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Don't use AirPods with Android
The Apple AirPods is everywhere, but that doesn’t mean we Android users should opt for them. Rather, the AirPods (3rd generation) are incomplete when used with Android phones. While the eponymous earbuds perform well enough on iPhones, the missing features and potential performance wonkery just doesn’t cut it for Android devices.
Editor’s note: this article was updated on February 10, 2023, with substantially rewritten content, and new testing results.
AirPods lose a lot of features on Android
The main problem here is missing features, because the main reason anyone buys AirPods of any flavor is the extras that come with the earphones. Because Android phones don’t have the requisite hardware to properly make use of the H1 or H2 chip in the AirPods themselves, there’s a number of issues it causes. Unfortunately, you need an iPhone to get access to all of the functions baked into the earbuds, so Android users will have to live without:
- Spatial audio
- The ear tip fit test
- Auto EQ
- Control customization
- Find my earbuds
- Automatic device switching
- Conversation boost
- Battery life status indicator
- Automatic ear detection
Ouch. While some of those features are decidedly on the “nice to have” list, it’s a tough pill to swallow that what phone you have should decide how your headphones work. If you bought AirPods for any of the reasons above and can’t use them, you’ll feel like you have an incomplete product.
The AirPods (3rd generation) uses hardware designed to work with Apple products
While it seems like a no-brainer to mention, performance also suffers as a result of the very same chip issue mentioned above. Sure, you can technically use AirPods with Android, but you’re not only losing out on features: you’re also eschewing performance too.
When it comes down to it, the inability for a phone to use the H1/H2 chip in the AirPods products means worse power efficiency even though it doesn’t necessarily mean that the product will fall short in other areas. For example, we confirmed in the lab that the ANC is pretty much the same whether you’re using the AirPods Pro 2 on Android, Windows, or iOS.
It’s frustrating because Apple making proprietary hardware that isn’t fully compatible with other sources means that the AirPods aren’t really all that great with 3rd-party sources. Given how expensive its other hardware options are, it’s a really rough kick to the… wallet.
Because the AirPods Max, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Pro 2 all use a feature called Adaptive EQ that automatically adjusts your sound quality based on your ears, it’s not so much that the audio quality is worse—it’s just that it doesn’t get tailored to you from the beginning. So if you make the jump from Android to iOS, you may notice an improvement in audio quality and wonder why you can’t have it on your Android phone. This is one of those features that aren’t obvious you’re missing if you’ve never used it, but for some losing it would be a dealbreaker.
Additionally, the ear tip fit test offered in iOS is also absent with Android. As any SoundGuy will tell you, audio quality is well and good, but it’s nothing without one thing: a good seal to the ear canal. While it’s understandable that Apple designed the AirPods so the earbuds would fit a majority of ears, they cannot form a proper seal with your ear canals.
The negative effect of this is two-fold because 1) your music is going to lack bass, since earbuds like these are tuned to match the acoustic impedance of a properly sealed ear canal; and 2) the AirPods allow for the ingress of external noise, which degrades sound quality due to compromised isolation. The latter makes increasing the volume much more tempting which could ultimately impair your hearing.
Worse effective battery life
True wireless earphones have a penchant for having bad battery life, but that is a function of having tiny batteries. In that light, Apple has stuffed iOS with battery-saving features like one-bud listening or automatically stopping playback when you remove an earbud from your ear. Things like this aren’t accounted for in our battery measurements, but do make an impact in real-world listening.
When battery cells are so small, any amount of off-time is going to make a positive impact. By maximizing the amount of time the earbuds are not playing music, you can see small but noticeable improvement in battery life. With an Android device, these automatic shutoffs don’t exist, and that means more juice getting used over time.
Reduced features means worse value
At this point it should be obvious that we’re going to say that an incomplete product could still be something you like. However, given how ephemeral true wireless earphones are, their value is pegged to immediate conditions. If you’re not looking to move on from your Android phone anytime soon, you’re likely only going to be using this product with one. If that’s the case, you’re spending more money for something that has a lot of competitors for similar features. In many cases, the AirPods will be a poorer value choice than going with an alternative.
In that light, you may want to check out alternatives to the AirPods and AirPods Pro that may play a little nicer with Android phones. There’s a lot on the market nowadays and there’s plenty of really cool models to choose from that may work famously for you. Still, it’s worth noting that even with the drawbacks: AirPods or AirPods Pro could still be the right fit for you depending on availability in your country, or even a happenstance of pricing. AirPods aren’t bad on Android, they’re just not a complete product.