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Exploring and Using Apple AirPods Cordless Bluetooth Earbuds
After much anticipation, Apple released their cordless Bluetooth earbuds,
called AirPods, in late 2016. Initial reviews were mixed: some said they
didn’t sound better than the standard corded earbuds that come with Apple
products. Others were extremely happy with the sound, ease of use, Siri
accessibility, and comfort level. I agree with these positive reviewers and,
apparently, so do many other people, since AirPods are selling very well
and there is usually a wait to get them.
Using Bluetooth to Cut the Cord
It has always been a hassle to use earbuds with their tangle-prone cords.
AirPods solve that problem by using radio waves instead of cables to
What’s in the Box
The box itself is approximately 4 inches square and the top lifts off. On
top is a tactile version of the AirPods in side profile. AirPods feel like
standard earbuds minus the connecting wire. Inside the box are two AirPods,
a charging case, and a Lightning to USB cable. Printed documentation is
The charging case measures 1.74 by 0.84 by 2.11 inches, weighs 1.34 ounces,
and feels like a dental floss box. On the front side of the case, near the
top, is a lid that flips up. It is magnetic and closes easily. On the back
of the case is a small pairing button, used to pair the Apple TV and
non-Apple devices with the earbuds. On the bottom of the case is the
AirPods arrive in the charging case. Inside the case are two magnetic holes
for the AirPods. There is only one way for them to fit. You use the case to
charge your AirPods.
Each AirPod has a part that goes into your ear and a small stem that hangs
Each AirPod is 0.65 by 0.71 by 1.59 inches and weighs 0.14 ounces. They
contain Apple’s proprietary W1 chip. Each AirPod contains Dual beamforming
microphones, dual optical sensors, and a speech-detecting accelerometer.
AirPods fit only one way in their case. In your ear, the hole in each AirPod
faces forward. Therefore, there is a designated right and left AirPod.
Lightning to USB Cable
The Lightning to USB cable arrives from Apple under the plastic insert in
the shipping box. If using one of the new MacBooks with USB-3 ports, you
will need an adaptor. An AC wall-charging cube is not included.
iOS 10 or later is required for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Mac
computers require macOS Sierra or later. The Apple Watch requires watchOS 3
or later. AirPods can be used with the 4th generation Apple TV, but the
pairing process is a little different that it is for newer models. AirPods
also can be paired with non-Apple devices.
According to Apple, AirPods get up to five hours listening time or two hours
talk time. The AirPod case itself contains a battery that charges the
AirPods. With the case fully charged it is possible to get 24 hours
listening time and 11 hours talk time. After a 15-minute charge in the case,
you can get up to three hours listening time or one-hour talk time. When
the AirPods’ battery charge is low, you will hear a descending sound. It
will repeat just before the AirPods turn off due to lack of battery power.
There is no audio clue that the case charge is low; you have to check the
battery level manually.
Siri can be accessed on your AirPods if they are paired with an iOS device,
Mac, or Apple Watch. As of May 2017, Siri is not available with Apple TV.
How to use Siri will be discussed later in this article.
Before using your AirPods, they need to be paired with a device. You need to
pair them only once. If you have devices in your iCloud account, the
AirPods will have access to all. You can use one AirPod at a time.
Pairing with the iPhone
Pair the AirPods with an iPhone by placing the charging case, with AirPods
inside, next to the phone. Make sure the AirPods are charged before doing
so. Open the lid on the case and keep it open. A dialogue box will come up
asking if you want to pair the AirPods with your phone. Make your
Once paired, when you put the AirPods in your ears, you will hear a one-note
tone and sound will be routed to them automatically. If listening to
content such as music or an audiobook, play will stop as soon as one AirPod
is removed from your ear. It will start again when the AirPod is replaced.
If you are wearing two AirPods and take one out, play will stop. If you are
wearing one AirPod and you take it out, play will stop.
Once your AirPods are paired with your iPhone, you can use VoiceOver to
check battery power. With the case near your phone, open the lid and a
dialogue will appear on the screen. It will show the charge for both the
AirPods and the charging case. Flicking around the screen to read the
dialogue does not always work. Slide your finger around the bottom half to
access the information. When the Lightning charging cable is in the case,
the dialogue will say that the case is charging. Close the dialogue by
closing the lid of the charging case.
