We knew Apple's iPhone 7 would do away with the standard headphone socket, but we presumed the bundled phones would be wireless. Instead, you get Lightning-wired EarPods in the box, with the wireless AirPods being a pricey optional extra.
So if you were wary about having a wireless future forced upon you, rejoice, it’s still a choice - for now. But those who do want to cut the cords are bound to wonder if the AirPods are worth the outlay. Here's what you need to know.
Apple AirPods design: sizing them up
They look like someone ripped the wires out of the current EarPods, gave them longer tails and topped them off with a glint of silver.
You’ll find that the AirPods remind you of the classic Bluetooth headset that might have been popular with Goldman Sachs bankers back in the day. They’re a little more conspicuous that we'd have liked them to be, dangling out of your ear - unlike the Bragi Dash or the Samsung Gear Icon X - but that little silver-tipped tail helps them sit better.
If you’re the kind to want to be seen rocking the latest Apple products, you’ll love how instantly recognisable they are.
Apple AirPods: making a connection
The AirPods come in a nifty little box with a magnetic closure. You flip the lid up and you’ll find the wireless earbuds nestled within. Without doing anything else, you get an automatic prompt on your iPhone asking if you would like to connect to the AirPods. After that first time they will connect automatically whenever you get them out.
It was a bit of a hit and miss situation, and after, they failed to connect, the product guy stared at us sheepishly and said it's because of all the mobile connections in the room. Talked about mixed signals. We'll have to spend extended time with the AirPods to see if mixed signals get in the way of music playback.
The AirPods apparently also connect the same, seamless way to your other Apple devices, although we didn’t get the opportunity to try that out at the briefing.
Apple AirPod battery: energy packed
Crucially, the AirPods last 5 hours on a single charge and that carrying case they come in doubles up as a charging case that holds 25 hours worth of extra listening time. So, technically, you’ll be able to go a few days without having to refill that reservoir of juice.
In order to see how much power is available at any given time, you'll have to add a battery widget. If you've used an Apple Watch, you'll know what I'm talking about. The charge shows up whenever they connect, but at other times a simple swipe to the right of the lock screen on iOS 10 shows off all of your battery widgets.
The interesting detail here is that it shows the battery level of each AirPod individually - you can just use one at a time, as a hands-free kit for example.
Apple AirPods sound
If you’ve ever tried Apple's EarPods, these AirPods sound pretty much the same. The demo area for our test was packed with noisy tech journalists, but the AirPods still sounded good enough.
There are no buttons on the earphones themselves, but you can summon Siri with a double-tap. That didn't actually work the first few times I tried it, simply because I was being too gentle. You have to tap decisively. Think of it like you’re trying to wake someone up - in this case it's Siri.
To adjust volume and change tracks you're probably going to want to use your iPhone - unless you plan on asking Siri to do that for you in public. No judgement. When you pull them out of your ear, the music pauses automatically. Put them in and they start playing. That's pretty neat in my book. It also saves you the trouble of pulling out your phone - until you have to change tracks, at least.
Apple AirPods: the Initial verdict
At US$160, the AirPods aren't exactly cheap compared to a pair of standard, wired earphones. In the wireless world, though, they’re closer to the norm - the Samsung Gear Icon Xs cost US$200, while the Bragi Dash earphones are US$300 thanks to their techier features such as onboard storage and activity tracking. We do wish the AirPods were a little more feature-packed - integrated volume controls would be good for a start.
But if you’ve always been an early adopter of everything Apple-flavoured, you'll certainly want to get on this. Imagine never having to deal with fraying cables or tangled wires ever again.
They’re available from late October, so perfect fodder for this year's holiday list.