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Three years ago, Apple finally gave the people what they wanted: active noise cancellation (ANC) in a set of AirPods. That first-generation model retained the overall look of the company’s classic earbuds, but added an ear tip for noise isolation along with a better fit. After a total redesign of the “regular” AirPods last year and introducing some over-ear noise-canceling headphones in 2020, Apple finally unveiled its latest premium earbuds alongside the iPhone 14: the second-generation AirPods Pro ($249).
For version 2.0, Apple hasn’t totally re-written the formula. If you were hoping for an updated design for the new AirPods Pro, Apple surely left you disappointed. Instead of a complete overhaul, the company focused instead on the internals, adding several new features and refining what was already there with the help of some new silicon. So, even though Apple didn’t abandon its aesthetic, these AirPods Pro are still vastly different from the previous edition.
We’re now on our fifth set of earbuds from the company and so far it has only tweaked the look of the “regular” AirPods – and that wasn’t until gen three. Even then, the company kept its stickbuds look, a polarizing design element that has become the hallmark of Apple’s true wireless lineup. Expecting the folks in Cupertino to ditch the stem at this point is likely an exercise in futility, but hey, I welcome Apple to prove me wrong.
Even with the familiar look, there are some small but significant changes. First is something you can’t see: the new swipe gesture. The AirPods Pro stem is still clickable for the core controls (play/pause, skipping tracks, sound modes and Siri), but now the side of that panel accepts swipes. This touch gesture is used to control volume and is mirrored on both sides. Unfortunately, you can’t just swipe it or the earbud will fall out of your ear; you have to use your thumb to brace the stem, just like you would if you were going to press the main button. One addition you can see is the extra small (XS) ear tip size that will improve the fit (not to mention passive noise reduction) for even more people. It’s notable Apple is adjusting these AirPods for small ears in an effort to boost overall performance and comfort.
The other key design changes have to do with the AirPods Pro charging case. First, it has a built-in speaker this time around, making it easier to hear pings when you’re looking for the earbuds or activate tones for low battery, charging and pairing. Accordingly, the grille is now visible on the bottom edge. The case is IPX4 rated just like the AirPods Pro, meaning it, too, is sweat and water resistant. Additionally, there’s now a lanyard loop on one side. In true Apple fashion, there isn’t one included in the box, so the added convenience will cost you more money. The company currently sells a lanyard in its online store from Incase for $13, but you can expect other accessory makers to offer alternatives soon enough.
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