I still remember when I saw my first pair of Apple AirPods—wireless earbuds—out in the wild on my New York City subway commute back in 2016. Their release had been timed with the Christmas season, and by January, buy-in from the masses had already begun. As an Apple addict, I was intrigued for sure. But are AirPods worth it? I made a snap decision based on the person I saw—a random guy in a suit—using them on the train.
Sure, he had an iPhone, but he looked business-y. Like the kind of person who goes all in on the latest and greatest without waiting for the reviews. And, TBH, as revolutionary as AirPods seemed, my ultra judgy take was that they looked…silly, especially for $159 at the time. And like they would fall out of your ears simply because you swiveled your head around too fast.
Flash forward three years when my husband gave me what he refers to as “the best gift ever”: AirPods (the regular kind). “They’ll give you both hands back,” he joked after witnessing me struggle to hold my son in one hand and my iPhone in the other countless times.
Shortly after—and much to my husband’s chagrin—Apple released an updated version of the gift I had just received: the AirPods Pro, which promise a souped-up version of the original, complete with noise cancellation and a customizable fit. Lucky for me, I had the chance to test those for work.
Back to my original question: Are AirPods worth it? Now, I’m a total convert. In fact, I lament the fact that it took me so long to break up with my constantly tangled connected pair. Here, a breakdown of my experience using both versions, plus an expert’s take.
1. First, My Review of the Regular AirPods ($160)
The Pros: Like I said, my early assessment of the AirPods was based on skepticism and a commitment to old tech habits. But as a mom, AirPods made my life infinitely easier. (Trust me, steering a stroller one-handed while trying to chat on the phone is near impossible.) Setting up the regular second-generation AirPods (released in 2019) was also a cinch—and the Bluetooth activation took less than a minute. My initial fear that the AirPods wouldn’t stay in my ears also vanished upon first use. Weirdly, they feel pretty snug. I even used them on a run, and barring a few safety checks to make sure they were tightly in place, I have become way more cavalier about the fact that they might fall out. The sound quality is pretty good, too, and the charge lasts. (You’ll get up to five hours of use before having to pop them back into the wireless charging case, which acts as a recharger and should net you an additional 20 hours.) And while you can only double tap to play music or skip songs, you can ask Siri to do pretty much everything else (phone a friend or play a specific song, for example).
The Cons: What happens if you lose an AirPod? Well, I had a chance to test that experience when I accidentally misplaced one while cleaning my apartment. As it turned out, I had leaned awkwardly and grazed my hallway coatrack, dropping my bud out of sight by my recycling bin. Here’s the problem: While Apple allows you to “Find My AirPods” just as it allows you to “Find My iPhone,” it gives you an address, not an exact spot. And while it also emits a beep, it’s not a loud one, and five hours of battery life doesn’t leave a ton of time to find that bud. I found it after retracing my steps—but keep in mind, a lost AirPod is tiny and trickier to locate than a phone.
2. Now, My Take On the AirPods Pro ($249)
The Pros: There’s me, an office with an open floor plan and a zillion stories to write on deadline. When I pop in my AirPods Pro and go into my iPhone’s settings, all I have to do is switch from “Transparency Mode” to “Noise Cancellation” mode and with a swoosh, the world around me (namely, my coworkers’ voices) fades away. It’s a nice effect. Not kidding, the Pro version of the AirPods levels up in places where the regular AirPods fall short. The buds themselves come with a customizable silicone seal so you can fine-tune the fit in your ears (worries about them falling out = gone), and the option to toggle between regular and noise cancellation so easily means you can tune in to or out of your surroundings at the tap of a button. The charging case also delivers a recharge that yields a surprisingly long battery life. I know Apple promises 24 hours of use via the case, but I feel like it might be longer? I can typically get through a workweek without needing more juice. Pretty impressive.
The Cons: Siri is still your go-to when it comes to carrying out simple actions—like requesting a song—via your AirPods. But instead of activating via double tap, you have to squeeze both sides of the stem of one of the AirPods. It took me some time to master.
3. So, Are AirPods Worth It? Which Pair Should You Buy?
If you’re leading an Apple-centric life, I’d say AirPods are a must-have. Go for the regular second-generation version if you’re just looking for the basics (good sound, lengthy battery life) and get the Pro if you live for noise cancellation. (Performance-wise, the AirPods Pro do a really impressive job of swallowing up the noise all around you.)
I did ping an expert—tech blogger Carley Knobloch—to get her thoughts on investing in a pair. Her take: “Generally, AirPods behave really nicely with the iPhone in terms of ‘knowing’ when you’re using them and when you’re not—a feature that helps with battery life.” She adds that a lot of the other features found in AirPods are available in other true wireless earphone options. “I love the Master & Dynamic MW07 in tortoiseshell, and also the Powerbeats Pro, which has a wrap that helps them stay on during workouts.”
Clearly, options abound. But if you need me, I’ll be writing to the beautifully noise-canceled sounds of my AirPods Pro playing The Cider House Rules soundtrack, my go-to background music when there’s work to be done.