Apple AirPods review (2019)

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They've been usurped by newer models, but the Apple AirPods 2 — referred to by Apple as the AirPods (2nd Generation) — remain available to purchase online and in-stores for around $100. They offer some neat tricks like summoning Siri by simply speaking its name, reading incoming messages and answering calls hands free — but the latest AirPods 3 offer a bit more bang for a little more cash.

If you can find them on sale, the AirPods are still at the top of the heap for iPhone owners — especially those who may not need active noise cancellation that the AirPods Pro and AirPods Pro 2 provide.

You'll want to look elsewhere if you want a better feature set (the second-gen AirPods are not water or sweat-resistant and there's no ambient-listening mode) but for those on a budget, they are among the best wireless earbuds for around $100.

Not sure which AirPods model is right for you? Check out our AirPods vs AirPods Pro face-off if you need help deciding which wireless earbuds to buy.

AirPods price and availability

The AirPods with the standard charging case originally cost $159/£159 or $199/£199 if you wanted the wireless charging case included. These days, however, you can often find the AirPods 2 for around $119, and sometimes a bit less if you're shopping for them during a major sales holiday like Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

Looking for a discount? Be sure to check our best AirPods deals page for the latest offers.

AirPods design

When the original AirPods debuted back in 2016, I thought they were reminiscent of the hair gel joke from the movie "Something About Mary." But Apple has had the last laugh, as the disembodied buds have gone on to become a status symbol, launching several popular memes. Hell, it’s rare for me not to see several pairs of the white doodads over the course of my morning-evening commute.

It goes without saying that Apple didn't have to tweak much of anything, so it didn’t. The 0.14 ounce, 0.7 x 0.7 x 1.6-inch buds are still cased in glossy white plastic protruding into a long stem that’s capped off by silvery chrome. A series of diminutive dark-gray grilles adorn the head of the buds.

While I didn't expect Apple to deviate wildly from what's obviously a successful design, I was disappointed that it's not taking a page out of Samsung's book and offering different color palettes. At least match your phones and give me a black or space gray, sheesh! And it would have been nice if the company made the AirPods truly sweat- and water-resistant. But I doubt the lack of certification will stop these babies from showing up at the gym.

While I didn’t expect Apple to deviate wildly from what's obviously a successful design, I was disappointed not to see multiple color palettes.

The only clue that these are indeed the 2nd-generation AirPods is the wireless charging case, but it's very easy to miss. Both the current and previous-generation cases are made of the same shiny white plastic as the buds, with the same rear-mounted pairing button and the chrome-lined Lightning port.

But if you want to determine whether you're looking at a standard charging case or a wireless case, check out the front. If there's a pinhole light, you've got a wireless case. It's a small change, but it keeps me from incessantly flicking the lid open and closed.

The other way to tell is the hinge. The hinge on the new wireless charger is made of anodized metal, whereas the standard case has a shiny metal strip. Due to the extra components, the 1.4 x 0.8 x 2.1-inch wireless case is slightly heavier than the standard one (1.7 x 0.8 x 2.1 inches) at 1.4 ounces compared with 1.3 ounces.

But no matter which case you choose to get, you can now get it laser-engraved for free after popular demand.

MORE: 14 Cheap Headphones Ranked From Best To Worst

AirPods comfort

Since they share the same dimensions as the previous AirPods, the second-gen AirPods have that lightweight effortlessness that I love. The 0.14-ounce buds nestle gently into my ear, never causing any uncomfortable pressure. Once they're in, they kind of fade into the background, which speaks to their comfort, but also freak me out.

The buds are small, even with my freakishly small ears, and I'm always anxious about losing an AirPod, especially on those occasions that I'm barreling down the stairs in Grand Central Station trying to catch the 6 train. There's never been but the slightest jostle, but in that moment I’m picturing myself trying to protect the runaway bud from being stepped on, falling down a crevasse or onto the tracks. It's never happened (knock on wood), but the AirPods are so tiny and so expensive ($69/£65 per replacement bud) that it worries me.

The 0.14-ounce AirPods nestle gently into my ear, never causing any uncomfortable pressure.

