Apple's AirPods have been the talk of the tech sphere in a relatively slow tech news cycle (yes, even during CES). Originally announced at Apple's September keynote which introduced the iPhone 7, and slated for October delivery, the AirPods have been extremely difficult to get from Apple or other electronic device providers. I had originally placed an order on Dec 31st with Apple using the Apple Store app which promised a late February delivery. Having heard that orders were being shipped much quicker from AT&T online, I decided to order from them and cancel the Apple order. Glad I did, since the AirPods from AT&T came less than a week after the order was submitted. I have had some time with them and have formed some pretty solid opinions on the overall experience. This article is not a review per se of the AirPods, but rather a report card of several categories that I deem applicable to any wireless BT headphone or earbuds. In my rating, I will attempt to justify the category rating by my experience using the AirPods. Each category will be given a letter grading (A - D). The categories are as follows: 1) Setup, 2) Fit/Comfort, 3) Connectivity Reliability, 4) Sound Quality, 5) Convenience, 6) Battery Life, 7) Miscellaneous, and 8)My AirPod summation and musings, and finally my overall AirPods rating .
By far, the AirPods are the easiest and slickest Bluetooth pairing experience out there. Sure, there are some BT headphones with compatibility with Near Field Communications (NFC) chips, but Apple takes this process even further towards simplicity. Upon taking the AirPods out of the box, just a flick to open the battery case and hold the case near the iPhone prompts the pairing process. Just click the connect button and the AirPods connect almost instantaneously. Apple's extra sauce is that the connection information is synced up to your iCloud account which makes all Apple devices that use iCloud account (including the Apple Watch), able to connect simply and easily. I did not experience any issues with setting these up with the iPhone 7 and having them accessible to my iPad and Mac. I haven't attempted the manual process of pairing the AirPods with the Apple TV, but what I have read, it's also a simple process. Thank goodness the process is so simple, as I have had to remove the AirPods bluetooth profile from the phone due to flaky behavior (more on that later).
Setup score: A+
2. Fit and Comfort
While I understand fit and comfort is primary based on an individual's ear shape, I can say that I have zero issue with keeping the AirPods in my ears and having them sit comfortably. I can wear them for hours and not experience any discomfort. I can shake my head like a 80's metal head banging rocker and have these stay in BOTH ears. No issues here.
Fit and Comfort score: A
3. Connectivity Reliability
This category primary is concerned with how strong the bluetooth signal is between the phone and both AirPods. It is important to note that when connected to the iPhone, dual BT signals are sent to each individual AirPod unlike some of the other wireless solutions on the market that send a BT stream from the device to one earbud and then that earbud sends that signal along via wire or BT to the second earbud. Apple has nailed this in every sense of the word. Whatever magic Apple put into that glorious W1 chip, it has improved the all around connection experience. Indoors the signal is rock solid even when my iPhone is in the kitchen and I am upstairs in my office with the AirPods on. That's impressive, Even more so is the connection reliability when outdoors. I can walk down a busy Manhattan street and have other bluetooth headsets crackle and experience signal skip. Not the AirPods. I can have the iPhone 7 in a coat pocket, or even in my back pocket and still maintain a solid connection on those very same treacherous Manhattan streets. This is one of the BIG wins for the W1 chip.
Connectivity Reliability: A
4. Sound Quality
I suspect most people, myself included, didn't expect much from the AirPods given the relatively crappy quality of Apple's prior generations of wired EarPods. I know many people swear by the EarPods, but hey, they are free and you get what you pay for. I never found EarPods to be anywhere near decent sounding and definitely lacking bass and sounding tinny. While the AirPods on not magnitudes better than EarPods, they do have better bass and overall quality has improved. Another thing here to consider is the fit. The better the seal in your ear, the better bass response and overall quality will you experience. In my opinion, Apple has improved the audio quality of the AirPods, and while they don't approach my Bose QC30's wireless, they do provide good enough sound for me to not throw them into Jerry's drawer of headphone oblivion. Bass response has been improved and, mid's are clear. Higher volumes can tend to push the AirPods a bit depending on the type of music, but heck, after all these are tiny buds.
