AirPods Pro (2021) review: Sounds like a bargain

With AirPods Pro, Apple has altered how you control playback without touching your iPhone (or Apple Watch). Unlike earlier AirPods, which required listeners to tap the side of the ‘buds, AirPods Pro owners will need to squeeze the new shortened stem until they receive a welcome click of haptic feedback. This dramatically reduces the chance of any accidental bashes pausing your podcast or summoning Siri in the middle of a favourite playlist.

Sure, it’s a small tweak but it’s one you’ll notice every day when wearing AirPods Pro.

Battery life on the AirPods Pro is good …but not jaw-dropping. Unfortunately for Air Mile fans, your new AirPods Pro won’t last an entire long-haul flight without a quick charge. Fortunately, the bundled charging case will make sure you’re never without music for very long. Just five minutes in the case equates to around one hour of listening time.

With the case in your pocket, which can now be charged wirelessly via any Qi-compatible charging mat or Apple’s MagSafe magnetic puck, you’re guaranteed 24-hours of listening time before you need to find a Lightning cable.

And yes, sadly AirPods Pro require a Lightning cable. For iPhone owners, that’s not too much trouble as you’ll likely already have one in your backpack or handbag to keep your smartphone topped up.

But with the likes of the iPad Air, iPad Pro, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro all transitioning to USB-C …some Apple fans will need to find room for an entirely separate cable just for earbuds on their travels. Given that USB-C is also the standard used to charge consoles like the Nintendo Switch, over-ear headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM5, and Kindle ereaders – switching to the all-conquering cable would’ve allowed many users to pack a single charger for everything (and cut down on electronic waste).

Speaking of other Apple gadgets, AirPods Pro can intelligently switch between any devices signed in with the same Apple ID as the iPhone or iPad that you initially paired with the ‘buds. That means you’ll be able to come back from a run with your AirPods Pro streaming music from your Apple Watch to join a FaceTime call on your iPad – and the earbuds will immediately switch to the incoming call without any faffing in the Bluetooth settings menu.

For the most part, this feature works exactly as advertised as is truly magical. However, there have been a few instances when our AirPods Pro would go rogue and pair to the wrong device – leaving the person at the other end of the FaceTime call listening to silence, or booming from the speakers in our MacBook Pro instead of the ‘buds in our ears. Not ideal for the other occupants of the coffee shop we were working in…

Another tiny annoyance is the case doesn’t feel as sturdy as the standard, non noise-cancelling AirPods. The lid feels much looser when opened and the hinge isn’t as sturdy. It’s a small nitpick, granted, but the AirPods Pro case falls short of the superb build quality we’ve become accustomed to from Apple.

But our single biggest criticism of the AirPods Pro is price. When bought from the Apple Store (other retailers regularly defy Apple and slash the price tag to a much more competitive one) the AirPods Pro cost £249 ..and that’s extremely expensive. For example, you can pick up Sony’s award-winning WF-1000XM3 noise cancelling earbuds for £30 less (and even cheaper during sales) and the standard AirPods regularly drop to £99.

…so, do the AirPods Pro justify that huge jump in cost?

If you’re looking for ace active noise-cancellation to shush the chatter of the morning train, with excellent sound quality and a durable water resistant design for workouts – the AirPods Pro are an easy recommendation. While there are other earbuds with similar features, the magic sprinkled by Apple’s engineers – like the one-tap pairing and Spatial Audio – that you won’t find on any other rival ‘buds put these above the competition for iPhone, Apple Watch, and iPad owners. Trust us, if you think AirPods Pro sound good on paper …wait until you actually try them!

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