Paranoia aside, I wore the AirPods for over 2 hours, taking meetings, watching videos and listening to music in the utmost comfort. They're one of the most comfortable truly wireless buds I've had the pleasure of testing. I think the Samsung Galaxy Buds come closest to matching them.

AirPods pairing and switching speed

Connecting the original AirPods to an iPhone was fast — wicked fast. I put this to the test with an iPhone XS Max and found that it took the AirPods only 3.2 seconds to connect to the smartphone while the older pair took 5.1 seconds. Like the original AirPods, once the buds are connected, a small widget pops up showing the battery life of the Pods and the charging case.

The extra bit of pick up and go comes from Apple's new H1 chip, which the company says enables the AirPods to offer longer talk times, greater battery life and device switching that is twice as fast as its predecessor. Switching between the XS Max and my MacBook Pro took the new AirPods 2.8 seconds, while the older model finished in 4.3.

It only took the new AirPods 3.2 seconds to connect to the smartphone while the older pair took 5.1 seconds.

If you’re like me and own an Android phone, figuring how to connect AirPods to an Android device will take a little more work, but not much. In order to use the new AirPods with my Samsung Galaxy Note 8 I just needed to press the round button on the back of the charging case. The old AirPods took 4.9 seconds to connect while the new models finished the task in 3.1 seconds. The button can also be used to reset the Bluetooth connection to an iOS device.

But the speed doesn't stop once you're connected. The H1 chip is also good for mobile games, cutting audio latency while gaming by 30 percent.

AirPods Siri intergration

Not only are the second-gen AirPods faster, they’re also smarter -- at least when it comes to Siri. This is the first pair of Pods to feature hands-free Siri. That’s right, instead of having to tap out your Siri requests on those long, thin AirPod stems, you can simply say “Hey Siri,” and launch the ubiquitous digital assistant.

Naturally, the feature worked beautifully in the fairly quiet environment of the Tom's Guide office. But I was really impressed when I uttered the magic words on a New York City street during rush hour with police sirens and horns blaring. I didn't even have to yell — in fact, I’m pretty sure I mumbled the phrase, but, just like that, my music paused as Siri waited to hear the rest of my command. Of course, "Hey Siri" doesn't work with Android phones, but for iPhone users, it's pretty cool.

MORE: Best Wireless Earbuds: AirPods vs. AirPods Alternatives

Just in case you have to get tactile, you can adjust the buds' double-tap shortcuts in Settings. For instance, I set the right bud to skip tracks forward and the left to skip backward.

Instead of having to tap out your Siri requests on those long, thin AirPod stems, you can simply say "Hey Siri," and launch the ubiquitous digital assistant.

Hands-free Siri is cool and all, but what I really need Apple to work on next is adding adjustable ambient noise, similar to what the Jabra Elite Active 65t offers. 

While I expected to hear the heavy-hitters of NYC traffic as I made my way to the subway stop, hearing the conversation of the two women walking in front of me was a bit jarring. I had the volume at 75 percent, but could clearly hear what they were saying. I'd rather be an empowered eavesdropper with the ability to adjust how much ambient noise gets in via a companion app than an unwilling one.

It'd also be nice if Apple would create an equalizer so I can finally have the opportunity to hear my music the way I prefer. And it wouldn't hurt to add a fitness tracker that keeps tabs on heart rate and other metrics for all the gym rats. Oh, well, maybe next time.

AirPods sound quality

While Apple made several improvements to the AirPods, audio quality didn't make the cut. Don't get me wrong, the AirPods deliver good audio quality, with a solid soundstage and clean vocals. However, the bass can be a little cold and boomy at times, while the highs can be somewhat recessed.

Apple AirPods 2 (left) and Jabra Elite Active 65t (right)

Apple AirPods 2 (left) and Jabra Elite Active 65t (right)

When I listened to Lizzo's "Tempo" featuring Missy Elliot on the second-gen AirPods, the deep bass was always at the cusp of overtaking the rest of the track, save for Lizzo and Missy's bombastic vocals. The electric guitar at the top of the track was scratchier than what I heard with the Jabra Elite Active 65t. And while the bass was definitely aggressive, there wasn't any crowding, especially on Lizzo's flute solo toward the end.