Sound Quality score: B
As a daily commuter to and from work and someone who is on-the-go on the weekends, the convenience of any mobile device is really important. What I consider to be convenient when referring to wireless devices is the ability to control audio from the AirPods independently from any other device, including the iPhone itself and even the Apple Watch. Sure, I could reach into that coat pocket to press a volume button, but that becomes more difficult if the phone is in the back pocket. Forget the using the Apple Watch - a) because winter coats and gloves make accessing a watch difficult, and b) I just don't want to have to raise the watch, bring up the dock, scroll and select the Now Playing app, then finally adjust the volume. This is where the AirPods fall down. Using Siri for simple audio commands, can be done, but forget that if you are in a quiet area (i.e. commuter rail car, library, etc.), or where signal is not that great. It can sometimes take up to 5 - 10 seconds to issue a verbal command to Siri, transmit it to Apple servers, and get the action back for action on my phone. It should also be noted that while playing audio in a 3rd party Podcast app (i.e. Pocketcasts, Overcast) and activating Siri for a non-audio command (i.e. "What time is it?"), the audio from the 3rd party apps do not resume when Siri completes the request. To solve this particular problem, I have gone back to using Apple's Podcast app which works well with Siri.
Apple provides user customization for double tap on an AirPod to either activate Siri or Play/Pause. I use Siri for other functions too much to sacrifice losing the function. Another convenience plus is the ability for the audio source to automatically pause when one of the AirPods are taken out of the ear. A strange quirk is when you are listening to an audio stream using only one AirPod. Removing that one AirPod from your ear will indeed pause the audio, but putting the loose AirPod back in will not continue the audio. Another strange user experience quirk.
Overall, the lack of volume controls offered by the AIrPods is the major black-mark affecting this categories score.
Convenience score: C
6) Battery Life
Apple claims 5 hours for each of the AirPods with an additional day of battery charge with the battery case. In my daily use, I have had no problems with battery. The most I have run down the AirPods battery is 6o percent during a long commute. The battery charging case can usually last one day before it needs to be topped off. I don't spend long periods of time on the phone so I can't attest to how much of a drain have on the battery using the built in mics. I have been reading about many people having extreme battery drain with the battery case. Since I can get a full day, maybe two from a charged battery case, I won't complain about that.
Battery Life score: B
For this category, I will cover a couple of things. First, is call quality, which has been a hit or miss experience for me. When the AirPods work and I can successfully answer a call by double-tapping, the dual beam-forming mics do a commendable job, even in a noisy Manhattan street environment. I was able to hear the person on the call and I came in without too much background noise interference. On the negative side, I have experienced several calls when I have double tapped to answer, and the voice coming from the other side was in slow motion, garbled mess. I would have to end the call, try using Siri to call the person back (if that worked), and finally had to re-dial the person directly from my phone. At other times, I have totally missed calls that I knew were coming in as I felt the phone vibrate in my pocket, but was unable to get the AirPods able to answer by double tapping, no matter where or how hard I tapped. Nothing is more frustrating when tech doesn't work and missing an important call can become a deal-breaker. On several occasions I was able to activate Siri by double tapping, I would see the Siri voice wave line on the iPhone, however no audio was being sent to the phone through the mics.
I will have to monitor the inconsistent behavior pertaining to answering calls and Siri functionality. I am hoping that Apple will have a firmware update to improve the reliability of phone functions.
Miscellaneous score: C
8) Summary and AirPods Musings
Let's get one thing out front and center. I have used many Bluetooth wireless devices over several years, including some very good devices from Bose, Jaybird, and Beats. The level of technology that is packed into the size of a small AirPod is amazing, especially when consider the signal strength, and battery life offered by these little marvels. For a first generation totally wireless set of audio buds, the AirPods show that Apple has a bright future with accessories such as these. Many have been extolling the AirPods as the best thing to come out of Apple in a long time. While I think that may be a bit hyperbolic, I do appreciate everything Apple has put into the product from the quality to the performance of these devices. With all the praise though, I have experienced some really annoying bugs with Siri, incoming phone calls, and inconsistent behavior. As much as I really like the AirPods, I am still scratching my head over how Apple could leave out simple volume and next/previous controls. I can appreciate Apple's desire to "keep it simple" and leverage Siri for basic commands, it's what they do. Read or listen to most AirPod reviews on the web, and the overwhelming consensus is that Apple should have designed the AirPods to support either swipe gestures up and down the stem for volume or have each AirPod support a certain tap combination or function. For example, have the left AirPod double and triple tap for volume adjustment, while the right can activate Siri or skip/next track. This could pose a problem as if you listen with only one, then you would lose the functionality provided by the AirPod that is not in your ear. I would think that would be a more acceptable inconvenience as the majority of listening I do is in stereo with both AirPods in my ears.
