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Apple AirPods review

Find out how Apple's AirPods fare as we put them to the test.

Our rating 
3.5 out of 5 star rating 3.5
From £159
Apple AirPods review

Our review

Despite their flaws, the Apple AirPods offer a simple set-up, comfortable fit and decent sound quality.
Pros: Set-up with Apple products takes seconds
Comfortable fit
Sweat resistant 
Cons: No active noise cancellation
Average battery life
Leak sound 

Apple AirPods quickly became one of the brand’s most popular products. Originally released in 2016, they are now in their second generation, and they still remain many iPhone users first choice.

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Following the upgrade in 2019, the earbuds got a range of new features, including a more advanced, ‘always-on’ voice assistant in Siri, 50% more talk time and the option of a wireless charging case.

But at £199, they’re definitely not the cheapest earbuds on offer. Are they worth the money? Or, with the option of Apple AirPods Pro available, are you better off spending more on the premium offering? These are the questions we’ll be answering in this Apple AirPods review. We’ll be testing out the wireless earbuds’ sound quality, design, battery life and features, including touch controls and in-ear detection.

Here is how we got on with Apple’s second-generation AirPods.

Read our Apple Watch 6 review to find out how other Apple products perform. Or, head to our iPhone 13 release date page to see what the brand has in store for its new smartphone.

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Apple AirPods review: summary 

Apple AirPods are the first choice for many iPhone owners, and it is easy to see why. Designed to go alongside an iPhone, iPad or MacBook, the AirPods take just moments to set up on an Apple device. The shape, which has now become synonymous with AirPods, makes them comfortable over long periods, and the sound quality is good. They’re definitely on the pricier side for the features they offer, but how seamlessly they work with other Apple products may be enough to counter that for you. Just be aware that due to the fact they do leak sound a little, people will be able to hear your music if you’re blasting it on the train.

Price: Apple AirPods (with a wireless case) cost £199 and are available at Amazon, Very and John Lewis. There is also a cheaper, wired option on sale for £159 at Amazon.

Key features:

  • Quick and easy iOS set-up
  • Wireless charging case
  • In-ear detection
  • Touch controls to adjust volume, play/pause music and answer calls

Pros:

  • Set-up with Apple products takes seconds
  • Comfortable fit
  • Sweat-resistant

Cons:

  • No active noise cancellation
  • Average battery life
  • Leak sound

What are Apple AirPods?

Released in March 2019, the second-generation Apple AirPods feature hands-free voice control via Siri, 50% more talk time than their predecessors and an optional wireless charging case. Apple AirPods are the more affordable of the brand’s two wireless earbuds products. The more expensive option with an RRP of £219 are the Apple AirPods Pro, and they come with additional features, including Active Noise Cancellation.

What do Apple AirPods do?

Powered by the Apple H1 headphone chip, the second-generation Apple AirPods feature touch controls on the earbud stems, in-ear detection and a very smooth set-up process. For £199, the AirPods also come with a case that charges wirelessly and offers up to 24 hours of battery life.

  • Voice control via Siri
  • Touch controls to adjust volume, play/pause music and answer calls
  • Quick and easy iOS set-up
  • Up to five hours of battery life

How much are Apple AirPods?

Apple AirPods have a starting price of £159 for the standard charging case option and cost £199 for the wireless charging case. The earbuds are available from various UK retailers, including Amazon, Very and John Lewis.

Are Apple AirPods good value for money? 

There’s no getting around that at £199, the Apple AirPods are a little pricey. However, you can save a little money if you don’t mind having a wired charging case rather than a wireless one. Plus, while there are cheaper alternatives offering the same features, what you’re paying for with Apple AirPods is convenience. Setting up AirPods with an iPhone or iPad takes a matter of seconds as the device will automatically detect when the earbuds are nearby and suggest pairing. You then follow the prompts, and you’re done. Therefore, we would consider them good value but only if you have an Apple device to use them with. Otherwise, there are plenty of other affordable wireless earbuds to choose from, including those with ANC, which is missing from the AirPods.

Apple AirPods design

AirPods review 3

The shape of these white earbuds has become synonymous with Apple. And overall, we found them extremely comfortable. The fit isn’t as snug as the AirPods Pro, so we had no problem wearing them all day.

Only available in white, they have a shiny finish. Touch controls can be found on the long stems, and you double-tap to play, skip forwards or answer a phone call. If you prefer, you can also use Siri to do these things, along with getting weather and traffic updates or set timers and alarms. Simply say ‘Hey Siri’ and your request to get started; there’s no need to double-tap as the voice assistant is ‘always-on’.

The touch controls aren’t easy to use, though. It does take a couple of tries to find just the right spot to double-tap, and the controls definitely aren’t as sensitive as the likes of the Google Pixel Buds.

Moving onto the charging case, it is small enough to slip into your pocket and can be charged wirelessly. However, you do have to pay extra for this feature and buy the wireless charger separately for £39.

Apple AirPods features

Despite missing out on a few features available with the more expensive AirPods Pro, including ANC and a transparency mode, the classic Apple AirPods still have some features worth talking about.

