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Apple AirPods (2019) review: A subtle, but meaningful upgrade Review

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I’m often asked what my favorite gadget or gadgets are, and for the past two years, without hesitation, my answer has been Apple’s AirPods and the Nintendo Switch.

Also: AirPower fail: The latest victim of Apple’s OCD

The AirPods took wireless earbuds and made them something I actually wanted to use and made it easy to do so. The Switch, well, I like to game when and where I can, so the portability combined with the ability to dock on a big screen TV has won me over.

For the past few months, however, the battery life on my original AirPods has been suffering. I’ve used them a lot since their release in 2016, and the small battery inside each earbud has suffered enough.

For months, rumors and speculation swirled that new AirPods were just around the corner. Keynotes came and went, without as much as a mention of a second-generation AirPods update. Then, the week before last month’s services event, Apple cleared out all hardware announcements. There were a new iPad Air and iPad mini, refreshed iMacs, and, finally, new AirPods.

For the past week, I’ve been using the 2019 version of the AirPods and they’re every bit as impressive. On paper, the changes are subtle, but in use, there’s a meaningful difference.

Design


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If you didn’t know what to look for on the wireless charging case, telling the difference between first- and second-generation AirPods would be impossible.

Also: Coming to an Apple store near you: The harder sell

The wireless charging case has a different hinge, an indicator light on the outside of the case, and the pairing button has moved up just a touch.

Other than the new case, the new AirPods look like the old AirPods. I had hoped we would see AirPods in a matte black finish, but the bright white earbuds have become a cultural phenomenon and easily recognizable over the past two years.

The earbuds are still one size fits all, and in my testing, have the same fit as the first-generation AirPods. I’ve never had issues with AirPods falling out or becoming uncomfortable in normal use.

The wireless charging case is compatible with all Qi-enabled wireless charging pads, and charges at a speed of 5W. There’s also a Lightning port on the bottom of the case if you’re short on time and want to charge the case a bit faster. The case will fully charge via cable in about two hours, or wirelessly in about 3.5 hours.

The indicator light on the wireless charging case doesn’t stay on the entire time the case is charging. Instead, it turns on when you first place the case on a wireless charging pad and will turn green when the case is fully charged. It also lights up each time you open the case, turning green when the AirPods are charged or amber if the case and earbuds are running low.

To be clear, you don’t have to purchase the wireless charging case with the second-generation AirPods. The AirPods are still available for $159 with a standard charging case. If you want wireless charging, you’ll pay $199 for the upgraded case.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that first generation owners who want a wireless charging case don’t have to upgrade AirPods. You can purchase a standalone wireless charging case that works with all AirPods for $79.

Performance

The most notable difference between the first iteration of AirPods and the 2019 version is a new Apple H1 chip. The custom H1 chip replaces the W1 chip that’s found in the first-generation AirPods.

Also: Quitting the five tech giants: Could you abstain from Apple?

The H1 is designed specifically for headphones, and won’t make its way to other wearables, like the Apple Watch (as we saw with the W1, and later the W2 chip).

What does the H1 chip bring to the table? Double the talk time of three hours, faster connection speed for incoming calls and when switching between devices, and hands-free “Hey Siri” use.

Overall battery life is still five hours, with 15 minutes in the charging case adding three hours of listening time, or two hours of talk time.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve yet to completely drain the AirPods during my normal use in my office. I’ve pushed four hours of constant listening and had just under 20 percent battery left, putting the five-hour estimate within reach.

airpods-2019-case.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The new AirPods boast the same range, seamless pairing process that takes a couple of seconds (and syncs across all of your Apple devices), and auto-pause and auto-resume when removing/placing an AirPod from your ear.

Also: Apple TV+ paid service: The company’s latest big bet 

One feature I’ve found myself using, and actually enjoying, is hands-free Hey Siri. Instead of double-tapping on an AirPod to trigger Siri, you can now speak Hey Siri at any time, and as long as the device they are connected to has an active internet connection, it will trigger Siri. You can then interact with Siri as you normally would — ask for weather, directions, your messages to be read, control music playback, or adjust volume.