Aside from the various lack of controls, there are several quirks that need to be fixed and I am hoping that they can be address via a firmware update. Most modern Bluetooth manufacturers support designing their headsets to install updates for fixes and feature improvements. Obviously, the hardware design dictates how much the software updates can change functionality but most of the time updates provide improvements to connectivity or other issues that may affect the overall use. I am hoping that Apple provides timely updates and fixes for the AirPods. Whether it be for quirky call behavior, voice issues, or inconsistent Siri behavior, it would be nice if Apple can fix these via a firmware update. It would be disappointing if Apple ignored these issues and made people go out an buy a 2nd generation set of AirPods to get feature updates and fixes. I'm on the fence on whether Apple will go that route but I put nothing past them.
Overall the AirPods are an amazing piece of technology at this stage of the wireless headphone market. While other manufacturers offer their own models with various features and levels of battery life, the Apple AirPods are designed to work best with various i-Devices. When AirPods work, they work well. When AirPods fail or don't work as expected, it can be a very frustrating experience. More often than not, in my own use-cases, the AirPods have performed as expected with the occasional snags and annoyances. Ok Apple, you finally shipped them, I bought a pair, now the ball is in your court to get updates out to iron out the bugs. I will continue to use the AirPods as my primary headphones but in the back of my mind, if the bugs occur more over time, I have several really good (but not totally wireless) alternatives I can go back to.
Overall AirPods Score: B+
I am no audiophile, but I do love listening to music, podcasts, and sports radio. That listening experience is usually augmented by using a great set of Bluetooth wireless headphones. I have tried many from well known brands such as Bose, Beats, and even Jaybird. I think my search for the perfect set of wireless ear buds is over for now, the Jaybird X2's are a cut above the rest and I am going to outline why. However, before I do, I should mention that I owned a pair of Jaybird's previous generation high-end earbuds, the Bluebuds X. The Bluebuds sounded great but my unit always seemed to suffer from terrible signal breakup whenever I subjected them to the outdoors environments of New York City. All I needed to do was step outside with my iPhone in my back pocket and the Bluebuds would studder and drop out like a bad Skype call. The new X2's are re-built from the ground up with all modern, up-to-date components which I believe give them an advantage over the older generation model.
As I mentioned, I am no audiophile, but hands down the X2's sound quality is best of any bluetooth earbuds I have used. If you closed your eyes and did a comparison between some wired buds and the X2's, you might be hard pressed to tell the difference. The engineers at Jaybird have utilized a custom Bluetooth codec called SWIFT which has been optimized for sound delivery. Surprising enough, the X's still utilize BT 2.1 + EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) which to my understanding is still the underlying technology in later BT implementations (i.e. 4.X) that delivers sound from the source to the headphones. What all that tech speak means is at the end of the day is an awesome sound experience for the listener.
Being earbuds, there's a couple of things that go into how comfortable wearing a pair of these type of headphone are. The fit should be snug enough to ensure good sound isolation and keep them in when you move around. In order for the X2's to fit properly, the right size earbuds must be selected along with the wingtips which stabilize the bud in the ear. The X2's come with a set of small, medium, and large plastic eartips as well as three sizes of Comply foam tips which really make a difference in terms of comfort and sound isolation. Included are plastic "wingtips" that provide a sort of wedge in the ear crevice to keep the buds in the ear. The wingtips have been redesigned from the older Bluebuds and now have a more rigid feel with rounded edges which definitely help with comfort. I am able to wear the X2's for long periods of time without getting that typical "earbud" fatigue that most buds have when you put them as far into the ear canal as they need to go. Speaking of the ear canal, if a good seal within the ear is obtained, the X2's really shine in terms of comfort and sound quality. I realize that this is purely subjective as everyone's ear sizes are different, but I have found the perfect combination in using the small wing tips and the medium sized Comply foam tips. The buds are fixed securely in my ear and I am not sure I could shake my head forceful enough to get them to fall out.
It should be noted that Jaybird offers two ways to wear these earbuds, either traditionally with the cable sloping down from the ear (under ear) or over the ear where the cable is draped over the top and then behind the ear. Whatever way is most comfortable, you should be able to get a secure and comfortable fit.
