first impressions

When the AirPods came out, I was highly intrigued. But they were pricey enough that I was uneasy about paying that kind of money for something I couldn’t be sure would fit my ears, especially after having settled on a pair of corded over-the-ear headphones for a long time beforehand. I’d used other bluetooth headsets of different sorts, none of which ever had particularly good sound or particularly reliable battery life, and I had given up and just accepted that there would be badge and sunglasses entangled with my cord forever. And then the BeatsX arrived, with the same wireless chip for pairing, and they showed up for $100 on Amazon briefly, so I pounced. I got the ear tips right, and I had the cable around my neck and the wingtips in my ears for security, and it more or less worked for two years.

Then the battery started to go. Badly. And then they flaked out in other ways and I could never get them to stay on longer than five minutes without crashing and needing a hardware reset to pair them again. And it occurred to me that the wingtips had broken off months earlier, so maybe they would be fine without…and then the PowerBeats Pro came out. Everything I wanted and nothing I didn’t. No wireless nonsense, absurdly long battery life, but…a case too big for a pocket. The principle problem with wireless headphones is that you need to know you won’t have to plug them in all day, and in a world where I actually want to use my Ballpark Pass for the Giants, I’m not convinced that even 9 hours would be enough to get me by without having the case at work or in the office or or or. Plus, it was crazy money.

But then, the rumblings began. New AirPods in October, that would split the difference and be the sweet spot for me. And sure enough, they were announced last Monday and available last Wednesday, and in a rapid strike, I rolled the dice and spent more money on a pair of earbuds than I’d spent on any cell phone but two ever, because it was worth it to me to have an Apple product on launch day for the first time since the iPhone 4 (or iPhone X, but I didn’t pay for that). I was going to be able to test these things under travel conditions and see if they were worth it.

Reader, they are worth it.

The noise cancelling is up to the task on the plane, easily. But the miracle thing is that with a squeeze of the stem, they go from noise-cancelling to letting the sound through. Transparency mode has been described elsewhere as “AR for your ears” and it’s true: you hear pretty much the world around you AND your audio. And the earbuds’ charge went up by 50% after about 15 minutes in the case, which means that buds and case combined should be good for all day every day. 

But more than that, I have the option to use one at a time without dangling cords. I can pocket them without something hanging around my neck. I can finally invoke Siri without having to so much as pull the phone out of my pocket. They make me want to figure out voice control on the iPhone and the Mac alike. They give me a feel I haven’t gotten from a new Apple product in a long time: the feeling that I’ve actually stepped forward into a new and exciting future of personal device use. 

And with a new battery in the X and these in my ears, for the first time in a while, I can go without range anxiety and maybe start being kinder to the battery and not constantly charging in bits and bobs, and maybe extend the lifespan of my devices until it’s time to pay for another phone again. Which would be awfully nice. But having these and iOS 13 make the X feel almost like a new phone. Now if only they would fix the album art bug…

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