airpods

AirPods, G2

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Today Apple released the second generation AirPods. (I thought that may happen.) Big differences:

  • Two Price Points: $159 and $199. If you want a Qi charging case, it will cost you an extra $40.

  • New Chip: H1 replaces the W1. It connects faster, has less latency, and gives more phone talk time. I never noticed any problem with connection speed or latency with the G1 AirPods. I will, however, gladly take more talk time. I want all the talk time. No sharing.

  • “Hey Siri” Support: No more tapping your ear, assuming this features delivers as promised.

I ordered a pair immediately. I spend a lot of time on the phone and I’ve had my G1 AirPods in daily use since I first bought them. I use them so much that I killed the battery in the right one and now the left one is acting up. I don’t feel bad about buying the product twice. I don’t see that I really have any choice until battery technologies improve.

AirBuddy for Using AirPods on Your Mac

Guilherme Rambo, the gent who keeps finding scoops for 9to5Mac with some very clever sleuthing, recently published a simple app to make using AirPods with your Mac easier called AirBuddy. Once installed, it keeps an eye out for your AirPods. When you open them AirPods case you get a little animation that looks very familiar to what you see on iOS.

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AirBuddy can also add a widget to your Mac’s sidebar that will give you easy access to battery status.

(It’s a good thing my iMac has a 100% battery.)

(It’s a good thing my iMac has a 100% battery.)

That’s really about it. Guillermo is using a choose your own price model with a recommended price of $5. That makes it an easy purchase.

AirPods Sport Strap

I spend a lot of time on my bicycle riding around town. It's one of the advantages of being self-employed. I can work where I want, when I want.

One bit of forbidden fruit on my bicycle is my Apple AirPods. The idea of coming to a sudden stop and watching them fly out of my ears down onto the street or the drain, or simply somewhere else is enough for me to keep them in my pocket while pedaling around.

I have, however, found a solution. The Sport Strap for AirPods is nothing more than two plastic clips that fit over your ear with a hole of exactly the right diameter to securely hold my AirPods and a rubber tether between them. I can put the AirPods in the clips, slide them over my ears, and everything is much more secure. I'm actually thinking about cutting off the rubber tether. When I ride my bike, I only keep one AirPod in so I can keep the other ear open for my surroundings. 

The Sport Strap includes a little zippered carry pouch, and everything tucks away nicely in my bag. If you’re concerned your AirPods may fall out, these $13 bits of plastic will help you out.

Hacking the iPad Smart Keyboard Viewing Angle with an Apple Pencil

I'm generally pretty happy with the iPad Smart Keyboard cover. It takes little space and the keyboard is good enough to get work done when I need to type on the road. My biggest gripe is the viewing angle. It's engineered to be angled up when the iPad is in your lap (or down near lap level). When I sit at a higher table, however, the viewing angle is tilted a little too far back and there is no way to adjust it.

When I find myself in that position, I set my Apple Pencil behind the iPad between it and the the Smart Keyboard iPad rest wedge, pictured below. It adds about a quarter of an inch and makes the screen easier to view. If that's not enough, you can angle the screen even further with an AirPod case.

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Sparky's iPad screen angle hack. 

Finding a Missing AirPod

A listener sent me a link to a new iPhone application, Finder for AirPods. It’s an interesting idea. It measures the signal strength to the AirPod as a sort of homing beacon to help you find a lost AirPod.

I decided to take one for the team and I spent four bucks to give the app a try. It wasn’t worth it. While technically the application works and I have no complaints with the overall design, the W1 and Bluetooth combination in the AirPods works too well for the meter in this application to be effective.

As an example, here is the meter when I am on the opposite side of the house and a different floor from my “missing” AirPod.

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Now here’s the meter when I’m standing right next to my missing AirPod. You'll see there's not much difference.

Unfortunately, this app is a victim of the remarkably good reception I get with the AirPods throughout my house. Using this App I could confirm the missing AirPod is in my house, but not much more than that.