One of the things that really annoyed me about the older Bluebuds X was how the wing tips would slide off of the bud and would require re-adjustment each time you put them on. Jaybird has solved that problem on the X2's by placing a bit of a ridge where the wing tips fit so they will not slide off. Nice touch.
The control stick provided houses a main button (center), and two volume buttons. The function of each button is dictated by how you press each. A single press and release of the main and volume buttons does exactly what you would think, playing and stopping the audio and controlling the volume up or down. A one second press-and-hold of a button changes the function. For example, a one second hold of one of the volume buttons changes the functionality from volume +/- to next/previous selection. The control stick also supports longer presses up to 4 seconds for the main button to initiate Bluetooth pairing mode. When paired to the iPhone, all phone functions such as answering a call, activating Siri, call transfer work well and are easily activated. One of the nice customizations Jaybird has implemented with the X2's when setting the volume up or down from the control stick, the iphone also adjusts the device volume in sync with the X2's. I have had other headphones where this is not the case and you have instances where the volume of the headphones is out of sync with the volume of the device. Jaybird has also removed the "beep" whenever a volume button is pressed. Some people may prefer that, but I found it annoying and am glad Jaybird removed that from the X2's. In terms of the quality of the microphone during phone calls and using voice commands with Siri, I would have to say that it has been greatly improved when compared to the Bluebuds. Conversations held outdoors, even in NYC with the X2's resulted in the other person being able to hear me without issue.
Put quite simply, battery life is simply amazing for a piece of technology as small as the X2's. I have been able to get a strong 8+ hours during normal use during a given day. Most days I use them for shorter periods of time so I really never have to worry about running out of juice at inopportune times. It's actually quite amazing how these small buds even outpace the Beats PowerBeats 2, which get about 5 hours and are physically larger than the X2's.
Jaybird offers a 1 year limited warrantee for defects but has a more generous lifetime replacement warrantee for any damage caused by sweat or moisture.
The X2's come in a variety of colors such as Storm (White), Fire (Red), Midnight (Blue), Alpha (Green), Ice (Light Blue), and Charge (Yellow). The wire that connects the two earbuds is a flat matte black cable which reduces tangles.
In terms of accessories, Jaybird doesn’t skimp with the X2's. Provided are a nice, soft touch plastic carrying case, three sets of wingtips, and six pair of earbuds, three rubber versions and three Comply foam tips in small, medium, and large sizes.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, the older set of Bluebuds had a terrible time with skipping in the rigors of NYC. Many people I have spoken to that have the Bluebuds don't seem to have the signal breakup issue but then again, none of them live in NYC. That being said, the redesigned X2's do a better job at maintaining a steady connection to my iPhone. Deciding to put the X2's patented Signal Plus technology to the test, I went to the one of the most busiest and densely packed places in NYC, Times Square. Walking thru a busy midtown Manhattan during the day I can get the X2's to skip while having the iPhone in my back pocket. Placing the iPhone in my front pocket does help reduce the occurrences of skipping most likely due to the X2's having the iPhone closer to them. I called Jaybird tech support to discuss this issue with them and they suggested performing a hard reset of the X2's by putting them into pairing mode then holding both volume buttons down until a beep is heard. The hard reset re-loads the X2 firmware (the program that tells the device how to work). The combination of hard reset and re-pairing of the X2's to the iPhone seems to have improved the situation. I can now walk thru various areas in the city and not get "significant" signal breakup. Overall the situation has improved but if you live in a major metropolitan city and plan to use these outdoors, plan for some signal skip.
If you are looking for a pair of in-ear wireless earbuds, look no further than the Jaybird X2's. Quite simply, they are the best Bluetooth wireless earbuds on the market right now, bar none. They sound amazing, provide a reasonable level of comfort while wearing them, have great battery life, and the controls work well with a modern smartphone such as the iPhone. The fit and finish of the X2's are a improvement over the older Bluebuds X and I suspect they will hold up over time.
You can order your pair of X2's directly from the Jaybird website or visit a local Best Buy which also carries them.
Jaybird X2 - $179.95
A couple of nice purchases that I am really enjoying.
Everdock Duo - $69.00 - A dual charging dock for mobile devices.
Bose Soundlink Mini - $199.95 Mini Bluetooth speaker with amazing sound.
