AirPods 2 review: a clear consumer-first approach

The first generation AirPods – launched way back in 2016 – were a sleeper hit. Get this, there are folks out there in the real world who’ve actually purchased more than one pair of AirPods. The AirPods have undoubtedly become a part of Apple users who flaunt these tiny things dangling from their ears with pride. As a matter of fact, online memes have equated the AirPods with prosperity. It has created a subculture of technology that has a legion of ardent AirPod fans and another that includes the naysayers. 

Some love it. Some hate it. But, no one can ignore the AirPods. I’ve spotted this “tech-for-your-ears” at airports, at sprawling office complexes, at hospitals…you get the drift. I am sure you have spotted one too. 

Which is why, the second generation AirPods or, shall we say, the 2019 edition, is more of the same with a few additional features. There’s really no reason to fix something that isn’t broke, right?

AirPods 2: what’s the same?

By the way, Apple isn’t officially calling it the AirPods 2. It continues to be AirPods. And, that actually makes sense. In fact, Apple has not tweaked the design by much. I am sure the reasoning for this would be that it’d break the familiarity and the identity of this iconic design. Essentially, you get the same dental-floss box with a metal hinge. And, this white box gets dirty very easily. Therefore, I really hoped for other colour variants as you get with the Beats Powerbeats Pro. Or, the Samsung Galaxy Buds. Anyway, there are third-party skins out there if you’d like. 

Also read: Samsung Galaxy Buds review: possibly the best all-round pair of truly wireless earbuds out there

Although, one thing that never gets old is opening and closing the lid. It has a very satisfying click and it is a such an addictive process. I haven’t really experienced this level of convenience and ease-of-use in other truly wireless products. The AirPods, themselves, continue to look the same. And honestly, I am not offended by the way it looks anymore. That said, they are still flashy and quite a fashion statement too. 

The only visible visual difference is that Apple has moved the LED indicator light to the front side of the box. You don’t need to open the case every time to actually check the charging status now. There are only two states: Green is fully charged and Orange is charging. 

Coming to the fit, nothing has changed. It is still not very secure and the right earbud, especially, keeps falling easily. Imagine listening to metal and not being able to head-bang. Oh, the pity. If you want to go running with the AirPods, the accessories ecosystem around it has grown by leaps and bounds. You can get an aftermarket neckband to secure the AirPods in place. 

AirPods 2: what’s new?

The most important new addition is the new H1 chip. Here are the four main improvements over the older generation W1 chip:

  1. Makes switching between Apple devices connected to your AirPods twice as fast now.
  2. Audio latency during gaming has been further reduced up to 30% and I could actually experience that during my testing.
  3. The new H1 chip allows for the AirPods to listen to you at all times for the “Hey Siri” prompt for voice commands. It worked pretty well and responded to my callouts every single time without any hiccups. 
  4. The talk time has gone up by 50% now. So, the new H1 chip’s battery management is way better. 

Oh, before I forget, you can get a special charging case separately, which also works with the first-gen AirPods. This case works on the Qi wireless standard and I could actually charge it atop the Samsung Galaxy S10e. Moreover, I really hope Apple adds this really cool reverse wireless charging feature in the new iPhones this year. At least that move will help soften the blow of the AirPower being cancelled. Interestingly, Apple had actually showcased this charging case back in 2017 when it showcased the AirPower. And, the AirPods 2’s box does say that the case can be charged wirelessly on the AirPower mat. Sigh! 

AirPods 2: is there any change to the sound?

So, here’s the thing, the AirPods 2 sound exactly like the first-gen AirPods. No really, I actually tested the two side-by-side. You get the same bass-heavy signature that is typical of the AirPods sound. I noticed that the bloated low end bleeds into the mids often. That said, if you are listening to podcasts, the mids stand on their own. And therefore, I think the AirPods are well suited for podcast lovers. However, the treble doesn’t impress as much. Considering the AirPods are not in-ears, you get a fairly decent soundstaging but the instrument separation is average at best. What I noticed is that the AirPods are suited for songs with fewer instruments. And, of course, EDM is a genre that translates well to the AirPods’ sound signature. To document it: I actually paired the AirPods 2 with the iPhone XR and a Huawei P30 Pro for testing purposes. 

Also read: Bose SoundSport Free review: truly wireless earbuds meant for laid-back listening, not sports

The one area where the AirPods is an undisputed champion is in the exceptional call quality. Trust me, you are going to hear the caller crystal clear and the caller is bound to be impressed by your voice too. Apple has truly nailed the audio quality in calls. And, now that you get more talk time with the improved battery life, trust me, you are going to be using the AirPods 2 a lot for calls. 

Should you buy the AirPods 2?

In India, the AirPods 2 are priced at Rs 14,990 for the variant without the charging case and you can get the wireless case bundle for Rs 18,990. To Apple’s credit, the launch price of the second-generation AirPods is actually lower than the launch price of the original AirPods, which launched in India for Rs 15,400. If you already own a pair of AirPods, then I don’t see a reason why you should upgrade. While there are tangible differences, I don’t think it warrants an immediate purchase. That said, if you don’t have one and are an iPhone user, the AirPods 2 is a must buy. This product will become an extension of you. 

In fact, an office colleague who is a hardcore audiophile and uses a pair of expensive Shure IEMs, swears by his AirPods just because they are so convenient to use. The other great options include the Samsung Galaxy Buds and the Jabra Elite Active 65t. 

All in all, I am convinced that Apple is going for a consumer-first approach. I can’t say the same for many other Apple products. And, that is actually a very good thing. 

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Ershad Kaleebullah

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?