Over the last couple of years, the AirPods have become the most popular wireless headphones and a cultural phenomena not unlike the days of the iPod with white corded earphones.
Although they took a little getting used to as far as looks were concerned, the experience that the original AirPods offered was magical- from the pairing to the pausing and charging. And after a little over two years, we finally have an update which looks and sounds exactly the same.
Yes, the “new” AirPods are really just a chip replacement that improves battery life and provides a faster switching between your Apple devices. And they support “Hey Siri” through the always-on listening feature on the iPhone. That’s pretty much it as far as the AirPods go but there is a new case as well that supports Qi wireless charging. But you can buy this case for your older AirPods as well.
Price and availability
The second generation of the Apple AirPods cost AED 679 with the standard charging case, and AED 829 with the new Wireless Charging Case bundled in.
You can also purchase the charging case separately for AED 329, which is good news if you have the original AirPods but want to upgrade your case to one that supports wireless charging, although you might feel it’s a high price to pay for some added convenience.
Design-wise, there’s not a huge amount of difference between the second-generation AirPods and the originals; the long earbud stems and pillbox-style charging case look pretty much identical, although the new charging case now features a small LED light on the front, which allows you to check the charge status of the buds – it glows green if they’re fully charged, and orange if they’re not.
The charging case offers a further 20 hours of battery life on top of the five hours you get from the buds themselves, which is the same as the original AirPods; Apple also says the second-generation model offers “3 hours of talk-time from a single charge”, up from the two hours provided by the originals. This is thanks to Apple’s proprietary H1 chip, which is built into the new AirPods – more on that later.
We found charging the case was really quick – we went from 25% to 100% battery in around an hour – and we also found the stated battery life for the earbuds themselves to be accurate.
The new wireless charging case means you can use Qi-compatible charging mats to power the case without the annoyance of cables, which is convenient if you already have a wireless charging mat – and as mentioned, if you have the original AirPods, you can buy the case separately.
Coming back to the design of these new AirPods, it's interesting that Apple hasn't changed the way they look or feel at all- not even a shade of color to distinguish the new ones from the older ones.
This might put some people off that love to flaunt owning the latest and greatest. Also, if you found the original ones a bit uncomfortable or hard to stick to your ears, these new ones won't really be any different.
Despite this, the new AirPods do feel fairly snug and comfortable, although we probably wouldn’t wear them out running for fear of them falling out.
Features and performance
The main calling card of the second-gen AirPods is improved connectivity, thanks to Apple’s H1 headphone chip, which replaces the previous chip, the W1.
Pairing was pretty rapid with the original AirPods, but it’s noticeably quicker with the new AirPods; if you’re using an iPhone, an option to pair the AirPods will appear on your phone screen as soon as you open the charging case, as well as the battery status of the AirPods and the charging case.
The H1 chip also enables the new AirPods to offer hands-free ‘Hey Siri’ functionality. This means you can use the voice assistant command to place calls, change songs and more – basically anything Siri can do, direct from the earbuds, without needing to pull your iPhone out.
We found this feature worked really well, and the built-in microphone was adept at picking up our voice, even in loud environments.
If you prefer, you can set up the new AirPods to summon the voice assistant when you double-tap the outer housing of the earbuds. If you select the AirPods from the Bluetooth menu in your phone’s settings, you can also configure the touch controls to play/pause your music, skip to the next or previous track; you can also turn off touch controls altogether. You can only assign one double-tap control to each earbud, which can be slightly limiting.
While we carried out most of our tests using an iPhone XS, we also tried pairing them with an Android phone, the Huawei Mate 20. While you don’t get the automatic pairing you get with an iPhone, Bluetooth pairing is still pretty quick. You just need to hold down the pairing button on the back of the AirPods case and they should appear in your phone’s Bluetooth menu.
Apple says the H1 chip means the “AirPods deliver up to two times faster switching between active devices”, are “50% faster when transferring a call to your AirPods”, and “deliver 30% lower gaming latency”.
We used the AirPods (2019) while playing iOS games and we didn’t experience any latency issues. We also found using the AirPods to make and answer calls to be a seamless experience, and the quality of the audio was generally very good.
In terms of audio quality, nothing has changed between the original AirPods and the second-generation model. They have a lively, powerful presentation, although they can sound slightly harsh when it comes to higher-frequency sounds, and they aren’t the bassiest earbuds on the market.
We tried them out on Joanna Newsom’s Sawdust and Diamonds, and while we were impressed by the clarity of the vocal, we were slightly underwhelmed by the treatment of the bass, and found that the treble frequencies were sometimes uncomfortably harsh.
We had the same issues listening to Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together; while the mid-frequency vocals sounded smooth and detailed, the higher brass and woodwind accents overpowered the other frequencies.
The AirPods (2019) fared slightly better when it came to Radiohead’s No Surprises. The gently strummed acoustic guitar had a warm, textural sound, while the glockenspiel sweetly accented the percussion with its crystalline presentation. Again, the vocals sounded good overall, with a smooth, clear tone; however, the new AirPods didn’t quite manage to convey the rich bass timbres.
So, like the original AirPods, the AirPods (2019) sound great when it comes to mid-frequency vocals, guitar and keys, but they can sound rather lackluster when it comes to bassier frequencies, and you may experience slight harshness with percussive, high-frequency sound.
It feels like Apple has intentionally designed these new AirPods to not appear as an upgrade for current owners. They don't bring any improvements in design or sound quality and the features they do bring such as quicker pairing and 'Hey Siri' support aren't good enough reasons to upgrade.
Wireless charging on the case is nice but Apple is selling that as a standalone case for anyone with older AirPods which, again, suggests that these new AirPods aren't meant as upgrades. Rather, these AirPods (2019) are the ones you buy if you want to buy a pair of AirPods.
That being said, there are many more options for fully wireless buds today that offer better sound quality and a more comfortable fit. But if you live inside the Apple eco-system, none of them will function as harmoniously as the AirPods.
- Check out our round up of the best truly wireless AirPod alternatives around