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AirPods review: They sound great, but Siri holds them back

AirPods   MSRP $159.00   review from MacWorld

When Apple pulled the headphone jack off the iPhone 7, it also unveiled a new set of wireless earbuds called AirPods, and claimed they were so great, users wouldn’t mind the missing headphone jack. The AirPods didn’t come out for nearly three months after the new iPhone’s release, but now that they’re here, they’ve solved every problem an iPhone 7-using music lover could have, right?

Oh, heavens no. Like so many Apple products before them, the AirPods bring with them as many problems as they solve. With no onboard buttons, the AirPods require users to ask Siri to do everything, from changing a track to adjusting the volume. What’s more, Siri doesn’t have the same abilities in all music apps—an arbitrary restriction set by Apple to steer you toward Apple Music.

The fit

But let’s start with the first question everyone has about the AirPods. Aren’t you worried they will fall out of your ears? As soon as they were announced, even Conan O’Brien had to make fun, producing a parody of the old iPod commercials, only with AirPods flying off in all direction with the slightest move of the dancers’ heads.

apple airpods review adam with earpods Adam Patrick Murray
The wireless AirPods resemble the EarPods, but the AirPods have a heftier, more substantial design that stays put in my ears.
That’s funny, but it’s bull. The AirPods stay put when I’m dancing, headbanging, jogging, hanging upside down, riding my stationary bike, sprinting to catch the bus, and shaking my head around smacking my temple like I’m trying to dislodge water stuck in my ear. Really, they aren’t going to fall out. Check the video above for proof.

My skin is on the oily side, and sometimes in-ear ’buds with silicone tips get a little oily, and I have to wipe them off or keep shoving them further into my ears for a good seal. The wired Apple EarPods (you know, the cheap pair that comes with your iPhone) fit me OK, and I’ve been wearing them since the iPhone 7 launch. But the EarPods wire does trip me up from time to time, getting snagged on armrests when I’m on the bus, or requiring adjustment when I’m wearing a scarf.

So I wanted to go wireless, and knew the AirPods had to be comfortable enough to wear all day, and not fall out. It turns out they’re very comfortable, virtually the same shape as the EarPods but with more heft. They perch right in my ear openings and stay put better than the EarPods or silicone-tipped earbuds.

The sound

I care more comfort than sound because I’m not an audiophile. I listen to tons of music, and can tell good earphones from terrible ones, so Apple’s bundled free EarPods suit me just fine for streaming music and podcasts. I used to rock a $130 pair of Bose MIE2i in-ear ’phones (since discontinued) when my iPhones had jacks for them, and I expected the AirPods to fall somewhere in between these earphones and the EarPods. Well, I’m happy to report the AirPods sound great—just as good as the Bose set, with full, detailed sound and plenty of volume.

apple airpods review adam closeup Adam Patrick Murray
The AirPods sound better than the EarPods, but they have that same kind of fit, where the bud itself just rests in your ear opening, instead of going way down into your ear canal. And since they don’t have a silicone or foam tip like the ’buds that get shoved more deeply into your ear, they don’t seal off outside noise as fully. But their impressive volume quickly drowns out your surroundings. Once my iPhone is at about 60 percent volume, I can no longer hear myself speak at a normal volume while I’m wearing the AirPods.

The white stems that hang down from the AirPods hold the microphone, which you’ll need for voice calls, and speaking with Siri. I used Siri to make a voice call both indoors and outdoors, and the people I chatted with reported a slight echoy sound common to Bluetooth phone calls, but only when I really pressed them to evaluate my sound. All in all, the sound was good enough for calls.

The controls

Speaking to Siri, though, somewhat mars the AirPods experience. To turn up the volume with the free EarPods, you simply click a button on the inline remote. With the AirPods, however, you have to double-tap one AirPod, wait for your music to pause and the Siri chime to sound, and say “Turn it up” (or, even better, “turn up the volume,” just to make sure Siri will understand). Then you wait another couple of beats for your music to resume, now two notches louder. If you say “Turn it up to 50 percent,” the volume still gets turned up two notches louder. It’s an annoying process, so you’re better off using the volume controls on your phone—if your phone is in arm’s reach.

siri spotifyIDG In this case, “Go back a track” would start the current song over, but who wants to engage in trial-and-error with laggy Siri when you used to have a button for this?
Siri can also control Apple Music and your own music collection stored in Apple’s Music app. But Apple chose not to give full Siri control to third-party music apps, and that’s a huge bummer when you try to use earbuds that require the use of Siri. In Spotify, I could turn the volume up and down, and skip to the next track. But to start a song over (three clicks on the EarPods remote, thank you very much), I couldn’t say “start this song over,” though “go back one track” was more responsive. And, obviously, I couldn’t call up specific artists, albums, playlists, and songs. The AirPods are at their best when you are all-in with Apple devices and services. If you’re a die-hard user of Spotify or Pandora, these might not be the headphones for you.

