Buyer's Guide: AirPods


Apple's new wireless earphones have been making plenty of waves in the tech industry ahead of their launch later this year - but do they really represent a significant improvement to the experience of iPhone users?

The truth is, with much still to be learned about AirPods and exactly how they work (especially with regard to taking calls hands-free and prompting Siri), things aren't entirely clear at this juncture.

Price
What we do know is that they're not going to come cheap. Initial reports suggest a pair of AirPods will set you back in the region of £160 - this is substantially more than the wired Apple earphones, but it is less than you can expect to pay for most wireless earphones. With no user testimony to go on, there's no way of knowing exactly what kind of shelf life you can expect from a pair of AirPods (or indeed, how soon Apple will render them obsolete). Do bear in mind, though, that they are particularly small and therefore easy to lose.

User experience
AirPods are compatible with most Apple devices, and that means Macs, iPads and even watches as well as iPhones. They hook up to your device via bluetooth, which should (theoretically) prevent any signal interference.

In their marketing material, Apple have made much of the fact that users can operate their AirPods without having to draw their phones from their pockets - but this isn't always the case.

If you're taking a call for example, you'll probably still have to pull your phone out of your pocket to hit the green button. You can adjust the volume remotely but this must be done via the built-in microphone (which will probably leave open the possibility for confusing the person on the other end of the line).

Activating and prompting Siri without drawing your phone from your pocket sounds like a win, but anyone who has attempted to use Apple's little helper in the past will know it takes a brave man to use voice activation without having the phone screen in front of you so you can see what's happening.

In terms of battery life, Apple have told us that 15 minutes of charge time buys you three hours of use. This is a pretty impressive turnaround, although we can't forget that it does represent a 100% increase on the time you would have spent charging wired earphones.

Aesthetically, the challenge has been to make AirPods as light as possible but big enough that they are not so easily lost. The result seems to be a sensible compromise: they are only slightly bigger than wired earphones, and the additional weight has been added on the tail rather than the head.

Our verdict
Whether you like it or not, by removing the headphone jack from the iPhone 7, Apple have made AirPods a prerequisite for any users planning to follow them into the next generation.

AirPods have their downside - the expense, the hassle of having to charge them, the fear of them being lost - but, depending on how Apple address any bugs, could yet end up a solid (if pricey) addition to the iPhone accessory collection.