Stay tuned for my further musings on these great products.
Apple has activated iBeacon technology at most of its retails stores. The technology is based on low power Bluetooth and can push information to your phone when you enter a particular radius of a given signal transmitter. In an Apple store, a transmitter can be a dedicated device or supposedly another computer or even an iOS device.
Well it works. Earlier in the day I updated my Apple Store app and permissioned it to use my location so that the iBeacons can locate me and push relevent and targeted message to me. I walked into the Grand Central store and I received my first "welcome to the Apple store" push notification and prompted me to open my Apple Store app. The next push notification I received was when I was in the accessory section and a push notifIcation said that I could read reviews of accessories before buying. It was pretty cool. I would have liked to see more but I guess I didn't activate any of the other beacons.
This is a very exciting technology and the possibilities are endless. I look forward to visiting CitiField during the next baseball season to see how MLB and the Mets are using iBeacons to enhance the ballpark experience.
he edict was set. The wife threw down the gauntlet and declared, "I want to be able to listen to my iPad kind of like we do with the iHome dock we have in the bedroom." Well, that got me thinking about the types of solutions availble to comply with that request. Using Airplay with our entertainment center was an option, but a bit too cumbersome and inconvienient, especially if one of us is already watching TV. Another clock/radio dock that accommodates the iPad was another choice. Choice number three was a dedicated speaker system that leveraged Bluetooth. Off to the Apple Store I went.
Looking over the choices, I came across the Ailph Jambox. The Jambox is a small (about the size of a wireless home phone handset, except a little thicker), rectangular box that comes in several colors (Blue, Red, Black, Blue, and Grey). Ailph claims the box can output up to 85 decibles of sound which is right in the middle of the sound output of an average motorcycle and a rock concert. The sound is generated by a pair of ultra domed speakers capable of both low (woofer) and high (tweeter) output. Based on my experience thusfar, I can vouch that the output from the Jambox can fill up a 25' x 19' room very nicely.
Connection to the Jambox is performed via Bluetooth. Pairing with the iPad was quick and painless. Sliding and holding the power switch on the side of the Jambox puts the device into pairing mode. A lovely voice tells you the state and status of the box. Upon a successful pairing, that lovely voice confirms that there is a connection and then you're good to go. On the iPad, a small icon is displayed in-between the Bluetooth symbol and the battey percentage meter.
How does the Jambox sound? I am certainly no audiophile but I do appreciate good-sounding music. In terms of loudness, the Jambox is capable of getting quite loud without signifcant distortion of sound. The device is able to pump out a surprising amount of bass as well. The official specs of the Jambox have the Frequency Response at 60 Hz - 20 kHz, a pretty respectible figure considering the size and power of this little box. I played several types of music genre's on the Jambox (some iTunes purchased 256kb AAC's and some 320kb MP3's) and all sounded fine at various sound levels. Only at the extreme most-upper volume levels did the sound start to sound a bit muffled.
The Jambox comes with a mini USB cable for connection to a host computer as well as charging with the included AC adapter. Aliph claims a full charge can product 10 hours of continuous playback depending on the sound levels. While I have not pressed the Jambox, I can say that device battery life does quite well on continuous play that myself or my wife have put it through.
One of the very cool features of the Jambox is its ability to connect to a host computer to change various settings (i.e. Multiple BT connections) and apply new/additional software updates to the device. Everything from 3D "Live" sound, voice calling, SIRI access (when connected to a iphone 4s), and much more can be added at any time. All you need is to install the MyTalk installer and then navigate to the MyTalk page in your browser when the Jambox is connected via USB to your computer. Once recognized, the Jambox can be updated very convieniently thru the web interface.
At $199.99, the Jambox is not cheap. You can probably find it on Amazon for a bit cheaper. However, for what you get in terms of sound quality, and portability, the price can be well worth it if you have a specific use-case for a device like this. There are probably better sounding speakers (more expensive too) but like everything else, whether or not the Jambox fits your needs is totally subjective. For my wife and how she uses it (in the living room, in the bathroom while getting ready, etc.), the Jambox has been a great purchase and she absolutely loves it. Based on your needs/wants, you may too. Take a trip to a local Apple store and try this puppy out. You may decide to walk out with one.
Aliph Jambox - $199.99
As an avid tech fan I look forward to sharing my tech experiences both personally and professionally with those that have similar interests and passion for technology.