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I Wore Apple's Wireless Earbuds For A Month Without Losing Them

The wireless earbuds sync to iOS devices with ease – but there’s a lot of room for improvement.

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BuzzFeed News

When it unveiled the headphone jack-less iPhone 7, Apple announced an all-new wireless solution to go with it: cordless earbuds called AirPods that come with Siri built-in and a slew of sensors packed inside. After an unusual month-and-a-half-long delay to “fine-tune” sound performance and battery life, the new earbuds are finally available (although there’s currently a six-week wait). But you may want to hold off even longer.

I’ve been testing final production AirPods for about a week and pre-production AirPods since September. The pods don’t fall out nearly as easily as one might expect of an earbud-on-a-stick that dangles precariously from one’s ear, and I was equally impressed by the AirPods’ unique wireless technology that eliminates the fussiness of Bluetooth. But Siri-only volume control and the AirPods’ one-size-fits-all form factor aren’t ideal – and show that there’s a lot of room for improvement.

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The AirPods are small, lightweight, and hyper portable.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

The main benefit of wireless earbuds is their portability. No cord means no tangled mess and no bulk. The AirPods aren’t exactly discreet (more on this later), but they are lighter than other wireless buds I’ve tried (Samsung’s Gear IconX, Bragi’s Dash, and the upcoming Headphone).

The AirPods' smooth, dental floss–sized case slips easily into tight pant pockets. Together, the AirPods weigh about as much as a US quarter, just 0.28 ounces, while the charging case is 1.34 ounces — so altogether we're talking about the same weight as a single Kit Kat bar. In your ear, you’ll feel the hard plastic-ness of the AirPod, but you won’t feel bogged down by its weight.

They do a great job of staying in your ear.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

I did my least favorite thing, running on a treadmill, for an hour to test if they'd hold up when sweat's involved. The AirPods stayed in my ears the entire time.

I really tried to get these buds to come out: I biked to work with one of them in, I headbanged to Slayer, and I tried shaking them out of my ears (even upside down!). Nada.

Movement won’t dislodge the AirPods, but as soon as there’s some external interference, they immediately lose their mythical staying power. The stem is susceptible to getting caught on things like clothing, hair, and helmets. I took off my sweater and an AirPod went flying. I tucked my long-ish hair behind my ear and the same thing happened. The helmet strap didn’t remove the AirPod from my ear, but it did jostle it around, which is unnerving when you’re biking on the streets of San Francisco.

The wireless technology makes regular Bluetooth look dumb.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

Here’s where Apple’s true advantage over other wireless earbuds or, really, any wireless headset becomes clear.

Apple products are designed in the context of an ~ecosystem~, which means there’s an extra feature for iPhones with iOS 10 installed. When you open the charging case within a 2-inch range of your iPhone, the AirPods are automatically synced. There are no settings menus to deal with, no tapping around, and no button-holding.

I synced and unsynced the AirPods repeatedly, and it worked every time, without fail. This integration makes the wireless future seem more appealing.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

If you're looking for something other than AirPods, Beats, the Apple-owned audio company, has three new headsets with the same wireless technology built in: the Beats X, Powerbeats 3, and Solo 3 on-ear headphones. I’ve been testing the Powerbeats 3, and pairing it is just as seamless as it is with the AirPods.

The AirPods can also automatically recognize iPads with iOS 10, Apple Watches with watchOS 3, and computers with macOS Sierra that are signed into the same iCloud account as whatever phone they are synced with. The pods will appear in Control Center (that menu you expand by swiping up from the bottom) on iOS and in the Bluetooth settings menu bar on laptops.

Other devices, like Android phones, can connect to the AirPods with good old-fashioned Bluetooth. There’s a barely there button on the back of the case that puts the AirPods into pairing mode.

The Bluetooth range is fairly good, too, thanks to the included W1 Chip that helps the AirPods offer more distance while using up less battery. The connection only dropped for me a few times, when I'd walk across the office and duck behind a tall metal cabinet but, generally, the wireless connection is very consistent.

The design of the case is exceptional.

Unlike other wireless earbud cases, you can flip open the AirPods case single handed. Integrated magnets guide the buds in place, and an indicator light tells you the battery status with a quick glance.

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Battery life is surprisingly fantastic.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

I can usually go a few days without having to charge the AirPods or the case. AirPods have five hours of listening time each, and the charging case provides up to 24 hours of battery life.

Because the case also charges, whenever you pull out your AirPods, they have 100% battery (as long, of course, as the case has some power left). Most notably, a quick 15 minutes in the case charges the buds with three hours of listening time. That’s better than you’ll typically find elsewhere. Samsung’s Gear IconX and Bragi’s Dash wireless earbuds provide only three hours per charge (though Bragi’s Headphone lasts six hours).

Sound quality is decent – but the killer feature is phone calls.

The AirPods emitted clear, well-balanced sound, but the earbuds’ bass doesn’t punch as much as the other Bragi and Samsung earbuds I tried, as well as Beats’ new Powerbeats 3.