In effort to avoid the problem of missing AirPods entirely, I’ve been very disciplined about how I use them. Just like my iPhone always goes in my left pocket, AirPods always go in my right pocket. (If I am wearing jeans, they always go into the little coin pocket on the right side.) When I take one or both out of my ear, unless it is going back in my ear in the immediate future, I fish the case out of my pocket and put it away properly. Maybe I’m nuts, but I’m not that worried about losing these. I’m capable of being careful.

The AirPods After a Week

I wrote about my new AirPods after one day. Now I’ve been using them over a week and have a few additional observations worth checking in on.

  • The AirPods charging case fits nicely in that little coin pocket in your jeans. This makes them easy to access and less likely to get all scratched up by your keys.
  • I still haven’t given them a real stressful battery test. As I go through the day, I am constantly recharging them in their case. I plug the case in at night so it’s getting charged once a day. With this method, battery simply is not an issue.
  • I’ve now used the AirPods to make approximately 70 calls with no drops, lost connections, or complaints about audio quality.
  • I use the AirPods with one ear probably 70% of the time. Specifically, if I’m on a call or listening to a podcast or audiobook, one ear is fine. I use both AirPods when listening to music. Switching between one and two ear mode is as easy as pulling them out of your ear.
  • I’ve always had an aversion to that guy that walks around with a Bluetooth things in his ear at all times. I realize that I'm leaning that way with these AirPods but my concession is that I only have them in my ear when I'm actually on a call or listening to Audio, which leads to my next point …
  • The smart connection between AirPods and the iPhone is really nice. When I'm not wearing them, my iPhone puts audio and its ringer through its speaker. When I put an AirPod in my ear it switches. With prior Bluetooth headphones, I missed a lot of calls because audio was going to Bluetooth headphones when I thought they were turned off.
  • Over a week and no cord tangles. So nice.
  • When somebody does approach me while I’m wearing the AirPod(s), I just pull one out of my ear. Double tapping and audibly telling the AirPod to “pause” while somebody is standing there looking at you is goofy. Pulling it out of my ear lets me focus on the person in front of me.
  • I received emails from a couple readers saying they don’t like the force required to double tap the AirPods. It doesn’t bother me. I would add, however, that figuring out the right amount of tap force takes a few days.
  • I’ve used them a lot more with Siri since my initial write up. It doesn’t feel to me as if Siri is any more accurate through an AirPod than it is through the built-in iPhone microphone. One big difference is you no longer have a screen to rely upon for feedback. Maybe because of this, I feel like I see the rough edges around Siri more with the AirPods than I do the iPhone.
  • They haven’t fallen out of my ears. I seem to have Apple-compliant ears.
  • I still don’t like using the double tap and Siri commands to pause or play or skip a track. I suspect I will never get used to that. Like I wrote last time, the Apple Watch helps a great deal.

Overall, I’m still really happy with these AirPods. For someone like me, who spends a lot of time on the telephone and listening to audiobooks and podcasts, they’re pretty great. I haven’t used any of my other Bluetooth headphones in the past week and that’s not a result of me trying to pull a stunt for this blog but instead a result of the fact that the AirPods are just so damn convenient. (That doesn’t mean I’ll be abandoning my noise canceling headphones on my next flight.)

The Apple AirPods After a Day of Use

My Apple AirPods arrived. Hurray! I don’t think you can call this a “review” after just a day of use. Instead, it’s a list of observations from a new user. Before getting started, I should say a little bit about me and bluetooth. For several years now I’ve been carrying around a variety of bluetooth headsets throughout the day. I use them to listen to music and podcasts. I also use them to make a lot of telephone calls. So as an AirPod customer, I am looking for something that sounds good but is also useful for phone calls. With that in mind, here goes…

About the Case

  • I like the idea of a battery case. I'm always carrying these Bluetooth headsets in my pocket and the idea of one that can charge them while in my pocket is a great idea.
  • The case is heavier than you think it is.
  • It’s a good thing the hinge is chrome or I'd never know what side is front … really.
  • Since you know which side is front, you also know exactly which AirPod is for the left and right ear when you open it up. This is helpful if you use just one AirPod at a time, which it is already clear I will do often.
  • The Magnetic latch for the case is more satisfying than it should be. At some point I started to feel like Captain Queeg and his ball bearings so I put it back in my pocket.
  • Overall, the case design is great. It’s about the size of a dental floss container but the edges are much more rounded, making getting it in and out of your pocket much easier.

