the prompts to create an accessible sound profile.
Let’s talk battery life
You don’t have to be an engineer to know that the batteries squeezed into true wireless earbuds aren’t that big. The AirPods are no exception, which is why they come with a charging case you can toss them into when battery life starts to drain. While the original AirPods were squarely in the low-middle of the pack compared to other wireless earbuds, the new AirPods do surprisingly well. We managed to squeeze 4 hours and 7 minutes of constant playback on an iPhone X, which is 21% more than the previous Airpods.
The improved battery life is likely due to the newer H1 chip inside, that, on top of helping with connecting to your source devices, also plays a key role in power management. Unfortunately, that increase in battery life does not extend to Android users. In our testing, battery life while connected to a Pixel 3 remained more or less unchanged at 3 hours and 29 minutes. If you want to listen for longer periods of time, the Samsung Galaxy Buds or the new Powerbeats Pro both of which have significantly longer-lasting batteries.
Connecting the AirPods to Android
When you’re connecting to an iOS device, everything works fairly seamlessly. You open the AirPods case and a small bubble pops up on your iOS device prompting you to connect. Once you do, it’s automatically synced to all of the other devices on your iCloud account so you won’t have to re-pair to your iPad or MacBook.
When you’re on Android, it works a little differently. For one, you’ll have to manually hold down the Bluetooth pairing button on the case to enter pairing mode and then search for them in your Bluetooth settings like you would with any other device. Not a huge deal if we’re being honest. The problems begin to surface when it comes to connectivity and sound quality.
The AirPods use the AAC Bluetooth codec (if you need a refresher on what a codec is, make sure to read our full explainer), which, unfortunately, doesn’t work as advertised on Android. The main issue are the dropped connections and stutters while listening to music. Admittedly, it isn’t terrible, and when connected to a Pixel 3 it always auto-connected and resumed playback without any assistance from me. Still, the stutters can get annoying after a while and even though updating the AirPods did help, it didn’t fix the issues that AAC has with Android in general.
AAC’s audio quality is not flawless. You can read all about our testing and what it showed here, but in short, the graph above shows how AAC introduces a decent amount of noise to whatever you’re listening to, when compared to other codecs.
How do the AirPods sound?
Speaking of sound quality, we can get into the hard truth that anyone looking to buy a pair of AirPods (2019) will need to hear, but likely won’t care: they sound pretty bad. Whatever you’re going to be listening to with AirPods just won’t sound good, because of one major issue: lack of isolation.
The new AirPods have a surprisingly decent frequency response in our testing. For such little drivers, they’re not bad. The problem is that they fit terribly in the ears. A bad fit means little to no isolation from the outside world. This can be a good thing if you prefer to hear the conversation of the person next to you on the bus, but not great if you want to listen to your music or a podcast. When your headphones are lacking isolation, outside noises can drown out some of the frequencies in your music, making it more difficult for your brain to pick up on them. In terms of music, that means the first thing to go is going to be the low end. If you’re a bass-lover this is going to be an issue for you.
Are the AirPods good for phone calls?
The Applle AirPods microphone is better than you’d expect from an embedded mic system. These should be perfectly fine for casual phone calls, and can even get you through some brief conference calls.
How do the Apple AirPods (2019) compare to the Google Pixel Buds (2020)?
SoundGuys took this Apple AirPods review a step further and compared the AirPods to the Google Pixel Buds, which provide an Apple-like user experience for Android owners. The fit, isolation, and sound quality are all better with the Pixel Buds compared to the AirPods. Microphone qualities are very similar, but the Pixel Buds have a slight edge over Apple’s earphones. Battery life is also better with the Pixel Buds, and the USB-C case supports wireless charging by default, whereas with the AirPods you need to pay a premium for the feature.
Do the AirPods top the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live?
The never-ending battle between Apple and Samsung constantly reaches new horizons. In fact, the Galaxy Buds Live might be Samsung’s best attempt yet to steal listeners away from the iOS ecosystem. Neither headset fits particularly well because both pairs skip the silicone ear tips, instead opting to snuggle tightly in your ears. The Galaxy Buds Live boast active noise-cancelling (ANC). This means predictable, low-frequency sounds are mitigated while users remain aware of their surroundings to hear things like train departure announcements. ANC performance varies greatly from person-to-person, because its effectiveness depends on a consistent fit. Even minor movement of the bud around the ear canal entrance can have a huge negative impact on noise-cancelling.
See also: Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review
Pairing AirPods with an iOS device is a smooth and enjoyable experience, and it’s a tough feeling to replicate. Both pairs of earbuds charge at the same speeds too, but only Samsung includes wireless charging in the base price. If you want to wirelessly charge your AirPods, you’ll have to shell out some extra cash.
You’ll also need to have an iOS device if you want to update your AirPods, though you can update the Galaxy Buds Live from any device with the Galaxy Wearable app.
Apple AirPods (2019) review: Should you buy them in 2020?
This depends on a few factors, the most important of which is, are you using an iOS device? As you’re reading this on an Android website, chances are you’re not. That means you’re going to be missing out on some of the things that make the AirPods truly special, like “Hey Siri” functionality and the option to pause music automatically when you take them out.
Apple's AirPods (2019) feature a new H1 chip, which makes the earbuds even more power-efficient than the first-generation AirPods. You get to enjoy hands-free Siri access and seamless switching between iOS devices.
You’re probably not interested in AirPods because you’re an audiophile. They’re a tech gadget, and a good one at that, even with the feature limitations on Android. Android users have other options for to choose from, many of which have similar features and a better fit.
What about the Apple AirPods Max?
The Apple AirPods Max is Apple’s first over-ear headset, and it features active noise-cancelling just like the AirPods Pro. Each headphone houses an H1 chip for a great amount of processing power, which the headset needs to complete power-hungry tasks like ANC, Transparency hearing, Spatial Audio, hands-free Siri commands, and more. If you want an advanced DSP, and seamless user experience, the AirPods Max may be worth it. For most of us, though, it’s hard to justify the cost.