And, in case you’re curious, here’s how I test audio: The Knife’s "A Tooth for an Eye," James Blake’s "Retrograde," and Erykah Badu’s "Bag Lady" over Spotify.

The real power of the AirPods is actually revealed when you talk on the phone.

My callers mentioned multiple times how static-free my voice sounded, even amidst the loud background noise of San Francisco streets.

A built-in microphone on the tip of the stem picks up your voice and transmits crystal-clear audio. This may be because the earbuds have an array of sensors (accelerometers, optical sensors, microphones, and antennas) that can detect when your jaw is moving, and optimize the microphones for a phone call by isolating voice audio.

The AirPods might be *too* small and discreet.

On the one hand, the AirPods are a perfectly portable pair of travel earbuds. On the other hand, losing the untethered, light-as-a-feather buds seems inevitable. Apple is even charging $69 for replacement AirPods in anticipation.

Not a joke: within 5 minutes I dropped an AirPod down the drain.

I’ll repeat what I said in my original review: If you were the kind of kid who always made sure the tiny Polly in Polly Pocket made her way back into the seashell house, you aren’t going to lose your AirPods. If you don’t know where your social security card or birth certificate are right now, maybe don’t get them.

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The Siri-only controls are very limiting.

One of the AirPods’ features is being able to activate Siri by double tapping the side of each AirPod.

Despite the number of sensors Apple was able to cram into each tiny AirPod, the way in which you can control them is restricted to Siri, including changing the volume. There are no manual controls.

Siri lives in the cloud, and that means you need to have INTERNET or a data connection every time you want to adjust the volume with the AirPods. If you’re without Wi-Fi or service — and there are still plenty of flights where you could be — you’ll have to pull out your phone.

It also means that if you’re walking outside, you’ll be shouting “NEXT SONG” or “TURN UP THE VOLUME” at random passersby. Additionally, for those of you familiar with Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home, Siri won’t respond to “louder,” only “turn up the volume.”

You can go into the Settings menu to switch the double tap function to control play/pause instead of activating Siri, which marginally improves things. But unless you’re in an environment where you can talk to yourself all day, like commuting in a car, Siri isn’t helpful.

The AirPods are one-size-fits-all, and that’s not good for sound or comfort.

The wireless buds look nearly identical to Apple’s wired EarPods but, upon closer inspection, have a more circular shape. Each AirPod hooks into the bottom part of the ear and its stem seemingly counteracts any movement. I mentioned that the AirPods stay in ears well, but that doesn’t mean they fit comfortably.

Unlike most buds, like the Bragi and Samsung ones I’ve tried, the AirPods don’t include multiple earbud fit tips. For people with ears that skew on the smaller side, like me, that means that the AirPods always feel like they’re on the verge of falling out.

Apple designed the AirPods to fit most ears, after testing thousands of different shapes, but it’s possible that the Pods won’t work with yours. Fit is *especially* crucial for earbuds that don’t offer noise cancellation, and if you don't have an average ear shape, then the AirPods might not sound or feel as good as they're designed to.

If you’re not covering it up with hair or a hoodie, prepare to look a little bit like a cyborg.

This isn’t exactly a discreet product. When you’re wearing the AirPods, you can see a bitty white wing from all angles unless you’re covering it up. For those who would rather not attract long glances in public, a low-profile earbud from Bragi might be more suitable.

*Final thoughts*

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

Easy Bluetooth syncing (as long as you have an iPhone), a fantastic mic for calls, and exceptional case design are where Apple’s untethered earbuds shine.

But for the $159 price tag and limited functionality, you’re better off waiting for second-generation AirPods, and opting for a different wireless pair in the meantime. My current pick is the $130 Jaybirds X3, which aren’t cordless (a cable connects the two wingtip buds), but have incredible sound and excellent range, and are sweat-proof, comfortable, and lightweight.

If you must have a wireless, cordless earbud, I don’t have a good answer for you yet. I like the $150 Bragi Headphone so far, because it’s more comfortable, fits better, and is more understated than the AirPods – but the company is currently having issues with shipping and delivery. The $300 Dash is a waterproof fitness tracker in addition to a Bluetooth headset, which is cool, but the connection quality isn’t consistent (read our entire review for more). In my testing, the Samsung Gear IconX was light and sounded great, but battery life kind of stunk. There’s also the not-yet-released Here One earbuds that I haven’t tried yet (more on those to come!).

Apple — and other Bluetooth earbud makers in the space — haven’t nailed ~truly wireless~ hardware just yet. The premise of wireless earbuds is attractive (weightless audio, the freedom of being wire-free), but it’s still a nascent technology and, unless you’re an early adopter who’s used to dealing with kinks in first-generation products, you’ll be disappointed.

Nicole Nguyen covers products and personal technology for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.

Contact Nicole Nguyen at nicole.nguyen@buzzfeed.com.

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