About the Pairing Experience

  • A lot of folks are losing their minds over the pairing process. It is more convenient but I'd consider a side benefit and not a good enough reason to buy AirPods over some other Bluetooth headphone. All of my recently acquired Bluetooth headphones hold a pairing pretty good.
  • Setting the previous point aside, using these with multiple Apple devices is far superior to any other Bluetooth device I’ve used. I jumped between iPhone, iPad(s), and Mac(s) at will with these AirPods. None of my other Bluetooth headphones could do this without a lot of work (if at all).
  • I couldn’t get the AirPods to pair to the Apple TV automagically. I can get them to pair to Apple TV as a standard Bluetooth headphone but where is the fun in that?
  • When you flip open the case, iPhone displays a panel showing the current charge status of each AirPod and the case. Super-slick.
  • Once you pair the AirPod's with any iCloud connected Apple device, they are automatically paired to every other device in your iCloud account. 

About the Fit

  • This is the second time I’ve used AirPods. Again I jumped and shook my head like a crazy man. Again I was unable to make them fall out of my ears. I took a hike with no problem but I wouldn’t use them while playing tennis or climbing a mountain.
  • Thinking about how I usually have corded Apple EarPods fall out of my ears, it usually involves some hijinks with the cord. These new AirPods don’t have a cord so–in large part–problem solved. You know that feeling when your EarPods yank on your ear because the cord got caught on a door handle, right? No more.
  • The fact that the AirPods fit nicely in my ears doesn’t mean they’ll fit in yours. I have several friends with ears that are too big or too small (or too odd-grin) for EarPods. I expect they’ll face the same problems with AirPods.
  • Changing clothes with the AirPods in your ears is a lot easier than any other headphone or Bluetooth headset I've ever used. I can actually change my shirt without having to stop my song or podcast.

About the Battery Life

  • It is too early for me to report on battery life. I'm just getting started with these things. However, because so often I use them one at a time with the other one charging in the case, I don’t expect losing battery power to be an issue.
  • The fact that the case charges by lightning cable is convenient for me. I have lightning chargers everywhere in my life including next to my bed, in my car, and even a battery that I carry in my bag.

About the Sound Quality and Range

  • Overall I would rate the sound quality as "pretty good". If you're super picky about audio, you'll probably not want AirPods. If you think the EarPods are good enough, you'll find these wireless versions good enough as well. I tried really hard to compare wired EarPods to wireless AirPods and they sound about the same to me. I guess that's the point.
  • I'm sure it has something to do with the Apple W1 chip but the range on these is better than any Bluetooth headphones I've ever used. Because I spend so much time on the phone and listening to Bluetooth audio, I have a really good idea of how far I can get away from my phone before things start falling apart. The AirPods sound better and I was able to get much further with the AirPod's then I was any other Bluetooth device I’ve used in the past.

About Making Phone Calls

  • I love the fact that you can just use one of the AirPods in mono-mode. I made several phone calls with the right one in and then stuck it in the case and pulled out the left one out and started using that for hours. They've got the same hardware for both the left and the right. If you're making a lot of telephone calls, this allows you to be charging one while using the other. Clever.
  • The call sound quality is acceptable. I did a test with one friend between my AirPod's and my BlueParrot Bluetooth headset and she reported that both sounded the same.

About The Controls (and Lack Thereof)

  • Every other Bluetooth headphone I've used has attached controls similar to those on the existing EarPods controlls. Pausing with a click is great. You don't get that with AirPods. Instead, to pause, I just pull an AirPod out of my ear and the audio stops. Volume up and down is more frustrating. You can use a Siri command or you can use volume controls on your iPhone or Apple Watch but all of those things take more steps than a simple click. Indeed, there is no way to adjust volume with the AirPods as easily as you can with the EarPods that come free with your iPhone. While that sucks, AirPods bring Siri to the game, which is pretty awesome.

