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10 Reasons to Avoid a New Pair of Apple AirPods

The Invention and Rapid Rise of Apple AirPods
In 2016, Apple made the then-controversial decision to remove the 3.5mm headphone jack from the iPhone 7, pushing consumers towards wireless Bluetooth headphones. Alongside the iPhone 7, Apple unveiled their solution: the $159 AirPods. Despite initial skepticism, AirPods quickly became a smash hit. Apple sold an estimated 60 million pairs of AirPods in 2019, capturing over 50% of the global wireless earbud market.

The AirPods were soon followed by the AirPods Pro in 2019, adding features like noise cancellation and customizable ear tips at an even higher $249 price tag. AirPods are now a common sight everywhere, and a highly profitable business for Apple, expected to bring in $15 billion in revenue for 2020.

However, while there‘s no denying the convenience and "cool factor" of AirPods, there are numerous reasons why you should think twice before buying a pair. From high prices to mediocre sound quality to environmental waste, the downsides of AirPods are too significant to ignore. Let‘s examine the top reasons to avoid Apple‘s wireless earbuds.

Reason 1: Sky-High Prices
The most obvious drawback of AirPods is their high cost. At $159 for the basic AirPods and $249 for the AirPods Pro, these wireless earbuds are significantly more expensive than non-Apple alternatives with similar features:

  • Amazon Echo Buds: $129.99
  • Google Pixel Buds: $179
  • Samsung Galaxy Buds+: $149.99
  • Jabra Elite 75t: $179.99

Note that all of these competitors boast many of the same features as AirPods, including true wireless design, a charging case, touch controls, and voice assistant compatibility – at substantially lower prices. The Jabra Elite 75t even includes noise cancellation for $70 less than AirPods Pro.

If you lose or damage just one of your AirPods or the charging case, replacements are also pricey. A single replacement AirPod costs $69, while a replacement charging case is $59 for the basic model or $89 for the wireless charging version. Lose a single AirPod Pro bud? That‘ll be $89, please.

These sky-high prices are great for Apple‘s bottom line, but not so friendly for consumers‘ wallets – especially considering the alternatives now available at much more reasonable prices.

Reason 2: Poor Battery Life
For their premium price, you‘d expect AirPods to have stellar battery life. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Apple rates the AirPods for up to 5 hours of listening time, while the AirPods Pro last up to 4.5 hours with noise cancellation enabled.

In comparison, the significantly cheaper Amazon Echo Buds last up to 5 hours with noise reduction and the Jabra Elite 75t last a stellar 7.5 hours with noise cancellation. The charging case provides additional charges, but the AirPods‘ case provides a relatively low 24 hours of total playtime compared to 28 hours for the Echo Buds and 28 hours for the Elite 75t.

Even more concerning is that, due to the small size of the batteries, you can expect the AirPods‘ already mediocre playtime to decline as the batteries inevitably degrade over time. Speaking of which…

Reason 3: Non-Replaceable Batteries
Here‘s a bombshell: those tiny batteries in the AirPods can‘t be replaced when they eventually degrade and die, rendering your $159+ purchase essentially useless.

As rechargeable batteries are charged and drained over and over, they slowly lose capacity. You‘ve probably experienced this with an old smartphone or laptop. The same thing happens to the batteries in AirPods, except you can‘t just pop in a fresh battery yourself.

iFixit, a company known for "teardowns" of gadgets, gives the AirPods a repairability score of 0/10, noting that the buds are "glued together" and that not even a single component can be removed without damage. Forget replacing the battery – even Apple can‘t do it.

So when your AirPods inevitably start lasting for only an hour or two on a charge after a couple years, your only option is to throw them away and buy a whole new pair. Suddenly, that $159 price tag just became a recurring expense.

Reason 4: Easily Lost
One of Apple‘s biggest selling points for AirPods is how small and portable they are. And while their lightweight, compact design certainly makes them pocketable, it also makes them all too easy to misplace and lose.

Think about how often you‘ve seen single AirPods lying on the ground, or had your own roll under the car seat, fall between couch cushions, or disappear into a pants pocket. Heck, there are even reports of people accidentally swallowing AirPods in their sleep.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that there‘s no way to track down a missing AirPod bud if it‘s out of Bluetooth range or if the battery is dead. And as we covered earlier, replacements are far from cheap at $69 a pop. Suddenly, the "grab and go" convenience of AirPods seems like more of a liability.

In contrast, wireless earbuds from companies like Bose and Jaybird come with handy ear hooks or wingtips that keep them much more securely in place. The bulkier design of the charging case for the Powerbeats Pro also makes it harder to lose than the tiny, slippery AirPods case.

Reason 5: Durability Concerns
Besides being easy to lose, AirPods are also prone to damage due to their small, delicate construction and lack of official water resistance.

While AirPods technically have basic IPX4 water resistance (which Apple doesn‘t openly advertise), that only protects against light splashing, such as rain or sweat. They are far from fully waterproof, and many users have reported AirPods shorting out and dying from moisture exposure.

Additionally, the shiny plastic exterior of AirPods picks up scratches and dings very easily. And as we covered earlier, AirPods are impossible for the user to repair, so any physical damage means having to buy expensive replacements.

In comparison, true wireless earbuds from JLab, Treblab, and other brands openly tout IPX5 or even IPX7 waterproof ratings, meaning they can withstand jets of water or even full submersion. And their matte plastic or rubberized exteriors hide wear and tear much better than the glossy AirPods.

Reason 6: Uncomfortable for Many
When it comes to in-ear headphones, fit is key to both comfort and sound quality. Unfortunately, the AirPods‘ one-size-fits-all, non-adjustable design is simply not comfortable for everyone.