But either way, Siri is just too slow and buggy to be a rock-solid control set. I quickly found myself wanting to just use the controls on the iPhone itself. As a side note, I’ve never appreciated iOS 10’s Raise to Wake feature so much until I got my AirPods, since I can bring up the lock screen play/pause, forward, and rewind buttons so easily, and leave Siri out of it.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention, you can go into Settings > Bluetooth, hit the little i button next to your AirPods, and change the double-tap gesture to Play/Pause or Off. A second gesture would still be helpful. I’d love an experimental mode that apes the click patterns on the EarPods remote (single to play/pause, double to advance a track, triple to back up).

apple airpods review adam no tangles Adam Patrick Murray
The EarPods are easier to control. But the AirPods never tangle, so…
The auto-pause feature does work well, and mostly seamlessly across apps. When you are listening to the AirPods, and you take one out of your ear, the sound pauses. When you put it back in your ear, it starts playing again. While the feature is mostly solid, it isn’t a sure thing. A few times the music would start playing again after I’d stuck one AirPod in my jacket pocket while talking to a cashier. Other times, taking an AirPod out would pause a podcast in Pocket Casts, but putting it back in wouldn’t start it playing again. Instead, I had to hit Play on the iPhone itself. If you do want to play music on only one AirPod for some reason, you can just press Play on the iPhone after taking one out.

Even with a little finicky behavior, I love this feature. I’m also testing a pair of Libratone wireless headphones right now, and they have a feature where you can mute the sound by cupping your hand over one ear. I’m glad companies are thinking about easy ways to silence the sound so you can say hi to neighbors or conduct a transaction politely. But pausing is better than muting, especially for podcast fans, so AirPods have the edge there.

The little things

Because Apple makes these, the AirPods are locked in to iOS 10 like no other headphones will ever be. You can check the battery life in the Battery widget in Notification Center. Even just opening the charging case with the AirPods inside will pop up a notification on your phone showing the charge level of your AirPods (left and right—strangely, they don’t wear down at exactly the same level) and the case.

The charging case is brilliant. It’s small and white and easy to stash in a pocket or bag. It kind of looks like a fancy package of dental floss, with a top that flips open and shut with a tight magnetic click. The AirPods charge inside this case, so if you keep them there when they’re not in your ears, and then remember to charge the case now and then, keeping the AirPods charged isn’t too much of a burden. The case itself charges via a Lightning port, so I just try to remember to top it off while I’m using the AirPods at my desk.

In my tests, the AirPods easily get Apple’s stated 5 hours of music time per charge. I’m at 5 hours on my stopwatch right now, in fact, and the AirPods have 12 percent charge left according to the Battery widget in iOS 10. Apple says the case should have about 24 hours of battery life in it, and just 15 minutes in the case can power your AirPods for three more hours (it got me from 4 percent to 79). The AirPods make a sad little sound when they reach 10 percent so you’ll know they’re almost out of juice.

Connecting the AirPods to an iPhone for the first time is as easy as opening the case. A message pops up on the iPhone offering to connect, and when you do, the AirPods also appear in the Bluetooth menu of any Macs (running macOS Sierra) you use with the same iCloud account. Switching to an iPad and Apple Watch with the same iCloud account is similarly easy, and you don’t have to trick your iPhone into unpairing with the AirPods to listen to them on a different device. They’re always paired to everything, and you can just select AirPods on that thing and press play.

apple airpods review adam case back Adam Patrick Murray
This button lets you pair to a non-Apple device, if you must.
The back of the charging case has a round white button that’s barely visible. With the AirPods in the open case, you can press and hold that button to turn a tiny LED in the case white. That means they’re in pairing mode, and you can pair them to an Android phone or another Bluetooth device, although without Siri or the extra features. I haven’t experimented with that for this review, but we’ll do a followup soon.

Bottom line

The three-button remote on wired earbuds is a much faster, easier way to control your music than double-tapping one ear and then trying to get Siri to do what you want. But I can’t help liking the AirPods—the cool design and powerful sound just keep me coming back. I just wish they had another gesture, or smarter/faster Siri, to be as convenient as what they’re replacing.

