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The AirPods Pro are even better a year later

When some new gadget hits the shelves, the question I always get is, “Is this new shine worth it?” Readers rightly want to know what the upgrade is and whether it guarantees their hard-earned green.

Reviewers like me rarely talk about device performance over time, but it’s a worthwhile exercise. Batteries degrade. New competitors shed light on the shortcomings. More experience offers a perspective on where technology shines and where it doesn’t.

This week I look back on my nearly one-year relationship with the AirPods Pro, Apple’s wireless noise-canceling earbuds. But I’m also testing what’s bright and new about them, updates that arrived this month via iOS 14: spatial audio for a theatrical experience, automatic switching between iOS and Mac devices, sound amplification for people with problems. of hearing and new low battery notifications.

While Apple is keeping the price stable at $ 249, I̵

7;ve noticed the AirPods Pro discounted up to $ 50 this month. And all the successors probably won’t show up for another year.

All of this means that last year’s pods are still relevant today. If you’re taking them into consideration, here are the most important observations about my Pros, who have been in my hollow for nearly a dozen moons and lived to tell the story:

• Transparency mode (also known as “Don’t get hit by a bus” mode) is great for hearing Google Maps cycling directions step by step.

• After many hours of riding on an exercise bike, I am very, very happy that the pros are sweat proof.

• The case collects micro debris in its slots, especially in the zipper. Some stains are hard to avoid: the white silicone earbuds have taken on the same pinkish hue as the pink earplugs I wear at night.

AirPods Pro is a debris magnet. The earphone case requires constant cleaning and yet, those damn crevices find a way to attract dirt.


Nicole Nguyen / The Wall Street Journal

• After a year of daily use, my Pros still last just over four hours with noise canceling and music on, and a couple of peppered calls (Apple claims 4.5 hours of listening, 3.5 hours of talk time ).

• I nearly lost my AirPods twice, once in my jacket pocket and once in the car cup holder. Frustratingly, the Find My iPhone app was useless. Only out-of-case AirPods show up on the Find Mine map, and which monster stores Pods out of the case? I already bought a $ 15 tile sticker tracker to keep that case under control.

How the pros compare to other headphones I’ve tested:

• In a microphone quality test comparing five wireless earbuds, the AirPods Pro came out on top. While working from home, headsets have become an essential part of my office setup.

• Professionals’ active noise cancellation is surprisingly effective for their size. They can’t isolate themselves like bulkier over-ear headphones, but they’re best friends like Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Live ($ 170) or


Echo Buds ($ 130). Pros face stiff competition for noise cancellation from future competitors: Bose’s QC earphones ($ 279) are scheduled for September 29, and Jabra’s Elite 85t ($ 229) will ship in November.

• The AirPods Pro aren’t as suitable for air travel as I hoped, not that you’re doing much of this anyway. The battery life of four to five hours does not survive a long-haul flight on a single charge, and you cannot connect them to the entertainment console on the back of an airplane. And only over-ear headphones can provide the complete peace of mind needed to sleep on those journeys.


WH-1000XM3 ($ 350) and Bose’s 700 ($ 380) both have batteries that last more than 20 hours.

Overall, the AirPods Pro performed well over the long term, hitting the sweet spot of portability functionality for work, commute, and workout. And even if the price is quite high, at least the recent updates haven’t come with any additional costs.

Spatial Audio, for AirPods Pro only, provides a theater-like surround sound experience for compatible video and devices. Even when you move your head, the virtual speakers stay in place.



Spatial Audio offers a virtual surround sound experience on AirPods Pro. The feature uses the professionals’ internal motion sensors to track the direction of your head in relation to your device (a recent model of iPad, iPhone, Apple TV or Mac with updated software), then digitally projects the three-dimensional sound. around you.

When spatial audio is enabled in the Bluetooth settings, it will automatically be enabled for media compatible with many popular types of multi-channel surround sound, such as Dolby Atmos. You can check if it’s active by long-pressing the volume slider in the Control Panel, then looking for the animated spatial audio icon. It is up to the app makers to support spatial audio. In my tests, it worked with HBO Max, Disney + and of course Apple TV + but it still doesn’t work with Amazon Prime Video or


“We have nothing to share right now,” a Netflix spokesperson said.

To see if spatial audio is on, long press the volume slider. If the icon is animated, you’ll hear the media files currently playing in Apple’s new surround sound.


Nicole Nguyen / The Wall Street Journal

When I tried it with “The Mandalorian” on Disney +, I was immediately transported to a movie theater. It’s hard to describe – you can hear the spaceship darting across the screen and the intricacies of each robotic sound. And when I moved my head, the actors’ voices stayed on screen where they were meant to be.

It’s amazing that so much sonic depth can come from such small equipment. And it would be even more impressive if I didn’t have to use my phone to try it out. The update is not compatible with my three-year-old 10.5-inch iPad Pro.

Some apps are also tapping into AirPods Pro’s motion sensors. The “Temple Run 2” game turns into a workout: To move your character around the game, you jump, bend over and squat. The game didn’t always log my actions, but at least I sweated.

With automatic device switching, the AirPods’ audio connection switches to any device playing media, and it’s not just for professionals. It also works with 2nd generation AirPods, Powerbeats, Powerbeats Pro, and Solo Pro.


Nicole Nguyen / The Wall Street Journal

For the work-from-home set, the most exciting update is the automatic device change, which moves the AirPods connection between different devices without the menu playing. If you are working on your Mac and receive a phone call, the audio connection will immediately switch to the iPhone and a notification will appear on your computer: “Moved to iPhone”.

This feature also works with 2nd generation AirPods, Powerbeats, Powerbeats Pro, and Solo Pro.

During testing, my AirPods Pro appeared to be connected to both my iPad and iPhone. I watched a YouTube video on the iPad, then selected a podcast on the iPhone and the transition was instant. The feature works across all devices linked to the same Apple ID, which is great, as long as one of those devices isn’t shared with other family members. Before you give your iPad to children, turn off Bluetooth, unless you want to be interrupted by the sounds of Peppa Pig and her friends.

The feature will arrive on Macs when MacOS Big Sur ships later this fall. Personally I’m disappointed because my MacBook Pro released by my company, like so many IT-managed machines, won’t get that update anytime soon. We’re not even on MacOS Catalina. It may be 2022 before I can take advantage of a feature that would significantly improve my AirPod experience.


If you have AirPods Pro, how have they been helpful to you? And if you’re a keeper, do these new features make it worth considering? Join the conversation below.

One of the more incremental updates for AirPods is a new low battery notification when 20, 10, and 5 percent remain. There is also an accessibility option to amplify soft sounds and adjust certain frequencies. For AirPods Pro, you can make silent voices or surroundings more audible when using Transparency mode.

Apple products are designed to work perfectly with other Apple products. That’s the promise: the more you invest in the ecosystem, the more you earn from each device and that’s the strength of the AirPods Pro.

When the ecosystem works, it’s fabulous. When something goes wrong, that’s when you feel that tug, Apple’s invisible hand pulling at you, its loyal customer. When I couldn’t get spatial audio on my suddenly outdated “old” iPad, I wondered: Is an updated tablet my next Shiny New Thing?

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Write to Nicole Nguyen at nicole.nguyen@wsj.com

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