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The Reliable Simplicity of AirPods

Chris Welch, writing for The Verge on AirPods' advantage over other wireless earbuds:

AirPods are the best truly wireless earbuds available because they nail the essentials like ease of use, reliability, and battery life. There are alternatives that definitely_ sound_ better from Bose, B&O Play, and other. But they often cost more and all of them experience occasional audio dropouts. AirPods don’t. I’d argue they’re maybe the best first-gen product Apple has ever made. Unfortunately, I’m one of the sad souls whose ears just aren’t a match for the AirPods — and I’m a nerd who likes having both an iPhone and Android phone around — so I’ve been searching for the best non-Apple option.

But some 14 months after AirPods shipped, there’s still no clear cut competitor that’s truly better at the important stuff. They all lack the magic sauce that is Apple’s W1 chip, which improves pairing, range, and battery life for the AirPods. At this point I think it’s fair to say that Bluetooth alone isn’t enough to make these gadgets work smoothly. Hopefully the connection will be more sturdy once more earbuds with Bluetooth 5 hit the market. And Qualcomm is also putting in work to help improve reliability.

I haven't tested all the wireless earbuds Welch has, but I have some anecdotal experience here.

A few months ago, I bought the B&O E8 earbuds on Amazon. After getting a 4K HDR TV for Black Friday (the 55-inch LG B7), I realized that I wanted to be able to watch a movie or play videogames while lying in bed without having to put bulky over-ear Bluetooth headphones on. Essentially, I wanted AirPods for my TV, but I didn't want to use the AirPods that were already paired with my iPhone and iPad. I wanted something that I could take out of the case, put on, and be done with. So instead of getting a second pair of AirPods, I decided to try the E8.

I like the way the E8 sound and I'm a fan of the Comply foam tips. The case is elegant (though not as intuitive as the AirPods' case) and the gestures can be confusing. My problem is that, despite sitting 3 meters away from the TV, one of the earbuds constantly drops out. I sometimes have to sit perfectly still to ensure the audio doesn't cut out – quite often, even turning my head causes the audio to drop out in one of the E8. I'm still going to use these because I like the freedom granted by a truly wireless experience and because I've found the ideal position that doesn't cause audio issues, but I'm not a happy customer. Also, it's too late to return them now.

A couple of days ago, I was doing chores around the house. I usually listen to podcasts with my AirPods on if it's early and my girlfriend is still sleeping, which means I leave my iPhone in the kitchen and move around wearing AirPods. At one point, I needed to check out something outside (we have a very spacious terrace – large enough for the dogs to run around) and I just walked out while listening to a podcast.

A couple of minutes later, the audio started cutting out. My first thought was that something in Overcast was broken. It took me a solid minute to realize that I had walked too far away from the iPhone inside the house. I'm so used to the incredible reliability and simplicity of my AirPods, it didn't even occur to me that I shouldn't have left my iPhone 15 meters and two rooms away.

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