Often times, I don’t have my iPhone in my pocket or nearby when I’m using my AirPods; I get up and walk around a lot. So using Hey Siri with my iPhone isn’t really possible. With the AirPods, however, I can still bark commands on Apple’s personal assistant and not have to worry about where my iPhone is.

Additionally, when using my Apple Watch with the AirPods, Hey Siri works. Instead of lifting my wrist to talk to Siri, I can talk and keep doing the task at hand without interruption.

Will I continue to use Hey Siri with the AirPods a month or two down the road? Most likely. Switching playlists and having messages read to me with a quick voice command is far too convenient for me.

Competition

When AirPods were first released, they were in a category of their own. There really wasn’t a product that came close to providing the same completely wireless experience. In the two years since their release, several companies have come out with products aimed at taking a slice of the market share from Apple. But it wasn’t until Samsung’s recently released Galaxy Buds that there was a true competitor that mimics the AirPods features, and in some ways improves upon them.

Also: Apple products you shouldn’t buy

Samsung’s Galaxy Buds are designed for use with Galaxy devices, much in the same way that the AirPods are designed to use with Apple devices. And while both products will work outside of each respective company’s ecosystem, they’re better inside the walled gardens.

Although, if you don’t care about fast pairing and features like auto-pause on iOS, the Galaxy Buds are slightly less expensive at $129.

Conclusion

airpods-2019-wireless-charger.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

When it comes down to it, there’s not a big difference between the first and second generation AirPods. Talk time, improved connection speed, and Hey Siri are the headlining features, and to some, they won’t mean all that much.

Also: Apple versus the privacy spiral: The business value of trust

To be honest, if you recently purchased AirPods and your battery life is still strong, there’s little incentive to upgrade. However, those who have had the original AirPods since launch and are seeing diminished battery life, or those who have never owned a pair and are ready to make the wireless jump, the new AirPods are worth every penny.

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Facebook is testing pop-up messages telling people to read a link before they share it – TechCrunch

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Years after popping open a pandora’s box of bad behavior, social media companies are trying to figure out subtle ways to reshape how people use their platforms.

Following Twitter’s lead, Facebook is trying out a new feature designed to encourage users to read a link before sharing it. The test will reach 6 percent of Facebook’s Android users globally in a gradual rollout that aims to encourage “informed sharing” of news stories on the platform.

Users can still easily click through to share a given story, but the idea is that by adding friction to the experience, people might rethink their original impulses to share the kind of inflammatory content that currently dominates on the platform.

Twitter introduced prompts urging users to read a link before retweeting it last June and the company quickly found the test feature to be successful, expanding it to more users.

Facebook began trying out more prompts like this last year. Last June, the company rolled out pop-up messages to warn users before they share any content that’s more than 90 days old in an an effort to cut down on misleading stories taken out of their original context.

At the time, Facebook said it was looking at other pop-up prompts to cut down on some kinds of misinformation. A few months later, Facebook rolled out similar pop-up messages that noted the date and the source of any links they share related to COVID-19.

The strategy demonstrates Facebook’s preference for a passive strategy of nudging people away from misinformation and toward its own verified resources on hot button issues like COVID-19 and the 2020 election.

While the jury is still out on how much of an impact this kind of gentle behavioral shaping can make on the misinformation epidemic, both Twitter and Facebook have also explored prompts that discourage users from posting abusive comments.

Pop-up messages that give users a sense that their bad behavior is being observed might be where more automated moderation is headed on social platforms. While users would probably be far better served by social media companies scrapping their misinformation and abuse-ridden existing platforms and rebuilding them more thoughtfully from the ground up, small behavioral nudges will have to do.

