After wearing the new AirPods, I might actually prefer them over the pricier Pros for this one reason

Technology

It’s been nearly five years since Apple first introduced the AirPods and now they’re getting a brand-new design plus better sounding audio and more ways to charge. Their official name is AirPods (3rd Generation) but you and I know them as the “standard” AirPods.

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At first glance, you might mistake them for the Pro model. They have a similar design and case. The stems are now shorter and the sensors more prominent. But these AirPods don’t have two features the Pros have: noise cancellation and silicone tips.

This could be a deal breaker if you find yourself on a plane, bus or train often, or just enjoy the fit and feel of a more secure fit.

I tested them out for the past week and a half, and the changes might have me revert to the standard AirPods. More on that in a moment.

The new AirPods have a smaller stem that now includes a “force” sensor. You squeeze it to do things with your audio. Once to play, pause or answer a call. Twice to skip to the next track. Three times to skip to the last track (let’s be honest, no one ever uses that one). You can also press and hold to activate Siri, or better yet just say “Hey, Siri” and speak your command.

Sound quality is improved, at least according to Apple. My ears aren’t tuned enough to notice all the subtle changes, but there’s spatial audio and Adaptive EQ, which aims to adjust whatever you’re listening to on the fly, so it sounds best for your ears.

There’s also head tracking, which really threw me for a loop the first time I experienced it. I was watching a movie on my iPad and I turned my head to grab a snack and I could distinctly tell that the movie audio was coming from the direction of my iPad. That’s also built in now to these new AirPods.

As for the fit, I took the AirPods on a run and they sounded great. Not as loud or as immersive as the AirPods Pro I’m used to, but I could also hear more of what was happening around me, which I like. It was a windy day and that didn’t seem to affect my listening.

The buds never felt like they were going to fall out of my ears, either. Most of the earbuds I test don’t last more than a few minutes in my ears before they start to slowly pop out or give me the feeling that they’re about to fall out of my ears. These don’t have that issue, even without the silicone tips people love on the AirPods Pro.

One other nice little addition: the sensor that starts and stops your music now actually senses skin. That means that these AirPods should have less false starts and stops in your pocket or when handling them.

Battery life is also improved versus the last generation, to the tune of about an hour extra. But realistically, AirPods battery life is already so good unless you are rolling calls all day long, you’ll be just fine charging them up occasionally.

The case now supports two types of wireless charging: MagSafe and your standard Qi chargers. Apple says 5 minutes of charging in the case will get you an hour of use.

The Find My features have also been upgraded, you can now get a notification when you leave your AirPods behind and see their last location on a map. You can also ring them to locate them (it’s not that loud, but good for locating around the house). There’s also a proximity finding feature that will alert you when you get close to your AirPods if you’re looking for them.

Overall, there’s a reason these are the standard earbuds all other earbuds hope to be: they sound good, they’re simple to use and there’s not a lot of fuss about them. Apple has made them so good; people might wonder why they even need to buy the pricier AirPods Pro’s.

Personally, I might be going back to the standard AirPods for one reason: I like how they don’t seal out my ears. When I wear the Pros, they sound amazing and cancel out so much of the world around me, which is great for planes and airports, but not so good for just working with earbuds in.

I’ll take the less immersive experience in exchange for earbuds that I can wear for longer periods of time and still have an awareness of the world around me. Sure, there’s a transparency mode on the AirPods Pro, but I’ve always felt like that delivers a more computerized version of the world to my ears.

It’s a matter of preference and need: If you like the sealed-out noise cancelling approach, go Pro, if you just want AirPods for casual, everyday listening and activities, go with these.

AirPods (3rd Generation) are $179 and on sale now.

Listen to the Rich on Tech podcast for answers to your tech questions.

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