AirPods Suck. Long Live Corded Earbuds.

Wireless wasn’t the improvement I hoped.

Photo by Daniel Fontenele on Unsplash

I should begin with a caveat that the AirPods I currently own are not the latest and greatest version. It is quite possible that if I had the AirPods Pro or, well, anything besides the first generation model that I have, I might feel differently. But I don’t think so. The bottom line is, AirPods kind of suck.

Don’t get me wrong; it is awfully convenient to be able to connect to my phone (or my computer! or my iPad!) via Bluetooth. It is nice to go for a walk and not have to worry about a cord getting caught or tangled. And the quality of the sound going into my ears is pretty dang good. But there are several drawbacks that, counted together, make the whole enterprise not really worth it to me.

They need to be charged.

Maybe this seems obvious, but the fact that they need to be charged means they are one more thing whose battery level I need to worry about. My phone, my laptop, and now even my headphones. It is “no big deal” to charge them occasionally to make sure they’re topped off, but it’s another maintenance task that collectively adds to a certain degree of mental burden. And if I forget, they’re useless.

The battery degrades.

Like everything with a battery, eventually it won’t charge as well. Less and less of the battery is usable, and they don’t hold a charge for nearly as long. In the case of my AirPods, even when fully charged, they can no longer make it through a 45-minute phone conversation. I can listen to music or a podcast for much longer, but if the microphone is also in use, forget it. I end up having to tuck them back into their case and hold the phone up to my ear like a Neanderthal.

They are surprisingly easy to lose.

The small size of the case makes it easy to fit in your pocket or purse. But it also means they easily sink to the bottom of things. If you drop them, the case springs open and the individual AirPods fly out — inevitably under a large piece of furniture or a parked car. They are small and lightweight and somehow enticing enough that my cat once stole them, case and all, and hid them for nearly two weeks. The individual AirPods are even more loss-prone. They are tiny, and very easy to slip through the hole in a pocket or to get caught beneath a binder in a backpack. Ask me how I know.

The microphone sound quality is… not great.

It’s fine if you’re in your office, sitting at a desk. But you’d be foolish to think you could go for a walk without the person on the other end of the phone thinking you might be calling from the inner workings of a turbine. “It’s kind of windy,” I apologized to my friend once. “Is the sound okay?” “Well, she replied, “It does sound like you’re inside a rock tumbler.” This may not bother you, the possessor of the AirPods, but it may begin to alienate your friends and colleagues.

They’re expensive.

Maybe this doesn’t bother you, because they were a gift, or because you already bought them, or because you have a big swimming pool full of cash in the back yard that you like to dive into. But compared to $30 high-quality earbuds, they’re outrageously expensive. And that doesn’t just mean that ownership has a high cost of entry. It also means that you have to worry about them, keep track of them, feel guilty about being careless with them. And it means that you might be convincing yourself that they’re “awesome!” because you’re embarrassed to have spent all that money for nothing.

I recently got so frustrated with all of the above that I got myself a pair of old-school corded earbuds, and I’m delighted to report that these things are, indeed, awesome. The sound quality of the microphone is excellent (“Hey, no more rock tumbler!”), they never need to be charged, they’re durable, I can throw them in my bag and know they’ll be fine. They require no maintenance, and I never have to think about them except to untangle the cord from time to time.

So, if you’ve been debating whether to invest in the latest version of the AirPods, maybe skip the credit check and just get yourself a pair of good old-fashioned earbuds. If nothing else, you can consider yourself retro, rocking that vintage 2001 iPod vibe. Remember when they called us the Pod People? Those were the days.

Freelancer & fictioneer. Contributor to Medium pubs Human Parts, GEN, Curious; bylines elsewhere in WaPo, Quartz, EL, The Lily & more.

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