With no headphone socket on the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, you've either got to go Lightning connector or Bluetooth wireless. And the company is hoping you'll opt for the latter and buy into its wireless in-ear AirPods. 

If you've got wired headphones then Apple does include a Lightning-to-3.5mm adaptor in the iPhone 7 box, but that hasn't stopped the £159 AirPods from causing a bit of a storm. Is their wire-free vision the future of wireless listening or does their divisive design render them a disaster?

Apple AirPods review: Wireless and wire-free

The dinky Apple AirPods have no wires connected to your phone. There are also no wires to connect the two earphones together. They're genuinely wire-free and connect via Bluetooth.

Like the new wave of Bluetooth headphones starting to come on to the market, the AirPods are intelligent enough to wirelessly connect to each other and then to your iPhone, iPad, Watch, or MacBook.

The design is simple, white, and typically Apple. The 'Pods sit in the opening of your ears, with a small rod protruding out and down your face. That outer rod is touch-sensitive to allow you to engage with Siri, or pause the music. The design is very similar to the wired EarPods that ship in the iPhone 7 box, albeit with their connecting wire cut off. 

With no connectors, the only way to charge the AirPods is via the accompanying charging case, which is also a battery that gives you more juice when on the go. The size of a dental floss box, it will easily slip into a bag or even pocket.

With the promise of five hours of listening time from one charge and a up to 24 hours of total listening time from the case, worries about the AirPods running out of battery are probably moot. We've not had any problems yet.

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Aside from the concern of what happens if you lose the charging case, you'll also have the fear of losing the headphones themselves: as they are small and light, we suspect they are also as good as lost within days of getting them.

Sadly, there doesn't appear to be a lost-and-found feature that could ping you a tracking signal if you've left them behind somewhere.

Apple AirPods review: Connecting the music

Connecting the AirPods to your iPhone, and in fact any of your Apple devices, is easy: simply put the headphones and charger near your phone and that's it. Done.

Once you've connected it to one device, the AirPods will be available via iCloud to all your Apple devices and automatically know which one you are listening to music on (be it the iPhone, the Apple Watch, or a MacBook).

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AirPods are connected and ready to go when you are - just put them in your ears when you want to listen. They seamlessly switch from a call on your phone to listening to music on your Apple Watch, Mac or iPad.

It really is that simple. It's very cool.

Apple AirPods review: One headphone or two?

It's not just about listening to music in the same old way you've always done. The AirPods include a new wireless processor, dubbed the W1, which has some tricks up its sleeve.

Pop the AirPods into your ears and the music starts playing. Take one out, and the music will pause - and rather than playing in stereo, will only play mono on the remaining single headphone in your ear. Remove them completely, and they automatically pause the music until you pop them back in. We do love that feature.

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You can access Siri with a double-tap to your AirPods to select and control your music, change the volume, check your battery life, or perform any other Siri tasks. There are no buttons whatsoever.

An additional accelerometer in each AirPod detects when you’re speaking, enabling a pair of beam-forming microphones to focus on the sound of your voice, filtering out external noise to make pickup of your voice clearer for the best results.

On the Mac the experience isn't as intelligent though. There is no auto-pausing or single-to-stereo functionality - but a double-tap still engages Siri (in MacOS Sierra, if you've not upgraded yet). However, they do work just as you would expect a set of Bluetooth headphones to work.

Apple AirPods review: Hey Siri, skip track

With zero physical buttons on the AirPods, everything is controlled via Siri if you're not handling your iPhone.

Want to turn the volume down? Tap the AirPod, wait for a beep, then give Siri the command, wait for that command to be processed, and then carry on. It's the same with skipping tracks and other commands. All the while the music has stopped.

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It feels sluggish - certainly not as easy as tapping a remote on a wired set of headphones. Using your voice might sound futuristic, but some form of basic controls like volume and skip track - either through strokes or taps - would have been welcomed. 

Apple AirPods review: Listening to music, taking calls

We've tested the AirPods with an array of different Apple devices - MacBook Pro, iPad Pro, iPhone 7 and the Apple Watch Series 2 - and are really impressed with the simplicity of connection and switching between devices.

In terms of sound performance, the AirPods are virtually identical in performance to the EarPods included for free in the box. That £159 price tag is for the wire-free freedom, plus the included charger, rather than an audio upgrade.

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Like the EarPods, the AirPods have clearly been designed to suit a wide range of music tastes rather than a specific segment. They aren't as bass heavy as Beats, for example, but should be more than suitable for most people.

Importantly we've experienced zero drop outs and zero pops whichever device we've been using to listen. That's something that can otherwise hurt the Bluetooth listening experience in so many other devices.

When it comes to taking calls, the AirPods' microphones allow you to be heard and to listen clearly. We've tested it in a variety of situations - from busy London bars and streets, through to quiet rooms with no one else around. No callers could tell we were using the AirPods compared to the iPhone's speaker, although a few did mention that when we were in a loud environment they could tell there was some form of noise-cancellation and compression.

Apple AirPods review: Sitting, walking, running

The AirPods have been designed to sit in your ears and come with no additional clasps, clips or paraphernalia to stop them falling out. That is clearly going to worry a lot of people as to whether the AirPods have the ability to stay put. It will also likely depend on the shape of your ears and how well you get on with in-ear headphones in general.

Sitting at your desk, mincing around the house, or generally lounging on the sofa and you'll have no problem. Walking to the shops and back and the AirPods are comfortable. They stay put.

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With a lack of wires there will be an appeal to run in them, especially if you connect them to your Apple Watch. For our review we ran 5km and 10km with the AirPods in.

On the 5km run the AirPods stayed in our ears, worked flawlessly, and we enjoyed the freedom of not only running wirelessly, but also without a joining cable between the two 'Pods bashing on the back of our neck.

On our 10km run we found the experience wasn't as pleasurable. Not only did the sound performance deteriorate as the headphones loosened in our ears with the constant movement, but the left headphone fell out twice when we went to wipe our brow of sweat - sending it flying into the road. Apple doesn't sell these as a pair of sports headphones, sure, but that does negate one of what could be a potential strength.


The AirPods have already polarised opinion when it comes to their design. Everyone we've asked would be conscious about wearing them, both because of the stick that protrudes from each ear and the fear of them falling out and getting lost.

However the AirPods are great in terms of connectivity, which is where they come into their own. They are really clever in terms of functionality and sound isolation for voice calls, whether you like the look of them or not.

The simplicity of connectivity, automated cross-device use via iCloud, and automatic stop/start controls based on whether one or both AirPods are in your ears is a glimpse into the future of wireless listening. In these regards Apple is setting the benchmark for a wire-free future.

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