Tag Archives: AirPods

One Year with Apple AirPods

It was a year ago that began selling the AirPods and they were sold out instantly. In fact, it was difficult to get them for months as Apple struggled to keep up with demand. Production finally caught in mid-summer up only to fall behind in recent weeks as holiday demand surged. I ordered mine within minutes of them going on sale so was lucky enough to get in on the first shipment. I’ve worn them many times a day every day since they arrived.

It’s been said by many over the past year that the AirPods were their favorite Apple product in recent memory. There’s no doubt, they are a delight to use. For anyone that enjoys music or podcasts on the go, especially those with an iPhone or Apple Watch, these are well worth the cost.

A few highlights:

  • They stay in my ears very well and many report the same thing. Even if the fit is not perfect, because there is no wire tugging, they tend to stay put.
  • The batteries last 3-4 hours and recharge very quickly in the case which lasts for 3-4 days.
  • Siri works fantastically.
  • Phone calls are great. The mic does a great job of cancelling out background noise providing clean audio for the person I’m talking to.
  • With the occasional oddball exception, they pair up quickly with whatever device I’m trying to use. Usually iPhone or AppleWatch, sometimes an iPad.
  • I’m often streaming music from my iPhone to the AppleTV. When I head out for a walk I pop the AirPods in and the music switches to them with no action from me. That’s the kind of magic that makes me smile.
  • They rarely drop the connection and have a pretty fantastic range. I often step outside my tiny house, forgetting the phone inside (sometimes leaving it deliberately) and can take care of little tasks such as refilling bird feeders, watering plants on the deck, etc. A 30 foot range is pretty typical. At about 40 feet they start to drop a bit.
  • I use them a lot with Siri to control audio especially in the winter when my phone is in a pocket, I’m wearing gloves and the watch is under layers of clothing. I often tap through hats and hoods to activate Siri and it works great to change artist, repeat a song, skip forward, etc. Same to answer or initiate a call.
  • I have not lost them. They are in my ears or in the case. The case is on a shelf (they have their spot) or in my pocket. Basically I treat them the same way I treat other little things such as my keys.

Apple Watch Series 3

I never write reviews. There are plenty of folks doing that sort of thing. But I often post a few brief thoughts on new purchases.

I’ve not been a watch wearer in many years. And with the iPhone felt even less of a need to have one. I don’t need a watch given that I always have the phone with me. Since it’s release the Apple Watch has been only a slight interest for me, primarily in terms of it’s health application. But with Apple Music and AirPods the interest grew. The prospect of being able to get out for walks and still enjoy music and track steps without the phone was appealing.

I finally decided to give it a go with the Apple Watch Series 3 and I’ve not been disappointed.

I bought it with LTE but haven’t used the LTE much. I’m on Sprint and the signal here is a bit weak and so often times the watch doesn’t have an LTE signal. Not a big problem. I usually have the phone with me anyway. I do a lot of walking and outside work around the cabin and the watch continues to work as fitness tracker and for the Apple Music with our without a cell signal or nearby phone.

As a fitness tracker the watch is great. I’d expected that having the rings would be an additional motivator and that’s true. I didn’t have a problem getting in 10,000 steps on a regular basis but I knew that that was not the complete picture. The rings also provide a nice tracker of intensity, particularly the green ring. Turns out I can get all the steps and fill the red ring but not fill the green because 30 minutes of exercise requires a certain intensity, a higher level of exertion. So, now I don’t just get my steps I also make sure to quicken my pace for some of my walks. I’ve also learned that cutting grass with my electric push mower burns a lot more calories than I realized due to increased intensity.

Nice.

Music on the watch with the AirPods is excellent and honestly, LTE is not required. The watch easily syncs music when plugged in and attached to Wifi. By default it syncs Apple playlists such as New Music, Favorites, and Chill as well as any recent/often listened to music. I can also add any playlist I want. The result is that I have yet to need streaming when playing from the watch. The watch also works as a great remote if I happen to be playing music from the iPhone.

I’m not using many apps aside from Music and the fitness related apps. I’ve got Carrot Weather which is nice and I’ve found Messages pretty useful.

Last is Siri which probably could have come first. I use Siri a lot. Many times a day and Siri on the Watch is fantastic! Very fast and accurate. Possibly better than any other Apple device. A very pleasant surprise. I’ve now got Siri on my wrist, my phone and two always on iPads. Whether I’m scheduling an event, fast forwarding a podcast, creating a reminder or turning off the lights it is rare that I do not get the response I want.

As I wrote above, I’ve not been a watch wearer in a long time. But I am a Star Trek nerd and honestly, when I saw this LTE equipped watch in the keynote a couple months ago my brain just sort of tweaked. From the iPhone to iPad, we’ve had several years of amazing technology that seems like it belongs to the future. This watch is another part of that ecosystem, even smaller and less obtrusive than it’s larger siblings.

I think  wearing a tiny computer on my wrist is a habit I’ll be getting used to.

From Pandora to Apple Music

This isn’t a review so much as a few notes comparing Pandora and Apple Music. In the past my music was artist based. I’d load up an iPod with several gigs of my favorite music and go. I didn’t bother much with playlists as I would just listen to albums. With the iPhone storage was at a premium and I started keeping far less music on the device. Usually just a handful but still it was album based listening with maybe a couple of playlists. I avoided streaming music due to data limitations until Sprint started offering an unlimited plan at which point I began streaming Pandora. I initially went with Pandora because I’d read that the data rate was a bit lower and even though I have an “unlimited” plan my understanding is that it’s actually something more like 23 GB per month which is still quite a bit. After three months I seem to only been using 15 gigs a month with about 3 gigs of that being Pandora. The idea was to evaluate the selection offered by Pandora and to keep an eye on the data usage.

