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Apple AirPods (1st Generation) | Image: Man of Many

Apple AirPods 1st Generation Review: 4 Things I Learned


If we’ve learned anything from the slow uptake of virtual reality, it’s that sometimes it takes a little (or in this case, massive) nudge to get new technology off the ground. Converting the early adopters is key to making a bold bold statement, and over the years, tech giant Apple has proven to be the defining force in new market enterprise. However, even the loyalists were openly sceptical when the iPhone 7 was released without an earbud jack, offering instead a pair of wireless AirPods.

Resembling small, curvaceous, floating white rods, or to put it another way — they look like regular Apple earbuds minus any cords, the Apple AirPods 1st generation had users wary. To this day, questions remain like: was Apple paving the way for the future or eliminating a choice we weren’t ready to give up just yet? Are the AirPods forward-thinking, fashion, or awkward-looking? Where did my pair disappear to anyway? Overwhelmingly healthy sales would indicate Apple’s move wasn’t the deal breaker some early reviewers were making it out to be. Nevertheless, a few of those questions linger.

As a lover of all things gear and tech, I’d been experimenting with (and duly) covering wireless technology long before the AirPods came along, but naturally, I was eager to test them out. I’ve been putting them to work for a few weeks and I’m here to report that the AirPods are way more practical and usable than I’d anticipated, not to mention absolutely liberating. Here’s a breakdown of my Apple AirPods 1st Generation review.

Apple AirPods (1st Generation) | Image: Apple
Apple AirPods (1st Generation) | Image: Apple

Apple AirPods 1st Generation Specifications

  • Original release date: September 7, 2016
  • Model: A1722 (left AirPod) / A1523 (right AirPod) / A1602 (Lightning case)
  • Compatibility: Phone, iPad, and iPod touch models with iOS 10 or later, Apple Watch models with watchOS 3 or later, and Mac models with macOS Sierra or later.
  • Chip: Apple W1
  • Battery: 1.52-watt-hour (case) / 0.093-watt-hour (each AirPod)
  • Battery capacity: 398 mAh (case)
  • Status: Discontinued (March 20, 2019)
Apple AirPods (1st Generation) | Image: Man of Many
Apple AirPods (1st Generation) | Image: Man of Many

Practicality

Like others, I proceeded with caution when it came to the AirPods. I too had heard Woz himself make disparaging remarks about the audio quality, and had read a slew of early reports about how easy the wireless earbuds were to misplace. But neither scenario applied when it came to my experience. Perhaps those early reports were exaggerated, or maybe I’m just good at not losing my stuff. Regardless, I found that the AirPods consistently performed well and I didn’t misplace them once.

But what really made the AirPods shine in the usability department was the complete absence of wires. I’ve worn wireless earbuds that were still connected by a cable–this was not that, and the difference was substantial. The AirPods are simply operating on another level and I found them far more liberating compared to most counterparts.

The threat of getting cables stuck on door handles, accidentally having the buds ripped out when I picked something up, or essentially any wire-related hazard, was wiped out of existence. Never before had I realised how intrusive even modest clutter could be until that clutter was entirely gone. The luxury of not having to untangle cables before use or roll them up afterwards was revelatory.

Plus, the AirPods are supremely lightweight, which hurled me toward another realization that even slim cables carry some heft. Because of such a featherweight aura, the AirPods are comfortable and highly unobtrusive, not to mention ergonomically brilliant. I could barely feel them and yet they remained intact no matter what I was doing.

Apple AirPods (1st Generation) | Image: Man of Many
The design does feel like I cut the cord off my earbuds | Image: Man of Many

Smart Technology

As we all know, Apple pours over every detail before releasing its products. Therefore, in spite of a relatively simple outward appearance, the AirPods are as “smart” as can be. They live in a small compact case that doubles as a charger and spare battery. Also, syncing the AirPods with your iPhone is a hassle-free experience that doesn’t require navigating through multiple menus or “pairing” functions–I simply pressed a button on the AirPods case and the iPhone detected the pair and then synced with them. Easy, breezy.

Some more small, but nifty details that beam intelligence are things like when you open the lid of the case and remove the AirPods, the remaining battery power displays on the iPhone. Also, when you take the AirPods out of your ears the music automatically pauses, starting again when you put the AirPods back in. That’s some truly brilliant innovation coming in a very small, lightweight package.

Apple AirPods (1st Generation) | Image: Man of Many
AirPods deliver between 5 and 6 hours of battery life | Image: Man of Many

Battery Life and Capacity

You won’t find me resolutely heralding the quality of the AirPods battery, but I’m definitely not complaining. In my opinion, the battery life is both good and really good, depending on how you approach it.

For instance, the AirPods deliver between 5 and 6 hours of battery life when in use, which is good (full disclosure: some customers say their battery drains quickly but that wasn’t my experience). But it only takes 15 minutes inside the case to get another 3 hours of battery life or a mere 20 minutes inside the case to get back to maximum battery life, which is really good. And the case itself is able to hold up to 24 hours worth of charge, which again is really good.

AirPods deliver between 5 and 6 hours of battery life
The slimline look of the AirPods won’t suit everyone | Image: Man of Many

Style and Look

The AirPods aesthetic takes some adjusting to, not so much from the person wearing Airpods, but, more from those crossing paths with the wearer. People simply don’t know how to take in the unique design. Speaking personally, when I had the AirPods in place, I would walk around outside and observe that most people didn’t notice them. However, the people who did notice them were frequently doing double takes. In other words, as a guy wearing AirPods, I noticed I commonly elicited a look of confusion because of that singular, magic floating ear gadget aesthetic.

On the other hand, Elvis once shook his hips on television, and half the world was up in arms over it, meaning some things just take a little getting used to. For now, there are a lot of consumers uncertain as to whether they like or loathe the look of the AirPods, but I think once more people are sporting them, and enjoying their benefits, AirPods fashion will have arrived, and the less strange they will seem.

The Verdict

From the perspective of comfort and practicality, the AirPods surpassed my expectations. They were light, steady, optimal, comfortable and downright liberating. Further, the AirPods price is reasonable, and syncing them with my smartphone was painless, and the battery life was reliable. In other words, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed using the AirPods, and overall, it’s a great product.

The only lingering hiccup was the confused stares I kept getting from strangers. Yes, the AirPods look a little funny, and time will tell if they look too funny to endure. I believe with more people wearing AirPods, they will become the norm. Regardless, I will keep using my Apple AirPods, as they are the most practical, comfortable, and intelligent earbuds I’ve ever worn.