Thursday, January 26, 2017

Apple AirPods: Little things that matter to me

Added some gears to reduce the "dental floss" effect. Doesn't help much, but I like it anyway :)
I've had my AirPods for nearly 3 weeks now. Like everyone else on the Tech-inter-sphere, I wanted to fire off a review the day I got them. They were so shiny and new. But, at the same time, I know the perils of doing that. First impressions are great but, when you have spent $250CAD, there is a tendency to want to immediately feel that you didn't waste your money... regardless of reality. So, I've let the newness sink in and the everyday experience surface.

I am not interested or motivated in you getting AirPods or any Apple product. I don't like to see people waste money on something they don't love, and I am invested in sharing my experience.

Much of the information is going to be useful to anyone who has trouble with wearing earbuds. Just remember that any comments that involve ease of set up, or use of voice controls tend to rely on the Apple ecosystem and likely won't work for Android users.

Backstory:

Aside from my abiding love of new technology, there was really only one real reason that I felt like risking my money on this device: Although I wear headphones a LOT in my day-to-day, I hate every pair of earbuds or in-ear headphones that I have ever owned. And yet, I am an eternal optimist. The reasons for my hatred are simple enough. Until this year, I have never owned a single pair of earbuds that would stay in without frequent adjustment, tamping down, or full on putting them back in when they fell out.

The first pair that stayed in with reasonable consistency have been my Jaybird X2s. A combination of ear 'fins' and memory foam ear inserts made them MUCH better than anything I had previously owned, though at the cost of being very fussy to put on. Once on, they still failed on my second serious and long-standing grievance: after prolonged wear, earbuds of all stripes hurt my tender ears. My ear canals eventually get red, sore, and feel like they are on fire.
Jaybird X2: Pretty Damn Good


AirPods:

Fit


White would have been better
Jaybird ear fins
When they arrived at the door, I ripped the box open, paired them in less than 10 seconds, and was outside for a run minutes later. Pretty great. They have never fallen out during any activity in my daily wear... ever. Two caveats: Ripping a t-shirt or sweater off without care, can cause the AirPods (or any earbuds) to come out, AND under conditions where I tried to get them to fall out, I succeeded only by doing kips or front handsprings. Running, skipping, dancing, head-banging, stair running, climbing, handstands, and cartwheels are all fine. If you are serious about parkour, I still think these could be for you, but you will want to get something to secure them. For just this purpose I tried the silicone ear-fins from my JB X2s and was shocked that they work! Also, since they are $4 for 2 pair with free shipping from China, I ordered these to test in high G-force situations.
$4 ear fins

Comfort

I have worn them repeatedly for 4-5 hours at a time and then sometimes for 3 hours more after a 15 minute top-up charge. They never feel uncomfortable. They often feel as though they are on the verge of coming out, but never do. In bed, I can lay on my front, back, or side. Lay on my hand or a pillow. I can wear them under a tight toque or ear-warmer. Comfort.

Sound

They are a loose fit (at least on me). As a consequence, I don't get thumpy bass or isolation from my environment. I happen to prefer that. I like to maintain an awareness of my surroundings. If you want to be all alone with your music, probably not for you. On the other hand, if you like to talk to a Starbucks Droid without taking your buds out... excellent.

Nice Tidbits


  • The AirPods case is small. So small, I don't mind (at all) carrying it in my pocket all day. I've seen a lot of other wireless charging cases for competitors earbuds. I can imagine them in the pocket of a parka, or in my backpack, but not in my pants pocket for any length of time. Never mind trying to sit down. 
  • I love how quickly I can put them on. They connect to my phone very reliably. I have had a couple of times where I have to wait several seconds for them to connect.
  • I'd be lying if I said that I wouldn't like physical volume control. But, it's a sacrifice I can live with for all the other improvements. I have an AppleWatch, and I don't mind using it to change volume, or the physical buttons on my iPhone. When I am alone, which is most of the time when I am using the AirPods, I love using Siri to say "set the volume to 11" or "set the volume to half." However, using Siri to turn up or down the volume by one notch is mostly useless. 
  • The range is vastly better than any other bluetooth headphones I've ever used. I can leave them upstairs and range throughout my entire house, including the basement. There are a few paces on both floors of my 1000 square foot house where the signal begins to break up and does eventually drop.
  • Siri right my ear is awesome. I can speak quite quietly when invoking commands. Much quieter than any ordinary phone conversation.
  • Taking out an AirPod to stop

Irritations

  • Physical volume controls. I can handle this. Small sacrifice to have headphones that I want to leave in all the time instead of ones I want to leave at home.
  • Of the many hours that I have used them over the last 3 weeks, my music playback has stopped 3 or 4 times. Needed to pull out the phone and press play again?!? Not certain that this is because of the Pods, but it could be.
  • Battery pop-up display sometimes does not pop up. As much as 1/4 of the time. Not sure why and don't much care. Can still always check the battery through the more familiar battery monitors.
  • Although the connection is usually very strong, there are a few places I travel that suffer from some stuttering breakup. It seems to be the wifi problem that others have reported. If I lived in one of those 'noisy' spots, I'd be really annoyed.