To be upfront and honest, not much has changed in terms of the look and overall sound quality of these new AirPods, so for a much more comprehensive view on AirPods check out my review here. I should note, that I owned a pair of the first generation for over two years which eventually suffered from extreme battery degredgation almost to the point of being useless. Those were taken to the Apple Store for disposal, thanks and good riddance.
First up, is the new Qi charging capable AirPods case. Major change here is that the case will now charge itself by placing it on any standard Qi charging tablet or disk. Apple has moved the charging indicator light from the internal "shelf" of the last generation to the outside of the case. The light illuminates upon first placing the case on the Qi charger, stays on for about ten seconds and then goes dark while continuing to charge. Personally I would prefer if the charging light would stay on while charging, as long as case is receiving power, Not really a big deal. Still present is the lightning port for fast(er) charging. There's not much else different on the case with the exception of a matte hinge for the case top as opposed to the shiny metallic looking hinge for the older case. The hinge and top of the case still has that same "pleasant' flip and close.
With the case out of the way, now let's get into the AirPods themselves. On the outside, same look, feel, and overall design as the first generation. With these, it's all about the new chipset called the H1 which many folks believe stands for "Headphones" to distinguish itself moving forward as the chip design specifically designed for wearable audio devices, as opposed to the older W1 and newer W3 used in the Apple Watch. The H1 in combination with Bluetooth 5.0 standard allows for better bluetooth streaming and more reliable connections,. The H1 chip also has enabled faster connections to your iCloud devices. Switching from my iPhone to an iPad takes approximately four seconds to connect. That's about a 1-2 second connection improvement over the first generation.
Battery life is claimed by Apple to be 5 hours of use with an extra 24hrs of case charging time, which are in the ballpark when compared to the first generation. Fast charging the AirPods for 15 minutes gives up to 3 hours of use which if you are on the go, can be really useful. The improvements offered by the H1 over the W1 chipset offer increased amount of talk time on phone calls. I have not yet tested this so I'll take Apple on their word for this one.
One of the biggest improvements of the generation 2 AirPods is the "Hey Siri" function. In my use I have found the functionality to be extremely fast and smooth. I especially like the ability for Siri to take full command sentences and action on them almost immediately. It's certainly not as fast as on-board local process could potentially be, but for now I will take it. For example, I can "Hey Siri, lower the volume", or "Hey Siri, Overcast MacBreakWeekly", and Siri will immediately process that command. Remember the first generation process of having to double-tap the AirPod, wait for Siri to provide the audible ready sound, issue your command, and finally wait for Siri to process. The new "Hey Siri" command and accompanying hardware makes this process seamless and so much more convenient to use. Another advantage of having a vocal command to activate Siri is that it now frees up a slot in the command mapping list for each Airpod. I have removed the Siri double tap for my right AirPod and replaced with next track and now map my left Airpod to previous track. Convenient and consistent thanks to freeing up a mapping that used to be assigned to activating Siri.
Now on to the elephant in the room, sound quality. These new AirPods do not raise the bar in any way in terms of sound quality or the ability to overcome noisy listening environments. AirPods are still mediocre at best in specific terms to bass response and noise isolation. Airpods are good for relatively quiet, indoor environments but require pumping the iPhone sound levels to near three-quarter to full-max volume levels for anything more than a soft voice in the background. Some may not mind this, but as a busy commuter in NYC and someone that doesn't mind drawing out the conversations going on around me, the AirPods still have a way to go.
Rumors prior to the release of the second generation AirPods flew with reckless abandon around the Interwebs stating different colors, water resistance, and yes, active noise cancellation Those rumors may eventually come to pass, maybe even in the fall. I believe AirPods second generation are what Apple wanted to release some time during 2018 but due to the recent demise of Airpower, held off releasing the wireless charging case and H1 chip. I would not put it past Apple to show a true AirPods 2.0 version some time in the Fall 2019 event for availability this year. But that being said, if your current set of AirPods are around 2 years or more old and are suffering from battery degradation and you want the convenience of Qi wireless charging, then by all means pick up a new pair along with the charging case. It will set you back 200 bucks, but well worth it if you use the AirPods daily or often enough to justify the expense. While I think AirPods will continue to be as popular as eve I do think this time around the competition has in many ways caught up to and surpassed (think sound quality) many of the features offered by AIrpods. However, Apple will always have the "secret sauce" when pairing to iCloud devices at its disposal which no other manufacturer can match. I often get questions about AirPods and whether they are "worth it". I always same the same thing to anyone who asks, "If you don't mind average wireless sound quality, noise leaking, and *IF* they fit your ears, then by all means go for them. However, if those are deal breakers there are just as good, if not better options in the marketplace and that's a good thing."
Overall, nothing offered in this generation of AirPods really moves the needle either way from my B+ rating of the first version of the product. This will most likely stay the case until Apple gets us a version of Airpods with either noise cancellation or better in-ear sealing fit, multiple colors (Black please!), and the ability to modify sound level volumes on the AirPods themselves. As always, I will be keeping a keen eye on this space.
Aople offers a couple of different ways to purchase AirPods:
- AirPods with Wireless Charging case - $199 Link
- AirPods second generation with Lightning only charging case - $159 Link
- Qi Charging battery case (with Lightning port) $79.00 Link
- Made by Apple - Quality components and integration experience
- Excellent sound quality for phone calls
- Hey Siri functionality (fast and responsive)
- Great Battery life, improved by the efficiencies of the new H1 chipset
- Works great with Qi wireless charging (if you buy with that option)
- Average sound, hampered by open design
- Still only in White
- No on-device sound level controls