White Freebuds 3 and AirPods Pro on a red background

The AirPods battery life problem is the norm among many true wireless earbuds.

The holidays are just around the corner, which means it’s time for us to fill the hearts of our loved ones by emptying our wallets. Regardless of where your celebratory inclinations lie, you probably know someone wishing for AirPods this winter.

Well, the AirPods battery life may be standard for true wireless earbuds, but the batteries are constantly being charged and depleted. This means that the expensive AirPods and AirPods Pro you give this year won’t see the light of day come this time 2021. Let’s see if there’s anything you can do about it and come up with some alternative audio gifts to give.

Battery problems are nothing new in the tech industry

Let’s turn our attention to 2017, when Apple iPhone battery issues took the world by storm. Apple even went so far as to heavily discount battery replacement services for anyone owning an iPhone 6 or later. Believe it or not, it’s not just Apple that had battery issues: Samsung faced a flaming debacle back in 2017 when its Samsung Galaxy Note 7 had a nasty tendency of spontaneously combusting.

Of course, it isn’t always this extreme. People often say, “it’s no built how it used to be,” as a way of citing planned obsolescence as a consumer woe. Sometimes this means reports of easy screen cracking, loose headphone jacks, or frayed cables. Well, today, with true wireless earbuds, it means a very short life cycle.

Why don’t true wireless batteries last?

An aerial picture of the JLab JBuds Air Icon true wireless earbuds in the charging case.

True wireless earbuds rely on portable charging cases to keep them topped up, but this constant charge-and-drain cycle depletes the cells.

They’re just too small. From our smartphones to our headphones, our lives run on lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries, but with both of those products, there’s ample room to pack in a large battery cell. Although li-ion technology is efficient, it can’t nullify the fact that, in this case, size does matter.

It's not just AirPods; true wireless earbuds just don't have as long of a lifespan as wireless headphones.

With regards to the AirPods battery life, or any true wireless earbuds’ battery life for that matter, the li-ion cell capacity is markedly smaller than those found in our smartphones.

Take the Creative Outlier Gold, it’s a modern wonder that these earbuds last 10.3 hours on a single charge of two 80mAh cells. To put it into perspective: the Samsung Galaxy S10 has a 3,400mAh capacity. But, the problem isn’t so much standalone battery life anymore, rather product longevity. Time will tell how the Creative Outlier Gold’s battery life performs over time, but the constant charging and depletion cycle that it’s subjected to will likely see a demise similar to the original AirPods.

What alternative audio gifts are there?

Just because true wireless earbuds aren’t built to last doesn’t preclude other audio products from being great gifts. Our very own Adam Molina is a huge fan of the Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator. Stocking stuffers don’t get much better than this: it lets you produce retro synths with a modern twist from anywhere. It’s a standalone product that doesn’t require external speakers to function, but if you want to amplify your video game-esque song, you can connect it to other gear.

Another great gift to give the audio-lover in your life is a multitool, specifically the Leatherman Wave. Not only is it versatile and good to have hanging about, but it also features an integrated wire stripper. This is needed when you repair cables, say they fray or your cat gets to them. It’s available in silver or black and is sure to please the handyperson in your life.

One of our favorite things to recommend to concert-goers are earplugs. I know, it seems counterintuitive to put earplugs in when you paid a pretty penny to see your favorite band, but the Etymotic ETY reduce sound levels while preserving most audio clarity. As someone who frequently attends concerts, I’m vigilant about protecting my ears from noise-induced hearing loss, and these are an affordable way to do so.

Alternatively, you could always get your loved one a more traditional audio gift like headphones or wired earbuds. Don’t worry, because we, and our sister site SoundGuys, have plenty of directions to point you for the athlete, podcaster, aficionado, commuter, and more. Regardless of what you pick, hopefully this helped you decide on a last-minute gift that, unlike AirPods, will last a long time.

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