AirPods (2nd Gen) Hands-On

AirPods 2 being held by a Baby Groot statue
(Image: © Rene Ritchie / iMore)

You can call them AirPods 1 S. You can call them AirPods 1.5. You can even call them half-a-year late for, well, not dinner, don't be obvious, but for a second anniversary, iPhone-timed release. And that's fine. That's fair. I'm not going to argue what they aren't for you. That's entirely up to you. But I am going to tell you what they are and what they mean to me. That way, if you're trying to decide whether or not you should pull the trigger on them now, now, now, you'll have all the information you need to do just exactly that.

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So, what we have here, is something that looks, on the outside, pretty much dead-similar to what we had before, from box to buds.

Now, I live on AirPods. I use them for everything, from my walks in the morning and night to listening to and recording podcasts, to meetings and conference calls, to all the travel I do, be it to the coffee shop or, like now, yeah. Cupertino.

That means any and all updates and improvements have my most immediate attention.

AirPods (2nd Gen) The Case

Let's talk about the case first. I've got the wireless charging version here, which really means inductive charging. In other words, you can drop it down on a Qi-compatible pad and, with nary a Lightning Cable in sight, have them filled up and ready to rock again in no time.

Well, sometimes. You still have to transfer power from the coils in the pad to the coils in the case, but if you get in the habit of putting the case on the pad when you're not using it, like you do AirPods in the case, or Apple Pencil 2 on the new iPad Pro, then you start to forget they actually need to charge, or rather, you start to assume they're always charged.

It's living life just a little bit dangerously, but wow howdy is it fun.

And thanks to the light moving from an innie to an outie, you can now tell what the charge is at a glance, no flipping open needed.

The new case provides 24 hours or more of battery life to the AirPods. I typically only use one at a time, because I'm a monster who listens to podcasts and audiobooks and watches YouTube videos far more than music, so switching between them makes them feel like they effectively last forever. That was true of the old ones already, so this is going to feel like forever…er…?

AirPods 2 charging case

AirPods 2 charging case (Image credit: iMore)

Apple promises 5 hours of listening time and, new for #2, up to 3 hours of talk time on a single charge. And if you do happen to run out, like if you use them to record back to back to back podcasts, you can take a quick break, and charge them back up to 3 hours in just 15 minutes. Hurrah.

Now, yes. That's change over time. Lithium-ion is lithium-ion and there's just a finite number of charge cycles to go around. My launch day 2016 pair is still fine for everything but the longest MacBreak weekly recording, but I am happy and more than ready for a fresh pair.

AirPods (2nd Gen): The Buds

The buds still look the same. They still come only in white, which is a bummer for anyone expecting black or Product Red. But, Apple's ear gear has been white since iPod to the point of it being iconic now, so while I'd love more variety I'm not holding my breath or my wallet waiting for it.

AirPods with Wireless Charging Case and iPhone in the background

AirPods with Wireless Charging Case and iPhone in the background (Image credit: Joseph Keller/iMore)

They still have the stalks, which some people find weird looking, because sticks are so much goofier than wires, right? Regardless, they still house the biggish batteries and bring the microphones much closer to our maws, which is why AirPods pick up your voice so much better than the bud-only types other companies are selling.

Plus, they make handy handles to get the AirPods out so you're not left trying to spelunk down to your eardrums just to dig them out, like Ceti Alpha 5 Eels from your pal Khan.

AirPods 2 earbuds

AirPods 2 earbuds (Image credit: iMore)

It's the buds themselves where some of you may still have issues. My grappling mangled ears can't keep Apple's wired EarPods in at all. Like at all at all. AirPods stay in much better for me. At least the left one does. The right one, not as much.

For some people, they're rock solid. For others, loosey-goosey. And that's the thing — the one size fits all either fits you or not at all. There are no alternatives or adjustments, at least not directly from Apple. And that just sucks if you want them to work out for your workouts and they just don't. Work because out, that is.

AirPods (2nd Gen): H1 Chipset & Hey Siri

New to AirPods 2 is the H1 chip, Apple's first generation headphone silicon. Or, ear computers as I like to call them. Equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, Apple says they deliver a faster and more stable connection than the W1 equipped originals. Two times faster when you're switching between devices, like from iPhone to Apple Watch, and 2x faster when connecting for calls. Also, up to 30% lower latency which is much better for gaming and, I'm hoping, people with audio accessibility needs.

Note: Although AirPods (Gen 1) with the W1 chip and AirPods (Gen 2) with the H1 chip can both use and charge with either the original or wireless case, you can't pair a Gen 1 bud with a Gen 2 bud. In other words, a left W1 AirPod (Gen 1) can't work with a right H1 AirPod (Gen 2) — there's no mix and match with the buds.

It all, again according to apple, results in higher-quality sound and a better experience for pretty much everything you do with AirPods.

H1 also enables on-device Hey Siri. That means no more tapping them twice to activate Apple's virtual assistant, and no more yelling across the room at your iPhone or HomePod. Just say Hey Siri and your AirPods will hear you and trigger all on their own. (The H1 chip and hardware has been optimized to hear the Hey Siri command, which also had the side benefit of improving mic reception in windy weather.)

It's a subtle difference compared to the iPhone-proxy of the previous generation but an important one, especially for Apple's near field voice aspirations. HomePod just nails the far-field part, so this really does round things out and positions things perfectly for the future of voice interface, if Apple can bring everything else around as well. And, yeah, still a big if.

And I'm really looking forward to putting them through their paces to find out just how true that is.

AirPods (Gen 2) Conclusion-so-far

So, yeah. Not everything. No iPhone-style water resistance, no Apple Pencil 2-style soft touch texture, no Apple Watch-style health sensors, no Bose-style noise cancelation, and still no color options. At least not yet.

Apple AirPods on iPhone

Apple AirPods on iPhone (Image credit: iMore)

But, new H1 chipset, new onboard Hey Siri, 50% more talk time, 30% lower latency, and an optional new inductive charging case.

How does it all come together? Will it even? I'm getting ready to grab a pair so check back soon for my hands-on and, in a week or so, my first review.

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Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.