I noticed that the higher parts of Kevin Ross' mostly acapella rendition of "Prototype" were a little stretched on the AirPods, but I heard every piece of the three-part harmony. However, I couldn't hear the quick piano component of the track as cleanly as I did on the Elite Active 65t. And thanks to the Jabra' buds wider soundstage, the harmonizing vocals had more room to breathe, making for a warmer presentation

The AirPods delivered a better performance on H.E.R.'s "Focus," delivering a beautifully delicate harp that was crowded by the big bass, but not so much that the artist's vulnerable vocal couldn't shine through. Still, the Elite Active 65ts had more precise lows, which allowed me to hear the percussion better.

AirPods battery life and charging case

Just like the old AirPods, Apple claims the second-gen AirPods can last 5 hours on a charge. And thanks to the H1 chip, the company also says the Pods deliver 50 percent more talk time. I got 4 hours and 49 minutes out of the AirPods. That time was spent binging the last four episodes of Season 2 of The Dragon Prince and falling into the oozy rabbit hole of Dr. Pimple Popper on YouTube, I listened to Solange's latest album, and I talked to my dad for 30 minutes.

When it's time for a charge, just pop the AirPods back into their charging case, which will provide up to 24 hours of additional charge when charging either wirelessly or over Lightning. And just like its predecessor, the wireless charging case will deliver 3 hours of listening time and 2 hours of talk time from 15 minutes of charge.

But as the name suggests, the biggest difference between the two charging cases is one can wirelessly charge.  All you need is Qi-compatible charger. Sadly, Apple cancelled its AirPower charging mat, so you'll have to turn to the likes of Mophie and Anker. When I used my colleague's Mophie charger, the amber indicator lit up in seconds. Granted, it's not as cool as the Galaxy Buds wireless charging feature, where you just place the earbuds and their case on the Galaxy S10's rear panel, but it really comes in handy when you don’t have a Lightning cable handy.

AirPods Bluetooth 5.0 benefits

Powered by Bluetooth 5.0 instead of last gen's 4.2, the new AirPods offer a more stable connection. Walking through NYC, you're going to encounter a dead spot sooner or later that causes your wireless headphones to drop out for a brief second. I didn't have that experience with the AirPods 2. I walked from Bryant Park to the 33rd Street stop on the 6 train bopping every step of the way without any drop out.

In terms of range, I managed to leave my phone at my desk and walk to the center of the office — a distance of 50 feet. It's not surprising as Bluetooth 5.0 promises longer wireless range and improved battery life. 

AirPods call quality

With its four integrated microphones, the Elite Active 65t are the gold standard for truly wireless earbuds. But Apple's H1 chip and dual mics are not to be trifled with. When I called my mom on a NYC street, the call quality was so clear she heard the nasalness in my voice. And while she couldn't hear much background noise, I could tell that she was talking to me from the Bluetooth in her car.  I agreed with mom's assessment that the Jabras sounded just as good, with one difference— the Jabra’s were clear enough that I could hear my niece shyly saying hi in the background.

While I don't think I’ll be taking advantage of this (I text more than I talk), the AirPods’s estimated 3 hours talk time is a plus.

Bottom line

Despite being a few years old at this point, the AirPods 2 are still at the top of the heap for iPhone owners. Apple has given people what they want with wireless charging and a hands-free approach to Siri. And the fact that the buds offer longer talk time and faster pairing are icing on the cake, especially since the old AirPods' pairing was near instantaneous. 

There are now much better options out there for a bit more money — like the AirPods 3 or the AirPods Pro 2 that we mentioned earlier — but folks looking for a great pair of wireless earbuds that work seamlessly with their iOS devices could do a lot worse than these.

Credit: Tom's Guide

Sherri L. Smith

Sherri L. Smith has been cranking out product reviews for since 2011. In that time, she's reviewed more than her share of laptops, tablets, smartphones and everything in between. The resident gamer and audio junkie, Sherri was previously a managing editor for Black Web 2.0 and contributed to BET.Com and Popgadget.