AirPods are the best selling wireless earbuds hands down. If you live in a city you can’t walk two blocks without spotting their iconic shape, but their environmental impact can be called a tragedy.
The AirPods has much better sound quality than the earbuds Apple includes for free with their iPhones, but why pay $159 when there are $30 earbuds that claim to be just as good. Just because AirPods are the most ubiquitous doesn’t mean they are the best.
Let’s start with what they get right. AirPods work with other Apple products really well. The W1 or the newer H1 chip pairs instantly to any supported Apple device. It has less interference compared to other wireless earbuds and features like taking out an AirPod to pause your music or audio sharing are really useful.
Average sound quality
Unfortunately, the AirPods also have some huge flaws. The biggest downside is that their sound quality is just OK. AirPods produce a perfectly average sound that’s clear in the mid tones and is good for podcasts and conversations but when it comes to music it really sound quality really suffers. And because of their open design, sound isolation is terrible. There’s also no noise cancellation, so you’ll be stuck hearing traffic or crowds around you.
On the other hand the Jabra Elite 65t produce much better sound and are about the same price. Even budget alternatives like the $80 (AED 277 from Amazon.ae) Anker SoundCore earbuds offer just as good sound for half the price.
Poor battery life
You might think you can put up with the sound quality, but there’s one issue you can’t avoid, and that is the battery life. AirPods offer five hours of battery time on a single charge which sounds great on paper. But since they’re released three years ago, there have been numerous reports of decreased battery capacity overtime. Often the battery capacity on one AirPod will deteriorate faster than the other, leaving you with an uneven charge.
In March, Apple Insider compared AirPods from 2016 to a new pair for 2018. They found that after one hour of listening, the older pair had 19% less battery in each bud compared to the new pair. Apple seems to be aware of this issue, it even offers a special battery repair service. But that cost 49 to $69. If your charging case is having battery issues, that’s another 49 to $69. Out of warranty replacing each bud and the case cost $30 more than a brand new pair. The short battery life span might force you to buy a new AirPods after two or three years.
No water resistance
And that’s not it. Even if your batteries still hold a charge, you might have to replace your AirPods after getting caught in the rain. Because unlike any earbuds, AirPods have no water resistance. Apple doesn’t even advertise sweat resistance. It’s a real bummer to worry if your $159 AirPods will survive some light rain.
The broader impact of all of this is much more serious. AirPods are a waste nightmare. iFixit.com gives AirPods a 0 out of 10 repairability score. That means if something breaks or your battery isn’t holding a charge, your only option is to replace it with a new unit. Apple’s own repair is really just a replacement. All electronics create waste, but the short lifespan of AirPods means waste is created much faster than it is for something like a laptop and this will likely get worse as air pods and other wireless earbuds become more popular.
If you are a die hard AirPods fan you might be thinking how AirPods aren’t the only wireless earbuds to have these issues. You are right, but with AirPods you’re paying a premium for mediocre features and quality, just to be part of the Apple ecosystem.
AirPods integrates seamlessly with other Apple devices and are well built but that doesn’t automatically make them work the price. Removing the headphone jack from the iPhone, Apple has forced consumers towards expensive options that have to be replaced more frequently than other wireless headphones. A lot of consumers will be better off with a cheaper alternative and the environment would be better off with a more sustainable option.