Apple AirPods review (2020)

A brilliant mix of price, audio quality and ease of use, but they're not perfect for all circumstances

Apple AirPods

Apple's AirPods are magical pods for your ear holes. ($159 at Amazon)

There's a reason why my garage looks the way it does. Why I have 72 bits for my impact driver and some 32 drill bits and two hammers and a rubber mallet and 37 crescent wrenches and at least four screwdrivers in five places (I never did figure out how that happened) and a blowtorch alongside one of those long butane lighters you use to light things a blowtorch might be too much for.

There's the right tool for the right job.

That's also why I have a good half-dozen pairs of wireless headphones and earbuds laying around the house in varying states of charge. The right cans and buds for the right time.

And I finally broke down and got myself a set of Apple's AirPods , the ridiculously named (and even funnier looking) wireless version of the little buds that have come with Apple phones for so long.

Are these the right buds for all times? No. But they're the right buds for a lot of the time.

Apple AirPods

Ya know what? Yeah. They look a little funny. Just like every other earbuds that stick out of your ears.

Apple AirPods look and fit

Just get over how silly these things look, OK? We all look silly thirty different ways throughout the day. Just add little white sticks sticking out of your ears to the list. And it's really no different than having larger black bulbs sticking out of your ears, is it?

Once I decided to get over that hangup, the rest was easy. The AirPods still have that weird teardrop shape that feels like it'll fall out at any time. And if your ear holes simply refuse to accept that shape, you might well have trouble here. But I've been pleasantly surprised through numerous sweaty trips to the gym and enough sweaty trips outside to work in the yard (it's July in Florida as I type this, y'all), and I'd expected something to go wrong. That the monsoon streaming out of the top of my head would wash the AirPods away, or that the jostling of my middle-aged body on the elliptical machine would cause something else to come loose.

But, nope. These things have magically stayed put. I'm not going to think too much about it. (It's sort of like the magic of flying — it's best not to ask too much about how it happens.)

When not in use, you'll keep the AirPods in Apple's little AirPod home. Magic case. Home Case. Whatever. I've used a lot of wireless earbuds and too many of them need an advanced degree to figure out how to put them in the case. Not the AirPods. They drop right in stem-first, and you can only put the left in the left and the right in the right. Perfect.

The case charges via Lightning cable (and not USB-C, which was actually a little surprising given how Apple's moved to it with the MacBooks, but whatever), and that's easy enough. I'm definitely looking forward to wireless charging, though, if and when that finally happens. In the meantime, I keep meaning to grab one of those silicon covers , just to keep the thing from scratching, and to differentiate mine from the one's I'll be getting my wife for her birthday. (Shhhh. Don't tell.)

My only real complaint with the case is that I'd prefer to have the charging LED on the outside, so I don't have to open to see when the case is dead. But on the other hand it's lasted long enough, and it does a good job of showing the charging load on an iPhone. So a minor complaint, I suppose.

Using the AirPods

Apple promises a magical connection between the AirPods and an iPhone, and that's pretty much the case. Just open 'em, allow them to pair, and that's it. I've not experienced a single drop in audio — something I just can't say for pretty much every other pair of buds I've used. Doesn't matter which side of my body I keep my phone (usually on the left), and I've even gone so far as to leave my phone on a table 30 feet away while mowing the lawn, around the side of the house. (Again, though, there's no noise-cancellation, so it's still pretty loud.)

You'll get a surprising amount of bass. You'll have highs that aren't victims of audio artifacting.


AirPods work great with Apple TV, too — and anything that has Bluetooth, for that matter.

Same goes for connecting and using the AirPods with an Apple TV. If you use iCloud, your Apple TV will be aware of your AirPods. You'll still need to dive into the settings and choose the AirPods as an audio source, which is slightly annoying, but you won't have to actually pair them.

Don't use Apple stuff? These are still really good earbuds (again, providing they fit in your ears without issue) with pretty much any Bluetooth device. You don't get the automatic pairing via iCloud, but I wouldn't call that a huge deal.

Look at it like this: For relatively casual listening, AirPods are great. A really good mix of audio quality, price, and ease of use.

They're not perfect for every circumstance. In noisey situations — such as when I'm on a plane — I'm going to want to use something with more noise-cancellation. So it'll be Bose (or other headphones of that ilk) I'll turn to. If I'm mowing the lawn and actually want to hear voices or music, I'll need something that fits int he ear a little tighter.

For all the other times — including listening to TV at home — when I don't want to shut out the outside world? AirPods are excellent.