Jony Ive on bringing the Apple “touch” to the new MacBook Pro

Apple’s Chief Design Officer Jony Ive holds more than 5,000 patents and has shaped Apple’s iconic, sleek design aesthetic for all of its devices over the past two decades. When the new MacBook Pro was announced Thursday, Apple watchers quickly took note of the new Touch Bar, a multi-touch strip that replaces the function keys located at the top of the keyboard.

In an exclusive interview with CNET News Editor-in-Chief Connie Guglielmo, Ive discussed how incorporating the Touch Bar in the laptop design is “the beginning of a very interesting direction” for Apple.

The bar is a big shift for the laptop design, and makes the laptop function more like one of the company’s iPhones. The OLED display lights up and reveals a shifting menu of buttons, tools, and, of course, emoji options that change depending on which app you’re using at any given time.

“There’s a number of designs that we explored that conceptually make sense. But then when we lived on them for a while, sort of pragmatically and day to day, [they] are sometimes less compelling,” Ive said of the decision to go with a touch strip for the new computer. “This is something [we] lived on for quite a while before we did any of the prototypes. You really notice or become aware [of] something’s value when you switch back to a more traditional keyboard.”

A guest points to a new MacBook Pro during an Apple media event in Cupertino, California, U.S. October 27, 2016.   REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach - RTX2QRFM

A guest points to a new MacBook Pro during an Apple media event in Cupertino, California, U.S. October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach – RTX2QRFM

One of the big challenges in developing this latest laptop line was that advanced software and hardware had to be developed first, before the company created any kind of prototype laptop. Ive said that about two years ago a “pretty good prototype” was developed that wasn’t specific to an actual product.

“It was exploring this idea of larger, haptic-rich trackpads — what you now see as the Touch Bar combined with a keyboard. It certainly didn’t look particularly well resolved, but it created an environment where you could start to see: Is this as useful and is this as compelling as we conceptually think it should be?”

Is there a different philosophy that goes into designing a MacBook versus an iPhone or iPad, for instance?

“I feel very strongly that you cannot separate form from material, from the process that forms the material. Those have to be developed incredibly coherently and together. Which means that you can’t design in a way that’s disconnected from how you make [a product],” Ive said.

Ive is famously secretive, and as expected, when CNET pressed him for details on ideas that were discarded and what we can expect for the future, he remained closed-mouthed. The Apple designer stressed that the process of designing a device is a series of trial-and-error steps that lead to sometimes surprising results.

“You really benefit from all of the struggles, all of the challenges from one project, to help enable the next,” he said.

reposted from CNN..

October 12th Meeting agenda @ BP, 7 pm. join us!


AAUG MEETING AGENDA

October 12th, 2016

INTRODUCTION OF GUESTS:  Please pickup refreshments before the meeting and during the break.  Guests please tell us the following: (1) how you found out about AAUG; (2) how long you have been using Apple products: and (3) something about yourself

 BOARD INTRODUCTION (7:05 PM)

 BOARD COMMENTS (7:10 PM)

  1. Computers and Caffeine, Oct 29, open to anyone
  2. Board of Directors Meeting, Oct 26, 6:30 pm, open to members
  3. Apple Workshop, iOS 10, Nov 12, 8:15 am, reservation required
  4. At Large and Membership Openings


FEATURE PRESENTATION, (7:20 P.M.)   “The Future of Macs in the Post-PC World”

joefallsquare115Joe Kissell, a prolific and best-selling
author (approximately 60 books) will be our featured speaker at the October meeting.  You may know Joe best for his “Take Control” series of books.

Joe will discuss how he, like many of us, has been trying to understand and cope with the fact that Macs are now ranked behind the iPhone and iPad as citizens at Apple, and the implications for both new hardware and software development at Apple.

Information about Joe, his numerous publications, and his blog can be found at: https://joekissell.com

Joe also has a second web site https://joeontech.net that is specifically devoted to technical issues such as “Backing Up Your Mac”, “Improving Your Mac’s Performance”, and troubleshooting tips

 BREAK (15 MINUTES) (8:05 PM)

 PRIZES (8:20 PM)  Put ticket in prize basket for item desired

 QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS (8:25 PM)

CLOSING COMMENTS, UPCOMING MEETING ANNOUNCEMENTS (8:40 PM)