The hard plastic shell puts pressure on the ear and becomes painful for many users after extended wearing. And without customizable ear tips or wingtips, it‘s impossible to get a secure fit for different ear sizes and shapes.

While the AirPods Pro fare better with their silicone ear tips in three sizes, they still aren‘t nearly as adaptable or comfortable long-term as competitors like the Sony WF-1000XM3 or Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, which feature a much wider array of ear tip options and more ergonomic designs.

If the AirPods don‘t fit your ears well (and there‘s no way to know until you try them), you‘re stuck with an expensive pair of uncomfortable earbuds.

Reason 7: Meh Sound Quality
With their premium price and sleek design, you‘d expect AirPods to be at the cutting edge of wireless audio quality. But in reality, they‘re far from it.

Numerous expert reviews from SoundGuys, Wirecutter, and Rtr all conclude that the AirPods offer merely "okay" or "passable" audio quality – a far cry from the "premium sound" that Apple advertises. Bass is lacking, highs are harsh, and overall detail and soundstage are mediocre at best.

The AirPods Pro fare better, but still fail to live up to their $249 price from an audio quality perspective. In comparison, the Amazon Echo Buds, which cost $100 less, offer noticeably more bass and detail. The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 absolutely crush the AirPods Pro in sound quality across the frequency range.

For podcasts and YouTube videos, the AirPods‘ sound may be good enough. But for music, there are far better-sounding options available for a lot less dough.

Reason 8: Limited Functionality with Non-Apple Devices
While you technically can pair AirPods with any Bluetooth audio source, like an Android phone or Windows laptop, they definitely work best within the Apple ecosystem.

Features like instant pairing, automatic ear detection, customizable touch controls, and Siri voice assistant are only available when connected to an iPhone, iPad, or Mac. With an Android device, the AirPods will act as basic Bluetooth earbuds with no extra functionality.

If you‘re not an iPhone user, you‘ll be missing out on many of the AirPods‘ most convenient features by default. And you won‘t be able to use the AirPods at all with non-Bluetooth devices like some older TVs and gaming systems.

Competitors like the Jabra Elite 75t, on the other hand, offer an app for both iOS and Android that allows you to customize controls, adjust the EQ, and more. And their multipoint Bluetooth connection allows them to connect to two devices simultaneously.

Reason 9: Rapid Obsolescence
The dirty secret of AirPods is that, like many Apple products, they‘re essentially disposable. With non-replaceable batteries that degrade after just a couple years and the lack of repairability, you‘re forced to buy a whole new pair on a regular basis.

To reinforce this, Apple has been pumping out new AirPods models at a rapid pace. After releasing the original AirPods in late 2016, they followed up with the AirPods 2 in early 2019, the AirPods Pro in late 2019, and the AirPods Max over-ear headphones in late 2020. Rumors point to a new AirPods 3 model coming in early 2021.

At this rate, whatever AirPods you buy will be obsolete in a year or two as Apple releases newer models with better battery life, features, and sound quality. You‘ll feel the pressure to upgrade and toss your "old" AirPods in the trash to get the latest and greatest, even if your current pair still works.

This wasteful, disposable product cycle may be great for Apple‘s bottom line, but it‘s terrible for your wallet and the environment.

Reason 10: Environmental Impact
Speaking of the environment, AirPods‘ short lifespan and lack of repairability make them a major contributor to the growing problem of electronic waste.

It‘s estimated that over 50 million pairs of AirPods have been sold since their introduction. With each AirPod containing a lithium-ion battery and circuit boards encased in plastic, and their average lifespan being only a couple years, that‘s a whole lot of toxic, non-biodegradable waste headed for the landfill in short order.

Making matters worse, AirPods are extremely difficult to recycle due to their small size and tightly-sealed design. Recycling centers have to manually disassemble them to remove the batteries – a painstaking, time-consuming process.

Some critics have even accused Apple of intentionally making AirPods hard to recycle to force users to buy new ones, calling them a "future toxic waste disaster."

In comparison, wireless earbuds with replaceable batteries and repairable designs, like the Samsung Galaxy Buds and Google Pixel Buds, are much less environmentally harmful in the long run.

Alternatives to AirPods: Better and Cheaper Options
Fortunately, there are now numerous true wireless earbuds that offer better features, sound quality, battery life, and value compared to the AirPods – often at significantly lower prices. Some top AirPods alternatives to consider:

  • Amazon Echo Buds ($129.99): Active noise reduction, IPX4 water resistance, 5-hour battery, Alexa voice assistant
  • Samsung Galaxy Buds+ ($149.99): 11-hour battery life, adjustable ambient sound mode, customizable sound EQ
  • Google Pixel Buds ($179): Adaptive sound, IPX4 water resistance, real-time translation, excellent call quality
  • Jabra Elite 75t ($179.99): Noise cancellation, IP55 waterproof rating, 7.5-hour battery, customizable EQ
  • Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 ($299.99): Best-in-class sound quality, noise cancellation, 7-hour battery life

All of these options deliver premium features, better sound, and a more secure fit than the AirPods for a much better overall value.

The Bottom Line
While there‘s no denying the convenience and "cool factor" of AirPods, their high price, mediocre sound quality, poor fit, short lifespan, and contribution to e-waste make them far from the best choice in true wireless earbuds these days. Competitors now offer better sound, comfort, features, and battery life – often for significantly less money.

Unless you‘re fully bought into the Apple ecosystem and have to have those little white earbuds dangling from your ears, you‘re much better off saving your cash and picking up a pair of alternative ‘buds that will sound better, last longer, and go easier on your wallet and the planet.