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AirPods 2 vs. AirPods: What's the difference?

When it comes to AirPods 2 vs. AirPods, as we said in our AirPods 2 review, the differences are small and, in some ways, not different at all (the color and style, for example). Because of the minor upgrade, it becomes even more challenging to decide what to buy. Should you upgrade from the first generation? Should you get the Wireless Charging Case?

To be honest, we think you should consider the AirPods 3, which are the latest generation of AirPods. However, the AirPods 3 have a design that is more in line to AirPods Pro, so if you prefer the older design and fit of AirPods, then let's break down the AirPods 2 vs. AirPods battle right now.

AirPods 2 vs. AirPods: The specs

AirPods 1AirPods 2
Battery life (talk)2 hours3 hours
battery life (music)5 hours5 hours
ChipsetW1H1
Bluetooth version4.25.0
Siri connectionDouble-tap to activateVoice-activated or double-tap
Wireless chargingWith additional Wireless Charging Case purchaseWith Wireless Charging Case
iOS system requirementsiOS 10 or lateriOS 12.2 or later
watchOS system requirementswatchOS 3 or laterwatchOS 5.2 or later
macOS system requirementsmacOS High Sierra 10.13.6 or latermacOS Mojave 10.14.4 or later
Apple TV supportYesYes

AirPods 2 vs. AirPods: Should you upgrade from first generation?

AirPods 2 and AirPods earbuds side-by-side

AirPods 2 earbuds (Image credit: iMore / Future)

The short answer here is yes, definitely. The original AirPods first came out in 2016, so as of right now, they're about six years old. In that time span, there may have been a lot of battery degradation, and your first-gen AirPods may not be lasting as long as they used to when you first got them. I'd honestly be surprised if they last more than an hour or two at this point. Plus, you won't be able to find a new pair of original, first-gen AirPods anywhere these days besides places like eBay, and who knows if those are used or not (gross!)

Not to mention that Apple did make some nice improvements to the second-gen AirPods, so there is plenty of reason to upgrade. First, it comes with the newer H1 chipset rather than the original W1, which connects even faster than the first gen. The AirPods 2 is also overall better because it has a longer talk time, voice-activated Siri, lower latency, and stronger connectivity than its predecessor.

The original AirPods came out in 2016, so as of right now, they're about six years old.

However, Apple didn't change the look of AirPods at all from the first generation to the second. They have the same speaker placement, which doesn't necessarily work with all ears (AirPods Pro may be a better contender for some), and still only come in white. If you're hoping to show off how much cooler you are than everyone else with the latest AirPods, no one's going to be able to tell the difference. But you could get some cool AirPods cases to add some style and flair to either generation of AirPods if you want. If you don't necessarily care that you have the real thing or not, you could even go the route of knockoff AirPods — most people won't be able to tell the difference, and you can save some dough in the process.

With that being said, here are a few things for you to consider before making your final decision.

The H1 chip is a significant improvement over the W1

The "W" series of chipsets focuses on Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connecting and is used in various wireless headphones, like Beats, as well as the Apple Watch line. 

The newer "H" series is Apple's headphones-focused chipset. It's designed to provide faster connectivity, higher-quality audio, and lower latency (in layman’s terms, lag), which benefits certain things like gaming.

The H1 chip improves upon the W1 chip in the following ways:

  • Up to 50% more talk time
  • 2X faster switching between devices
  • Faster connection to phone calls
  • Stronger connectivity
  • 30% lower latency for gaming
  • Support for voice-activated Siri

If the bane of your existence is that it can take too long to switch your AirPods from your iPhone to your Mac, or if you accidentally curse at your boss because you're in a rage because your AirPods didn't switch fast enough from listening to music or answering the phone, the upgrade starts to look much more appealing.

If you've tried playing Call of Duty mobile on your iPhone with AirPods and threw them in the trash because the lag time was atrocious, you should think about upgrading from the first-generation to the second-generation AirPods.