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State AGs tell Facebook to scrap Instagram for kids plans – TechCrunch

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In a new letter, attorneys general representing 44 U.S. states and territories are pressuring Facebook to walk away from new plans to open Instagram to children. The company is working on an age-gated version of Instagram for kids under the age of 13 that would lure in young users who are currently not permitted to use the app, which was designed for adults.

“It appears that Facebook is not responding to a need, but instead creating one, as this platform appeals primarily to children who otherwise do not or would not have an Instagram account,” the coalition of attorneys general wrote, warning that an Instagram for kids would be “harmful for myriad reasons.”

The state attorneys general call for Facebook to abandon its plans, citing concerns around developmental health, privacy and Facebook’s track record of prioritizing growth over the well being of children on its platforms. In the letter, embedded below, they delve into specific worries about cyberbullying, online grooming by sexual predators and algorithms that showed dieting ads to users with eating disorders.

Concerns about social media and mental health in kids and teens is a criticism we’ve been hearing more about this year, as some Republicans join Democrats in coalescing around those issues, moving away from the claims of anti-conservative bias that defined politics in tech during the Trump years.

Leaders from both parties have been openly voicing fears over how social platforms are shaping young minds in recent months amidst calls to regulate Facebook and other social media companies. In April, a group of Congressional Democrats wrote Facebook with similar warnings over its new plans for children, pressing the company for details on how it plans to protect the privacy of young users.

In light of all the bad press and attention from lawmakers, it’s possible that the company may walk back its brazen plans to boost business by bringing more underage users into the fold. Facebook is already in the hot seat with state and federal regulators in just about every way imaginable. Deep worries over the company’s future failures to protect yet another vulnerable set of users could be enough to keep these plans on the company’s back burner.

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Spotify adds timestamped podcast sharing and other social features – TechCrunch

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On the heels of its expanded partnership with Facebook, Spotify this morning announced new sharing features that broaden the way Spotify content, including both music and podcasts, can be shared across social media. As part of this, Spotify’s Canvas feature, which adds a looping, visual art experience to songs, is being improved. Spotify will also now allow users to share a timestamped link to a podcast, which allows users to tune into to a particular moment of the podcast episode.

Previously, if you wanted to share a podcast episode, you could only post the link to the entire episode. But many times, people want to comment on or discuss a particular part of an episode. Now, they’ll be able to do so by using the “switch to share” feature at the current playtime, after tapping the “share” button while listening to the show.

This is toggle switch that lets you share from the timestamp where you’ve paused the show. After turning this one, you’re able to choose where you want to share to — like Instagram, Facebook (Stories or Feed), Snapchat, Twitter, WhatsApp, SMS, and more.

The feature could also potentially be used for podcast marketing purposes. Typically, creators post an interesting clip from their latest episode that includes a link to the episode. But Spotify’s new feature could entice someone to tune in at a particular part, then continue listening. They may even choose to follow the podcast after doing so, as they’ll have already found themselves in the Spotify app. While it may not replace other marketing — not everyone uses Spotify, after all — it could serve as a handy supplement to the creator’s existing promotional activity.

The update to Spotify’s Canvas, meanwhile, is a smaller improvement. Now, users are able to preview their social share across Instagram Stories and now Snapchat, to see how it will appear. Before today, Canvas art could only be shared to Instagram Stories.

Spotify notes that social sharing features had become a more important aspect of using its service during the pandemic, as in-person concerts and fan events had been shut down. Artists and creators still want to engage with their fans, but have had to do so remotely and digitally. And fans want to support their favorites by posting their content to social networks where others can discover them, too.

The new sharing features are a part of Spotify’s larger investment in expanded social media distribution, which recently led to its partnership with Facebook on something the social network called “Project Boombox.” Facebook in April introduced a new miniplayer that streams Spotify’s music and podcasts from the Facebook app. That way, users can listen while they scroll, with Spotify playing in the background. But Spotify’s deal with Facebook doesn’t limit it from making it easier to share to other platforms, as well, as these new features indicate.

Spotify says the new features are rolling out now to global users on both iOS and Android.

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