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(Pocket-lint) - Apple revealed the third generation of its standard AirPods some two-and-a-half years after the second-generation wireless headphones were announced. It's been a bit of a wait, but there's been plenty of other output in the meantime - such as the active noise-cancelling (ANC) capable AirPods Pro arriving in 2020.

While there's no ANC goodness in the AirPods 3, plenty of things have changed. While the second generation's design remained the same as the original AirPods, this third-generation shortens the stem, redesigns the tips, bringing them closer in line with the AirPods Pro's design.


So should you opt for the middle-of-the-range AirPods 3 over their predecessors, or step things up for the top-of-the-range AirPods Pro? Here's our take.

Our quick take

Sitting in the middle of the company's wireless headphones portfolio, the 3rd Gen AirPods offer a great balance between features and price, whilst also delivering a refreshed and water-resistant design and great sound quality.

They aren't the cheapest wireless headphones on the market, and they miss out on the AirPods Pro's silicone tip secure fit and active noise cancellation (ANC), but you get solid battery life, great convenience features, and the extra features like Spatial Audio are well worth it.

The sweat- and water-resistance is a great bonus, too, especially for those who want to workout while using their AirPods, although Beats's PowerBeats Pro or the AirPods Pro may be the better option if this is your main intended use case.

Apple AirPods (3rd generation) review: Third time's a charm

Apple AirPods (3rd generation)

4.5 stars - Pocket-lint recommended
  • Refreshed design
  • Great sound quality
  • Excellent convenience features
  • Spatial Audio is very good
  • Sweat and water resistant
  • Good battery life
  • A little big for our ears
  • No active noise-cancellation (ANC) tech


Pro-like design

  • Earphones dimensions: 30.79 x 18.26 x 19.21mm / Weight: 4.28g 
  • Chagring case: 46.40 x 54.40 x 21.38mm / Weight: 37.91g
  • 33% shorter stem than 2nd Gen AirPods
  • Redesigned tip, tapered towards ear
  • IPX4 water-resistance
  • White finish only

The 2021 AirPods are essentially what you would get if the AirPods Pro and the 2nd Gen AirPods had a wireless headphones child together, not only in terms of design, but many features too. 

Pocket-lint Apple AirPods (3rd generation) review product shots photo 24

Taking cues from the AirPods Pro, the AirPods 3 have a shorter stem - by 33 per cent - than the second generation model. There's also a force sensor like the AirPods Pro, allowing for more advanced controls from the AirPods themselves.

The ear tips have been redesigned too. The tips taper towards the ear more and the angle has been adjusted to direct audio into the ear better. They are slightly larger too - a little too big for our ears, really - and a couple of elements have been repositioned slightly. 

Overall, the design is familiar - the 'electric toothbrush head' similarities remain, though less so thanks to the shorter stem - but the five years that AirPods have been around means the design is certainly not as polarising as it was in 2016, with their popularity making them more of a statement than anything else now.