The first is the ‘always-on’ voice assistant Siri. Simply say ‘Hey Siri’ at any time to wake her and speak your request. This can be anything from skipping songs to asking about the weather at the weekend. It does take Siri a moment after the request is spoken to complete the task, but we found it to be extremely accurate.

Next is the IPX4 rating that makes the earbuds water-resistant. This rating means that they are more splash resistant than waterproof but should manage fine in small rain showers or during workouts.

Finally, the battery lasts up to five hours when you’re listening to music, although this does drop down to just three when you use the earbuds for calls. However, the charging case does provide up to 24 hours of battery life. Therefore, we did find that if we did return the AirPods to case throughout the day for small, quick top-ups, we had no problem getting through a full workday.

Apple AirPods sound quality

Apple AirPods

We were pleasantly surprised by the sound quality of the Apple AirPods. If you’re used to using Apple’s wired EarPods, you’ll see a significant improvement when switching to the wireless AirPods.

Music is crisp and well-balanced, and we really enjoyed listening to podcasts with the Apple AirPods, too. If we’re picky, earbuds like the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 or Grado GT220 offer richer sound, but they are also more expensive.

However, these more expensive earbuds also offer Active Noise Cancellation, which isn’t offered with the Apple AirPods. We found that we often had to turn up the volume to hear our music in noisy environments because of this. The earbuds would also leak sound at these high volumes, which isn’t ideal if you intend to use them for commuting.

Apple AirPods set-up: how easy are they to use? 

When setting up the AirPods with Apple devices like an iPhone or iPad, it will take less than a minute. When you open the charging case, the earbuds will be automatically detected by the Apple device, and a notification will pop up to suggest pairing. Simply click the notification, follow the prompts, and you’re done. This will only work if you have your Bluetooth switched on.

For when you want to connect to non-Apple devices, there is a pairing button on the charging case. Hold down to activate the pairing mode and find the Apple AirPods in your Bluetooth settings to connect. Worked every time for us without any issues.

The case with the Apple AirPods did charge wirelessly, but there was also a Lightning to USB-C cable included in the box in case you need to top it up on the go. However, this is obviously not ideal for non-Apple devices that don’t have lightning ports.

What is the difference between Apple AirPods and AirPods Pro? 

AirPods vs AirPods Pro

If you’re thinking about buying the classic Apple AirPods with the wireless case, it is worth considering if the pricier AirPods Pro may be a better option. So what does paying an extra £20 get you? The most significant difference is ANC. Not available with the standard AirPods, Active Noise Cancellation keeps out unwanted noise. And, it works pretty well on the AirPods Pro.

As part of this, AirPods Pro also have a different shape. Designed to have a snug fit, the premium offering doesn’t really budge once they’re in. The fit on the Apple AirPods is definitely a little looser. However, many people might find this more comfortable over long periods of time. In comparison, we found that we struggled to wear the AirPods Pro for longer than three hours at a time.

A minor point but worth mentioning is that the cases are also slightly different. While both are a rounded rectangle shape, the case for the AirPods Pro is a lot wider. This does make the case feel a little bigger. The default case for the AirPods Pro can also be charged wirelessly. This is a feature that you have to pay extra for when it comes to the standard AirPods. Both offer around 24 hours of battery life.

AirPods vs AirPods Pro

There are other features available with both models, too. Both the second-generation AirPods and AirPods Pro have an IPX4 rating. This means that the earbuds are sweat-resistant but not waterproof. So you’re safe to wear them for a workout as long as it’s not in the pool.

The set-up for both earbuds is also incredibly simple. Designed to work in partnership with Apple devices, an iPhone or iPad will automatically detect when the earbuds are nearby and suggest pairing. This convenience continues with how Siri can be used with both for voice control.

If you’re simply looking for a casual pair of earbuds for everyday use, the classic Apple AirPods will do just fine. However, if you think you’ll benefit from ANC or intend to use them for workouts, you may prefer the fit of the AirPods Pro.

Our verdict: should you buy Apple AirPods?

If you don’t own an iPhone, iPad or another Apple device, the Apple AirPods are not for you. There are cheaper earbuds available that will offer the same features for less and will be better set up to work with Android devices. However, this is to be expected as AirPods were designed to work best within the Apple eco-system. The set-up takes moments, and you are paying for the convenience for how well and simply they work with Apple devices. There’s also the bonus of them being extremely comfy and the ‘always-on’ Siri that allows you to ask your phone to play, pause or skip songs via voice control.

That being said, we have to admit that the sound quality is hampered a little by the lack of ANC. While the AirPods are a good option for casual, everyday use, we would recommend upgrading to the Apple AirPods Pro if you work in noisy environments or know that you’d generally benefit from being able to block out noisy distractions.

Rating:

Some categories (sound quality and features) are weighted more heavily.

Design: 3.5/5

Features: 3.5/5

Sound quality: 3.5/5

Set-up: 5/5

Value for money: 3.5/5

Overall: 3.5/5

Where to buy Apple AirPods

Apple AirPods are available from a number of UK retailers.

Apple AirPods:

Apple AirPods (with wireless charging case): 

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