Apple AirPods (2019) review: Small improvements to good headphones

Posted: 4 April 2019 3:23 pm News

The new Apple AirPods provide good quality audio and just a few tweaks to the existing formula.

Quick Verdict
Apple's new AirPods are still among the best small bud Bluetooth headphones you can buy, although there's not much here to entice you if you already own a pair.

Where to buy

The good

  • Audio quality is good
  • Wireless charging is handy
  • Easy Siri access
  • Improved battery life

The bad

  • Audio quality identical to original model
  • No change to fit if they were already problematic


It's been no secret that Apple was working on wireless charging AirPods, ever since it announced its now-cancelled AirPower charger. That's a dead product, but the new AirPods are here, with a wireless charging option and just a few new features. They're still a quality option if you like the wire-free design, but there's not much here that's absolutely compelling or new.


Apple Airpods (2019) Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Apple AirPods (2019): Design

  • You can have them in white, white or...
  • Light and comfortable for long periods of use
  • Compact charging case

Apple didn't invent Bluetooth headphones, and it wasn't even the first to market with a pair of purely bud-style headphones either. Still, its original AirPods are quite iconic in that space, and its design prowess is well known.

That's why it's rather surprising that for the second generation of the AirPod design, it has changed essentially nothing about the external design. They're still a set of white buds with stalk microphones sticking out, and your personal comfort while wearing them will relate precisely to how much you want people to know you're wearing them. There's no pretending you are wearing earrings, and you can't hide them under your hair the way you can with some purely bud-based designs.

That reliance on the existing design is because Apple's selling the new AirPods in either the same battery case as the original or with an optional wireless charging case. There you'll find a tiny new design element because the wireless case has an external light to indicate when it's charging. If you care, the new wireless case also has its external pairing button in a slightly different spot to the original case.

We know from the Apple iPhone XR that Sir Jony Ive can in fact see in colours other than white, but you wouldn't know that from the AirPods, which only come in white. While we've seen some third parties offer warranty-breaking colour options, it'd be nice to see Apple offer custom AirPod colours, if only to match up with your iPhone of choice. Although it is a very "Apple" move to declare that you can have products in only the colour of its choice.

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Apple AirPods (2019) Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Apple AirPods (2019): Performance

  • Good audio quality
  • Hey Siri works well
  • May not fit well in every set of ears

So the new AirPods look ostensibly like the old AirPods, but they sound better, right? That's what you do with a new set of headphones released some years after the originals, especially if you've also invested heavily in a headphone company in the meantime, wouldn't you?

Not if you're Apple. I've still got a set of the original AirPods, and there's utterly no difference in audio quality between the old and new. While Apple is indeed the owner of Beats, there's not much in the way of that brand's excessive bass on play here. AirPods offer well balanced sound, but if there's a difference between the new and old AirPods, I'm simply unable to hear it.

That's not to say that the AirPods sound bad, simply that they're essentially unchanged in an audio sense, while maintaining a generally pleasant tone across most audio genres. For calling purposes, those I spoke to while on the AirPods reported few issues clearly hearing what I had to say. Again, that's par for the course with AirPods.

So what has changed? Apple's touting the performance benefits of its new H1 chip when it comes to fast switching between different paired devices, and that does seem to work at an acceptable pace.

The claim is that it also delivers a more "stable" connection to paired devices, but that's a much harder prospect to accurately test. I haven't noticed any dropouts while in testing, but then it was pretty rare with the original AirPods as well. Effective range before they drop out appears to be around the same – roughly 20-30 metres depending on environmental obstacles – despite the shift to Bluetooth 5 for the new models.

The other big headline feature is hands-free access to Siri. This works quite well if you're a fan of Apple's digital assistant and is arguably the one reason why you might upgrade an existing set of AirPods as long as you found the delay in summoning Siri an irritant. Siri is no brighter (or dumber) through AirPods than when using a regular iPhone, but it is a little handier to be able to summon her entirely hands-free.

While the appeal to Apple fans is rather apparent, the AirPods will work as Bluetooth headphones with just about any Bluetooth compatible device, save of course for that Siri compatibility.

I've briefly tested them with both the Samsung Galaxy S10+ and the Huawei P30 Pro with no issues. Although you do get some funny looks from people on public transport if they see you pull out an Android phone while wearing them.

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Apple Airpods (2019) Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Apple AirPods (2019): Battery life

  • Expanded battery life
  • Wireless case is very convenient

Apple doesn't formally announce battery capacities for any of its products, instead stating that the new AirPods can manage "up to" five hours listening time and "up to" three hours of talk time. That's an improvement in talk time over the original AirPods if you are the chatty type, and it's a testament to that new H1 chip that the new AirPods manage that.

While Apple won't talk battery capacities, iFixit will, and its tear down of the new AirPods reveals that Apple's changed absolutely nothing in terms of battery capacity, either for the AirPods themselves or the battery case. As such, the H1 chip has to be introducing efficiencies simply to run longer.

What is new, if you opt for it, is the wireless charging case, which you can buy with the new AirPods or as a standalone case to match up with an existing set of AirPods. It features a lightning port for regular cabled charging as well as a Qi inductive charging coil, so you can drop them onto any Qi-compatible charger to top up the battery case, and in turn your AirPods.

Except, not, you know, the AirPower charger, because that apparently won't see a release. Out of sheer curiosity, I did charge the AirPods with a Samsung Galaxy S10+ using its Powershare reverse wireless charging, and that worked just fine.

Wireless charging isn't as quick as regular cabled charging, and there's some inductive loss, but it is very convenient. If you're using a new enough iPhone that it has Qi charging as well, you could travel with just the one charger and drop your iGadgets onto it as needs required.

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Apple AirPods (2019) Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Apple AirPods (2019): Should you buy them?

  • Better than the originals, but only by a bit

Apple's AirPods still sit in a prime position among small wireless buds generally, and that's a testament to their solid original design.

However, that's perhaps an issue for the 2019 iteration because it feels likely that if you wanted a pair, you've already got them.

Unless hands-free Siri integration really excites you, there's not a huge jump in overall performance, especially on the audio side here to make them an absolutely worthwhile upgrade, especially at Apple's asking price. If wireless charging excites you, just buy the standalone battery case and continue as you were.

If you're a new iPhone owner keen on a pair, they've entirely replaced the old stock, and they're certainly worth consideration as long as you're happy with Apple's rather inflexible stand on colour and style. Presumably that's what the new wireless Powerbeats Pro headphones are for.

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Apple AirPods (2019): Pricing and availability

Apple's new AirPods sell in Australia for $249 with a standard charging case or $319 with the wireless charging case. The wireless charging case is also available as a standalone battery pack for existing AirPod owners for $129.

Buy Apple Airpods 2nd Generation

Buy Apple Airpods 2nd Generation from Amazon AU

Apple's second generation AirPods continue to deliver excellent audio quality along with new wireless charging functionality. Get yourself a pair from Amazon Australia today.

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Specifications

Apple AirPods (2019) Specifications

Product Name
Apple AirPods
Weight
Airpods: 4g/Charging Case 38g/Wireless Charging Case 40g
Connectivity
Bluetooth 5
Charging
Lightning/Qi (with wireless case only)
Battery life
Up to 5 hours listening/up to 3 hours talk time
Price
$249/$319 (standard/wireless charging)
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