Apple made AirPods even better with three impressive features

Jacob Krol, CNN Underscored
Thu March 28, 2019

Story highlights

  • Apple's second-generation AirPods come with a wireless or standard charging case
  • Those who recently bought original AirPods can upgrade with a wireless charging case

I'm a big fan of AirPods, and I've been wearing my first-generation ones basically every day since December 2016. But the wear and tear has begun to show, with battery life running out in less than five hours with everyday use. So I was pretty happy when Apple unveiled second-generation AirPods with a new H1 chip, better battery life and wireless charging.

In fact, there are three AirPods models now:

  • AirPods with Wireless Charging Case ($199.99; amazon.com)
  • AirPods with Charging Case ($159.99; amazon.com)
  • Wireless Charging Case for AirPods ($79.99; amazon.com)

The first two feature the updated AirPods with the new technology inside. The wireless charging case adds that functionality to the first-generation AirPods, a welcome upgrade for those who might have gotten a pair recently.

The changes might not seem that big for AirPods 2.0, but after a few days of testing, I'm walking away very impressed with the AirPods with wireless charging case.

Let's talk through why.

Wireless charging and 24-hour battery life

Probably the most expected addition is wireless charging. Yes, you no longer have to plug your AirPods in with a Lightning connector to revive the battery, although that is still an option. The wireless charging case variants have Qi charging built in. So you can place the AirPods on almost any wireless charger to begin getting power. It's not fast charging and won't be as fast as a wired connection, but it's a bonus. Additionally, you can charge these AirPods on an Android phone, like the Galaxy S10 with Wireless Power Share.

After a long day, it's really nice to place the AirPods on a wireless charging pad and have them be at 100% in the morning. It's by no means a necessity, but it's an added convenience.

The AirPods themselves pack around five hours of listening time on a full charge, and the case can be used to recharge them on the go. While Apple doesn't specify the battery inside, the earbuds and case as a whole should provide around 24 hours of listening time. This is pretty much on par with what I found during my testing.

As with any device that contains rechargeable batteries, after some time the cells will end up having shorter lifespans. I certainly experienced that on my original AirPods, so it was nice to see a full five hours of battery life for listening, and then over a day's worth of life with the case. Plus, Apple improved the battery life for talk time to three hours on a single charge, and up to 18 with recharges from the case.

Apple's H1 chip improves calls and connections

In a similar vein to longer battery life with phone calls, Apple also worked on improving call quality. With the original AirPods and other Bluetooth headphones, taking calls on a crowded street or a windy day could lead to a very muffled experience. At some points, the person on the other end might not even be able to hear you. The experience is a lot clearer on the second-generation buds.

With the new software architecture, algorithms and the H1 chip, these AirPods are better at picking out your voice and canceling out wind and background noise. I tested this directly against the first-generation AirPods outside in the wind and at home with a TV on. With both of these tests, the new AirPods delivered a more unambiguous call and made it an enjoyable conversation.

Plus, that Apple H1 chip is paired with Bluetooth 5.0 for a stronger and quicker connection. You'll notice this from the get-go when first pairing the AirPods with your iPhone or iOS device. As soon as you begin to open the lid, a message will appear on the screen asking you to connect. It's really fast, and the experience doesn't end after you first pair.

The auto-connection -- or as Apple describes it, the magic -- is fast from the moment you place the AirPods in your ears. It takes less than two seconds for my iPhone or Apple Watch to notice the connection. Additionally, since the AirPods get connected to your iCloud account, they will automatically appear in the Bluetooth list on your Mac, iPad or Apple TV as well. The quick switching functionality works much better than on the original and is still an impressive feature.

'Hey Siri' is handy

I was a little skeptical about hands-free Siri or "Hey Siri" arriving on the AirPods, but I was really surprised by how handy the feature is.

Whether it was to send a text, set a remind, ask for directions or even make a call, I didn't experience any hiccups with Siri on AirPods. It takes a second or two for Siri to kick in after you say the command word, but it will generally start listening sooner. Thanks to the dual beam-forming microphones on the AirPods themselves, it's able to pick up the request. That H1 tech that works to block out background noise and focus in on your voice is being used here as well.

These can still pump up the jams

AirPods still sound great, and they perform a bit better than the originals. From first listen to several songs later, I noticed that these seem to produce a broader and fuller array of audio. They seem to get louder than the first-generation AirPods as well, and it will be interesting to revisit this a few months down the line.

They're great for many types of music, from rock to pop to smooth jazz and even classical. There aren't many alterations going onto the track, and the AirPods generally present it in a very well-balanced experience.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it

AirPods have become a cultural phenomenon for a multitude of reasons, and whether you like or hate the design, it's here to stay. With the second-generation AirPods, you won't notice any difference in the design. They're still white and still modeled on Apple's classic earbuds. It's a bit unlike Apple not to change up the design, especially since there's no way to show off that you have the newer ones, but you can expect their popularity to continue.

The case itself has a small update. Instead of the single LED indicator light being hidden under the lid, it's now found on the front of the case. Apple didn't change the notification colors: Green is fully charged, orange is charging and white is pairing.

There's a reason AirPods are the most popular headphones

Apple's second-generation AirPods don't change all that much from the original, and they still impress. The longer talk time, wireless charging capabilities and the H1 chip are all added features that are useful. You will probably enjoy the ability to charge wirelessly and to text someone without touching your iPhone.

Unlike some headphones that focus on gimmicks that jack up the price without really adding value, the AirPods with wireless charging case ($199.99; amazon.com) deliver more features that consumers will use.

If you just bought a first-generation pair, I think you can hold off a bit and save some money by opting for the wireless charging case ($79.99; amazon.com). If the battery starts to go, the AirPods with wireless charging case should be your first choice. I know I'm going to grab a pair ASAP.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.