Apple AirPods (2019) Review: Subtlety Rules, And Rivals Can Continue to Look on in Envy

Apple AirPods (2019) Review: Subtlety Rules, And Rivals Can Continue to Look on in Envy

The AirPods created a new category for wireless earbuds. Rivals haven’t come close to matching the sheer simplicity and slickness, and indications are they’ll spend another year chasing the benchmark.

Vishal Mathur
  • Last Updated: May 5, 2019, 11:23 AM IST
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If you had indeed noticed, you would probably have realized that most of Apple’s latest line-up of products don’t exactly look too different from the predecessors. The iPhone XS compared to the iPhone X. The iPad Mini compared to the old iPad Mini. The new iMacs compared with the ones they succeed. And so on. There are some exceptions, such as the new MacBook Air and the iPad Pro line-up, but that’s few and far between. The newest AirPods, which we are referring to as AirPods (2019) for the sake of keeping any possible confusion at bay, look and feel exactly the same as the first-generation wireless earbuds. Mind you, the AirPods must be credited with creating and pretty much leading the entire wireless earbuds category completely. And they will continue to do so.

The latest iteration of AirPods are available in two variants. You can buy one with the standard case with a built-in battery which can charge the AirPods, and this is priced at Rs 14,900. Then there is the new addition, which is the charging case which itself can also be charged wirelessly and this is priced at Rs 18,900. In both cases, the AirPods themselves are exactly the same.

Setting these up, as always, is a breeze. You don’t really need to deal with any pairing eccentricities or struggle with apps to get this going. Simply unpack your new AirPods from the box, open the lid of the case and keep them near your iOS device (an iPhone or iPad, for instance). The iOS device will automatically detect the presence of these wireless buds, and you will get a prompt on-screen asking if you wish to proceed and set these up. Give your go-ahead, and it takes a few seconds for the setup to complete in the background. At this point, your new AirPods are ready for action. Perhaps the most likeable thing about using AirPods is that once you pair these with one Apple device, they will automatically get paired with all other Apple devices you may have linked with the same iCloud account. This means instant switching with a MacBook or an iPad, for instance, and just makes life a lot simpler.

The Apple AirPods (2019) have the H1 chip, which not only brings new features to the latest AirPods, but also makes improvements to the power savings. First, a direct comparison with the previous AirPods is that the new H1 chip translates into one more hour of talk-time. This new chip will also enable faster switching between different devices—something that is very relevant considering the AirPods are automatically paired with all your Apple devices enabling an easy switch between them for wireless music streaming or calls. Last but not least, the new H1 chip also allows Apple to integrate the hands-free “Hey Siri” feature.

The Siri virtual assistant feature on the AirPods will now work the same way as it works on your iPhone, iPad, Mac or HomePod smart speakers for instance, where you simply call out “Hey Siri” and then proceed to ask it to play music, get navigation guidance or even send a message to a contact, for instance. With Apple further increasing focus on Siri, we could expect newer features to be added to the artificially intelligent virtual assistant in the coming months. While it doesn’t have the now familiar ping sound to indicate its listening the moment you say the magic words, but we realized it does pick up the sound well even in a noisy ambience. It is incredibly convenient to simply say out the Apple Music playlist you want to listen to, than have to pull out your phone, navigate the app and tap on the album art to achieve the same result.

If you haven’t been a fan of the AirPods design, you’ll probably retain the same sentiments. The second generation changes absolutely nothing as far as the design goes. The same earbuds and the same charging case continue—so much so that you can swap the case with your first generation AirPods for a wireless case of the second gen. But in a way, the continuity with the design is more of a fashion statement. You can spot an AirPods from a mile away, which is a good thing considering wireless earbuds are available by the bucket loads in the market, at various price points. Each AirPods earbud still weighs 4 grams, which is next to no weight. You can always nit-pick and say these buds could have been redesigned, the extension could have been shorter etc. What works, doesn’t need to be changed, and that’s exactly what Apple has rightly done.

But perhaps where Apple missed a trick is with colours. A lot of AirPods users have often expressed an opinion that they wouldn’t mind some colour options. Perhaps to match their mood or their wardrobe, but the fact is colours are popular. Look at smartphones. And then look at the thousands of colourful cases that are available for the AirPods.

That said, AirPods still retain the in-ear bud design that works well for most ear shapes and contours. Never in all these years have the first generation AirPods ever simply popped out of the ear, and the second generation AirPods will continue to hold fort. That is unless you decide to try out headbanging, in which case most earbuds would struggle to stay put.

Not much has changed in terms of the audio performance of the second generation AirPods, in comparison with the predecessors. That may not necessarily be a bad thing, since the balanced sound is quite priceless if you listen to a wide variety of music genres. AirPods have always done well with the lower frequencies and the higher frequencies, without ever sounding artificially boosted or relying unnecessary sound tweaking. Neither the bass is ever too powerful, nor are the vocals ever too sharp—irrespective of volume. Yes, you may find the AirPods a bit restrained if bass heavy music is your soundtrack for life, but for everyone else who will mix a bit of Apple Music playlists with some Netflix binge watching, some podcasts and some Facetime calls, the flexibility of the sound just works wonders. This is not meant for audiophiles, and that is that.

In a way, the same contours means that the second generation AirPods still don’t really isolate the ambient noise, if you are in a noisy place. A lot of the din can actually trickle in, which can be a bit distracting. While noise cancellation is perhaps an overkill, maybe even eartips that can be attached to the AirPods could have helped with a snug fit and subsequently better noise isolation.

The new H1 chip is designed to improve the battery life of the AirPods while on a voice call. That has gone up by an hour with the new hardware in play. But for music playback, you will still get a bit more than four hours of battery life, at 40% volume, for continuous music playback. With the charging case, you can keep topping up the AirPods battery, and that totals up to recharges worth 24 hours more of usage time before you need to put the AirPods back in the case and plug the entire thing in for charging. The interesting new upgrade is the additional battery capacity in the new charging cases, which now means the AirPods will be able to last more than 24 hours on a single charge—though Apple doesn’t exactly specify the exact increase in battery capacity. The wireless charging case is Qi enabled, which means it will be compatible with any Qi wireless you may already be using at the moment with a wireless charging capable smartphone. The wireless charging case also has an LED indicator, which lets you know the current charging status at a quick glance—something the first generation charging case doesn’t have.

A lot of time has passed since the first generation AirPods arrived on the scene and pretty much kickstarted an all new category for audio buffs to splurge on. Back then, it had no competition. Now however, it is rivals galore. The Sennheiser Momentum True, the Sony WF-1000X and the Jabra Evolve 65t to name a few. Each has its strong points, and a lot do well in terms of the sound too. However, none have the sort of immediate recognition that the AirPods have. Plus, if you have an Apple ecosystem around you, which could include a MacBook, an iPad apart from an iPhone, and the seamless switching and syncing across all these devices just makes using the AirPods a slicker experience overall. However, sound is usually a subjective issue, but what works for AirPods is the neutral sound signature.

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