About Siri and the AirPods

  • Getting Siri with a couple of taps to your ear is really useful. Granted, I am in the Siri camp already so I'm comfortable giving commands to my personal digital assistant and getting some results. The double tap is more convenient and easier than the long press on the center control button on my existing Bluetooth headphones. Moreover, Siri is just more accurate and responsive with the AirPod's then she is with any other Bluetooth headset I've used. Audio playback/volumes/next track issues aside, having Siri in my ear is pretty great.
  • There's a setting that allows you to toggle the double tap between Siri activation and play/pause. If you use Siri at all, you'll want to leave it on the default Siri activation.
  • I hope at some point they find a way to give you more control with taps. Why not a single tap or triple tap?
  • Interestingly, the AirPods improve dictation accuracy. I ran test with both Dragon Anywhere and Siri dictation and found it more accurate when using the AirPod microphone then using the built-in microphone. I think a lot of work went into the AirPod beam forming microphones.

In Summary

I fully expect these AirPod's to take over the vast majority of my Bluetooth headphones duty. The convenience, the easy access to Siri, the ability to carry them in my pocket and always be charging make the AirPods a clear winner for me. While I am certain I will miss the better audio controls you get on a corded headphone, the other features AirPod provide more than make up for this for me.

If you need noise canceling or something over the ear for more strenuous workouts, the AirPods won’t cut it. However, for most people I think the AirPods are going to be a great solution. Best of all, this is only the first generation of Apple’s AirPods. These things are only going to get smarter and more useful over time.

 

AirPod Delays

Those AirPods that were originally promised in October now look like they're pushing to 2017. I guess you can strike this one off the holiday gift list. In my limited time with the AirPods, I sure did like them. Hopefully we'll get them soon after the new year.

AirPod Delay

Today an Apple representative told Tech Crunch that the AirPods aren't done cooking.

The early response to AirPods has been incredible. We don’t believe in shipping a product before it’s ready, and we need a little more time before AirPods are ready for our customers.
— Apple spokesperson to Tech Crunch

Goofy as it sounds, AirPods are one of the things I was looking forward to most about tomorrow's Apple event. I can't help but feel that when they launch, the AirPods are going to be a rare commodity, like Apple Pencil was for the first several months after it launched. I hope I'm wrong.

Initial Impressions of the Apple AirPods

There's a lot of talk lately about the looming release of Apple's Bluetooth AirPods. It looks like demand is really high (or at least sorta high) and I'm not surprised. When the AirPods were first announced, a lot of people were shocked by the $159 price. I wasn’t. I bought a quality pair of Bluetooth headphones last year and they cost $150 (although now they’re only $99). During the past week, I had the opportunity to spend a little time with some Apple AirPods and thought I'd report in my initial impressions.

  • The AirPods feel a lot like Apple's existing EarPods. If you like the way those fit in your ear, you'll be fine with AirPods. If you don't like the fit of EarPods, don't bother with AirPods.
  • I'm a lot less worried about them falling out of my ears after having tried them out. The hold is pretty good for day-to-day moving around. I think I could use them on a run but but not rock climbing. In hindsight, the only time I've ever had traditional EarPods fall out of my ear is when there is some external pressure from the cord, like catching it on a door handle (which I do often).
  • The battery charging dental-floss-sized case is clever and charges fast. You'll have no problem using AirPods all day if you can occasionally drop them in the case for a recharge. There's also a nice little magnetic snap as the AirPods drop into the case. Once they are in place, they are held in magnetically. You are not going to have an issue with the AirPods falling out of the charging case. It takes deliberate force to get them out.
  • The AirPods sound adequate. If you’re picky about headphone quality, these are not the headphones for you. That said, I listened to music in them and, in my brief time with them, thought they were as good, if not better than my current Bluetooth headphones. They are also not noise-cancelling. I don't see myself using them on airplanes.
  • I really like the single ear mode. It’s an excellent way to handle calls. I'm on the phone a lot with the day job and I really like the idea of AirPods for calls.
  • The lack of physical controls is very … well … Apple. It's part of what makes the AirPods so attractive but also can be maddening if you want to change the volume or skip a track without talking out loud to Siri. If you have an Apple Watch, you can get around this without pulling your phone out of your pocket or purse. I think this shortcoming will be the biggest complaint about AirPods.

The AirPods will release for sale in October.