Another way to check the charge is on the Today screen. Information is under
the Battery heading.
To access all Settings options, your AirPods must be either in their case
with the lid open or out of the case either in your ears or near the
iPhone. Settings for AirPods are found in the Bluetooth section of the
phone. Go to Settings > Bluetooth. Under the My Devices heading is a list of
all your Bluetooth devices. Find your AirPods in the list.
Flick right to the More Info button and select it. The first option is a
Disconnect button followed by a button labeled Forget This Device. The next
control is a button that is to the right of your AirPods’ name. Selecting
the button will open an edit box for a new name.
Next are three options for choosing what happens when you do a one-finger
double-tap near the top of an AirPod. They are: Siri, Play/Pause, and Off.
The next control is a toggle for automatic ear detection. When on, content
will be transferred automatically to the AirPods as soon as they are in
Use the final control for choosing whether only one AirPod has the
microphone or whether both sides have it. The options are Automatically
Switch AirPods, Always Left AirPod, and Always Right AirPod. Since they are
beam microphones, it is not necessary to speak loudly.
Connecting your AirPods to other Apple Devices
If you want to switch between Apple devices, you will need to go into the
device’s Bluetooth settings. For example, I was using AirPods with my Mac
and disconnected them when I was done. When I used the AirPods again, they
automatically started working with my Mac. To use them with my iPhone, I
went into my Mac’s Bluetooth settings, disconnected them from the Mac, and
connected them to the iPhone.
AirPods and the Mac
Connect AirPods to your Mac by going to Menu Extras and selecting Bluetooth.
Look for the AirPods in the Devices list. From there, use the Right Arrow
or VO + Right Arrow to get to Connect and select it. You can check battery
level by going back into the Bluetooth menu and selecting the AirPods. This
time, Right Arrow to Disconnect but do not select it. VO + Down Arrow and
you will hear the battery level of your AirPods.
When listening to audio content such as iTunes, removing one AirPod or
pressing the Spacebar will stop the music. Putting the AirPod back in your
ear or pressing the Spacebar again will start the music. Taking both
AirPods out of your ears will cause sound to come from the computer’s
speakers. Putting the AirPods back into your ears will route sound back to
AirPods and the Apple Watch
The Apple Watch also works with AirPods. Go to the Control Center on your
watch and select Air Play. Your watch is already automatically selected. If
not, select it from the Air Play list. Flick down and there will be a
button for selecting your AirPods. Select it and your Apple Watch’s sound
will come through your AirPods.
Using AirPods with Apple TV
Pairing AirPods with Apple TV is different than pairing with other Apple
devices. Start by selecting Settings/Bluetooth/Remotes & Devices/Bluetooth.
Find your AirPods in the list. On the back of the charging case is a small
button. Hold it down for a couple of seconds. Then, without letting go of
the button, select your AirPods with the remote. You can then release the
button. Siri does not work with AirPods paired with Apple TV, but you still
have access via the remote.
Find My AirPods
The Find My iPhone app can help you find your AirPods unless they are out of
range or in their case. Select your AirPods from the list of devices in
Find My AirPods. When the next screen loads, tap the Actions button, which
is located above the home button. On the next screen, select the Play Sound
button that is above the home button but slightly to the right. The AirPods
will play a sound for two minutes. When they are located, pick them up or
put them in their case, and in a few seconds the sound will stop. I found
that VoiceOver took a few seconds to start working after the sound stopped.
The Bottom Line
AirPods are well worth the investment; they are comfortable, convenient, and
provide very good sound. Once paired with one of your devices, they can
easily be connected to all the iOS and macOS devices on your same iCloud
account. You can buy one AirPod if you lose one. This is actually my second
pair of AirPods. My guide dog chewed one of my AirPods and I left the other
one in a hotel room when I attended a conference. For me, it was definitely
worth purchasing a second pair.
Product: Apple AirPods
Cost: $159 per pair; $69 for a single replacement
Author: Janet Ingber