A better phone call experience

Thanks to the H1 chip, when comparing AirPods 2 vs. AirPods, the second-gen has longer support for talk time than its predecessor. Apple notes up to 50% more, though lists talk time as three hours (original AirPods has two hours of talk time). 

The H1 chip also improves how fast you connect to an incoming phone call from listening to some other form of audio, like music or videos, which is up to 1.5 times faster. This may seem like a small improvement, but if you usually find yourself saying, "Hello? Hello? Hello?" every time you answer the phone, you can cut out one-and-a-half of those hellos with AirPods 2.

Apple also improved the audio and voice quality of the second-generation AirPods. Not only will you be able to hear your phone conversations better, but you'll also sound better to people you're on the phone with.

Siri voice-activation vs. double-tap activation

To activate Siri on the first-generation AirPods, you'd double-tap either the left or right bud. It takes a couple of seconds to activate, but when it does, you can ask Siri for help in a wide variety of ways, including adjusting the volume and controlling playback. Unfortunately, it's also way too easy to accidentally double-tap the earbud when you just meant to adjust positioning. Plus, it's hard to remember which bud you assigned Siri to (if you've assigned the other to something else, like Play/Pause). I ended up disabling double-tap for Siri on my AirPods because I found the experience too annoying.

With AirPods 2, you can activate Siri with your voice. Just like you would with your best iPhoneApple Watch, and HomePod, saying "Hey, Siri" will get the virtual assistant's attention. This is more convenient for several reasons, not the least of which being that you can disable double-tap to activate Siri and still be able to use it. Though I still don't think this feature is enough to upgrade from original AirPods, this might be a significant feature for some. For example, people with disabilities could benefit greatly from activating Siri without needing to reach up and double-tap a bud.

Should you buy AirPods 2 with a Wireless Charging Case?

AirPods 2 with charging case

AirPods 2 with charging case (Image credit: iMore / Future)

If you've never bought a pair of AirPods, and you're ready to make the jump, it's a no-brainer that you should get the second-generation model over the first. However, the next question is whether you should spend an additional 40 dollars and upgrade to the AirPods 2 with a Wireless Charging Case. 

Do you own a great wireless charging pad? If so, this would be a worthwhile upgrade. I love being able to just set my iPhone on a charging pad like I'm setting it on any old table. I can pick it up and set it down as often as I like, and it will always charge up when it's on the pad. Charging your AirPods can be done the same way with the Wireless Charging Case. Drop it on the pad when you get home from work, and it'll be juiced up by the time you head out for a workout.

Drop your AirPods on the pad when you get home from work, and it'll be juiced up by the time you head out for a workout.

The original AirPods did not come with the Wireless Charging Case, which is $79 by itself. If you buy AirPods 2 with the Wireless Charging Case, it’s just a total of about $165 (without the Wireless Charging Case, AirPods 2 is around $99 these days). Even though the Wireless Charging Case is compatible with the original AirPods, again, those are pretty old at this point and probably have enough battery degradation going on where a wireless charging case is the least of your worries.

But if you want to take it a step further, both the AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro now come with a MagSafe Charging Case instead of just a Wireless Charging Case. This means the case will automatically “snap” into place on any of your MagSafe chargers.

Should you buy just the Wireless Charging Case for your original AirPods?

AirPods Wireless Charging Case

AirPods 2 charging case (Image credit: iMore / Future)

Apple also sells the Wireless Charging Case separately, and it's compatible with both the first and second-generation AirPods. So, you can get a “new feature” without having to go all-in on a new pair of AirPods, but should you? At as much as 80 dollars, you're spending a pretty penny just to have wireless charging, especially when you consider the fact that you can buy other third-party wireless charging cases for a lot less.

Consider how often you charge the Charging Case, too. I usually only have to recharge the case about once per week (even less if I don't use the AirPods every day). Since you don't have to charge up your Charging Case every day, do you really need the convenience of wireless charging?

If you aren't impressed with either the first-generation or second-generation AirPods because the price is just too high, you may want to consider our favorite fake AirPods. They look like the real thing but don't cost as much.

Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed.

When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.