The new AirPods (aka the AirPods 2) were revealed rather unceremoniously ahead of Apple’s star-studded “It’s show time” event in late March. At first glance, they look suspiciously like the old AirPods. In fact, aside from some very minor aesthetic changes for the new wireless charging case, they’re identical when it comes to design.
So what’s the difference between these twin pairs of fully wireless earphones? We’ve put together a comprehensive comparison of everything that’s new in the latest AirPods — and everything that isn’t — so you can decide if they’re right for you.
Wired vs. wireless case
As mentioned, the charging cases for both the old and new AirPods are essentially identical, but if you opt for the wireless case — which will raise the price from $159 to $199, you’ll notice that the LED has been moved from inside the case to the front. This is so you can see the status of your AirPods when placed on a Qi wireless charging pad (sold separately).
As AirPods owners already know, amber means it needs a charge, green means it’s good to go. It should be noted, though, that the light goes away pretty quickly, so you can’t give it just a visual glance. You’ll need to pick it up and set it back down again.
If you’re not looking to upgrade your AirPods, but you’d still like wireless charging, you can also buy the wireless charging case separately for an even higher premium of $79.
Pull either set of AirPods out of their glossy white case and you’ll see they are exactly the same when it comes to design; the same golf tee antennas hanging down, the same little black acoustic screens, etc. Unfortunately for the more active listeners among us, Apple didn’t add any waterproofing, sports fins, or other additions to make them stay in during your workout.
When it comes to playback time, battery life is exactly the same as it was in 2016, with 5 hours per charge and up to 24 hours of reserve time in the case, which is still impressive more than two years later. That said, those 5 hours of playback are almost half what you’ll get from the latest Apple headphones release from its Beats brand, the Powerbeats Pro, which are expected to be released in May.
We expect similar battery life upgrades from multiple other true wireless earbuds in the coming months and years as well, so while the AirPods’ 5 hour playback time is still solid for fully wireless earbuds at present, Apple would have done well to raise the stakes a bit there.
The touch controls are also the same, which in some ways is too bad, as we would have loved a touch control for volume. Like the old AirPods, a double tap allows you to play and skip forward, with more options to swap in or out in your Bluetooth settings. As before, they still pause when you pull them out — if you’re using an iPhone, that is.
When it comes to sound performance, the new AirPods are exactly the same too. If you liked the old AirPods sound, that may be good news, but those looking for a bit more detail and definition won’t find that here. Unless your old AirPods are gunked up, you won’t find any sonic improvements here.
So what is different? Well, aside from the wireless charging case, it’s really all about the H1 chip, which replaces the original W1 chip to give the new AirPods some added features and better Bluetooth performance efficiency.
Talk time goes from 2 hours to 3 hours, for instance. That’s great if you really like to chat or you use your AirPods for multiple conference calls, but that extra hour of gabbing probably won’t be much of a boon for average users.
If you love Siri, you’ll love the new always-on Siri functionality (also available on the PowerBeats Pro), which allows you to use the digital assistant with just a simple “Hey, Siri” command. It’s fast and responsive — and also the only way to adjust volume without using your device (though, this obviously won’t work with Android devices).
Other minor upgrades include faster connection time for calls and between iOS devices, less lag for gaming, and a bit better call quality when you’re in a windy environment. Those upgrades are nice, but we would have traded most of them for options like waterproofing, a more secure fit for the gym, or longer battery life. It looks like Apple was saving those upgrades to help peddle the new Powerbeats Pro, which come with a higher price tag of $250.
The bottom line
While speedier connection and Hey Siri functionality are nice additions, this is a modest update overall. It should please Apple fans new to the true wireless genre, but these likely won’t be worth the upgrade for current AirPods owners or those less tied to the Apple ecosystem. If you really want some upgraded buds from Apple, you may well be better off saving up for the new Powerbeats Pro.