In three months I’ve come to realize that I enjoy that I do not need to think about the specific artists. I just pick a genre or an artist-based playlist and listen. It was more like radio but without the commercials or playlists but without the effort of creating them. Very nice. But there are a couple things I don’t like: too much repetition of songs and lack of Siri integration. So, I thought it time to give Apple Music another go. I want to track the data usage as well as the selection and the benefits of Siri integration. I only just activated my account today so I haven’t used it enough to comment on data usage or variety though I’ve read that the library is MUCH larger than Pandora’s and at twice the cost I fully expect a better selection! In addition to the music there are several live streaming news stations such as. PRI, NPR and a few others. Excellent.

Siri works great with Apple Music and with the AirPods the experience is really fantastic. Not knowing what to expect I asked Siri: “Play some light ambient music” and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact I got exactly what I wanted and I was surprised because I don’t know that it is a predefined category or genre, it’s just want I wanted. Next I asked for Americana. Again, I got what I asked for though I expected it because I think it is a pretty clear genre. I’ve also asked for acid jazz and avant-garde jazz both of which produced great results. I didn’t have to think about an artist. Next I asked for ambient dream pop and again, not disappointed. It’s just been a day and just a few hours of listening but thus far I’d say this is exactly what I was hoping for. At one point I even forgot to preface the request with “Play some” and just said “Irish folk music” and it worked.

What about asking Siri for specific artists? I asked for Sigur Ros and got a nice mix from a variety of the band’s albums. I asked for “Lisa Hannigan’s most recent album” and I got it. I suspect that this will work well for any artist in the catalog.

With Siri I have full control and can repeat songs, jump to the next, shuffle and, of course, pause and play. After nearly a month with the AirPods I’ve got the double-tap force just right and have had almost no errors activating Siri. Much of my use of Music is while walking and having full control while leaving the phone in my pocket is amazing and is exactly what I was hoping for with a switch to Apple Music.

So, what’s the downside? I don’t mind the extra $5/month. I’ll have to monitor the data. In one day of streaming I used 500mb which is a good bit more than Pandora. I expected it would be more. I did do a bit more walking than normal but not much more. Will wait and see. That comes out to 15GB/ month just for music streaming. I should be alright. With other data usage that will end up being about 22-25GB/month which puts me near the upper limit of what Sprint considers normal for an Unlimited plan according to what I’ve read here.

The AirPods: Siri Everywhere!

Much has been made over the past year about Amazon's Alexa and Google's equivalent which are both available in different forms on different devices. In that process many have taken the opportunity to criticize Apple's Siri, many suggesting that Apple has fallen behind. I've written before about my fondness for Siri and the many ways I've found "her" useful over the past couple years. Perhaps the two things that the Echo has become most noted for are excellent accuracy in understanding dictation and the ever growing list of available skills. I've no first hand experience so I can't say much other than to acknowledge that yes indeed the list of "skills" is quite large and seemingly growing all the time. That said, at this moment, the Echo is also very limited in terms of availability in other countries. It's also generally mostly useful in the home.

I'll agree that my iPad and iPhone have not been perfectly accurate when I use Siri. I think I'd peg the accuracy at about 70% or a wee bit above that. It has worked well enough that I've continued to use it fairly often and have been generally happy with the results. With the new AirPods I'm seeing this greatly improved. Not only that, I am also finding that the AirPods are comfortable enough that they disappear into the background. Which is to say that while I'm aware that I have them in my ears I'm not distracted by them and so I tend to wear them far longer than any other headphone I've owned. In fact I'm leaving them in for much of the day with the exception of charging times.

I'm beginning to think of the AirPods as a persistent extension of Siri and I'd guess that Apple hopes this is the case for many who purchase the AirPods. I can certainly say that when I purchased them much of my interest was directly related to using Siri. Sure, I listen to music and podcasts daily and these are fine for both. But what I really wanted was an always present Siri that would more accurately understand my requests and do so more quickly than with my other bluetooth headphones or interaction with the phone directly. I've not been disappointed.

15 years ago I was that nerd that used "Speakable Items" on the Mac. It didn't work very well for me. But I tried. I've no doubt that more than one of my roommates at the time face palmed as they walked by my room as I alternated between patient talking and near shouting as I tried to interact with my Mac by voice. Well, here we are. It's 2017 and this is not yet the intelligent, ever present computer from Star Trek nor is it the AI found in the movie Her but the AirPods with Siri are a step in the right direction.

Until I had the AirPods I'd been hoping for a stationary device like the Echo but no longer. Assuming I have the AirPods in my ear and my iPhone within 60 feet I can, in all likelihood, make a request of Siri that will be successfully answered. In many ways this feels like the best of both worlds: the Echo/Google Home living room device and the mobile Siri model of Apple. When I'm at home I have the freedom to roam with or without the iPhone and still have Siri. When I get out for a walk or errands in town I take the iPhone and continue to have Siri.

Siri is far from perfect and there is much room for improvement mainly in that I'd like an expansion of what "she" can do for me. I don't doubt that Apple is working on this and that we will see a constant expansion of the things that the OS and third party apps can do. The AirPods and Siri feel like the future. Like the iPhone and iPad, they are the tech of science fiction being born into the present.