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Apple AirPods: 16 tips and tricks to get the most out of your wireless earbuds

Ever wonder what else your AirPods can do? Read this.

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Apple is on to its second-generation AirPods, which adds to its arsenal an optional wireless charging case (you'll pay $80 more for it) and always-on voice recognition for summoning Siri. Whichever version you have -- the OG AirPods ($192 at Walmart) or this new update for 2019 -- you'll want to make sure you're making the most of your wireless earbuds, and that means more than just listening to music.

The pairing process for the AirPods takes three seconds -- literally. Open the charging case, wait for the prompt on your phone, tap Connect and you're done. You don't have to worry about repeating these steps on the rest of your Apple devices as long as you use the same iCloud account on a Mac or iPad ($249 at Walmart).

Here are the tips you'll want to know about managing your AirPods' battery life, using Siri, and custom controls.

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1. Yes, you can pair them with non-Apple products

Notice that small, flush button on the back of the charging case? That's what you'll use to pair AirPods to an Android device or anything else that doesn't work with Apple's proprietary chips.

To start pairing to anything new, put the AirPods in their case, then flip the lid up and press and hold the small button on the rear of the charging case until the little LED light starts pulsing white. They should then show up in any Bluetooth-pairing settings on an Android phone, or computer, or TV. Complete instructions can be found here.

Keep in mind that when you're paired with a non-Apple product, they lose some of their magic. Taking an AirPod out of your ear won't pause music, and playback controls won't work either. Android users can install this app for checking AirPods battery level.

To go back to using AirPods with your iPhone ($1,000 at Amazon), just reselect "AirPods" from your iPhone's Bluetooth settings and they'll re-pair.

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2. To save battery life, keep one in and keep swapping buds

I've never run out of AirPod battery life in a single day, but if you're a power user making lots of phone calls, you might find them running low. One AirPod can work on its own as a Bluetooth headset. Keep the other in the case to charge, and then swap as needed. The other bud takes over seamlessly.

3. Listen to stereo streaming with one bud

If you want to listen to a livestream while doing other things casually, pop a single bud in while the other is in the case. It'll pump a stereo signal into one bud. Otherwise, with both AirPods out, it'll only get one ear's worth of stereo.

4. Check the battery on your iPhone

The various screens of battery life of AirPods on the iPhone.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

You have a couple of options when it comes to checking the battery status of your AirPods and the charging case.

You can either open the charging case next to your iPhone, which should prompt your phone to display a popup with battery status. Or, you can add the battery widget to Notification Center's Today panel using the instructions in this post. Keep in mind, the Battery widget will only include AirPods if you are actively using them.

5. Check the battery status on an Apple Watch ($385 at Amazon)

View AirPods' battery life on an Apple Watch. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

If you own an Apple Watch, here's a cool trick: Place your AirPods case next to your watch, then open Control Center and tap the battery icon. In addition to displaying battery stats for your watch, you will also find stats for your AirPods and the case. 

6. Change name of AirPods

change-name-airpods

Rename your AirPods on iOS. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

There's no dedicated app for altering settings and customizing your AirPods. Instead, you'll need to do it through your Bluetooth settings.

Just go to Settings > Bluetooth. Then tap on the "i" icon next to your AirPods' name. Next, tap on the Name field and enter your preferred name. 

7. Give Siri the boot

change-airpod-functionality

Assign tap interactions to each AirPod. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

While viewing your AirPods' settings, you can also change the double-tap function for either earbud. Once again, go to Settings > Bluetooth. Then tap on the "i" icon next to your AirPods' name. Tap on Left or Right to alter the functionality of each AirPod, or disable any double-tap interaction at all.

8. Use AirPods as a hearing aid

live-listen-airpods

Use AirPods as a hearing aid with iOS 12. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

With iOS 12, Apple added a feature, called Live Listen, that essentially turns your AirPods into on-demand hearing aids. There's a bit of setup you'll need to do, but once it's done, you can place your phone on a table closer to the person you're talking to and it will send audio to your AirPods. 

On your iPhone go to Settings > Control Center > Customize Controls and tap on the green "+" symbol next to the Hearing option. Then, when you need to use the feature put in your AirPods and open Control Center on your iPhone and select the Hearing icon followed by Live Listen. Turn off the feature by repeating those final steps in Control Center.

9. Use AirPods on a Mac

airpods-bluetooth-menu-mac

Select AirPods from the Bluetooth menu on Mac. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

If you want to use AirPods to listen to all audio coming from your Mac, you will need to select it as an audio output device.

To do that, click on the Bluetooth icon in the menu bar and select your AirPods > Connect.

Alternatively, you can use the AirPlay icon in iTunes to select AirPods to stream music from your Mac to your ears. Though, my experience with connecting to AirPods through AirPlay in iTunes has been hit or miss; mostly miss. 

10. Customize controls on a Mac

airpods-on-mac

AirPods' settings on a Mac. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

I'm not sure why I never tried to adjust AirPod settings on the Mac before. I suppose it's because my primary device for using them is my iPhone. Nonetheless, a post on 9to5Mac details the process for adjusting your AirPods settings for controlling playback and using Siri. 

With your AirPods connected to your Mac, go to System Preferences > Bluetooth. Click Options next to your AirPods, and use the drop-down menu to adjust settings to your liking. 

11. Sharing, with limitations

Pairing prompt for AirPods that are already paired with another iCloud account.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

What happens when someone else tries using your AirPods? A message letting them know the AirPods aren't theirs shows up. Of course, he or she can pair the AirPods to an iPhone by tapping Connect, but it's nice to know they can't sneak in some listening time on your AirPods without you knowing.

12. Share music, but not phone calls

Splitting AirPods between two people is like sharing headphones, minus the wire. But, alas, AirPods only make one mic active at a time. That means two people can't hop on one phone call. But, you both could listen in while only one person speaks.

You can assign microphone duties to a given AirPod in the Bluetooth settings section under Settings > Bluetooth > tap "i" next to your AirPods > Microphone.

13. Check if your firmware's been updated

Apple's quietly been pushing new firmware to AirPods to help with performance. You can't update the firmware manually, but you can check to make sure you have the latest version.

In Settings, go to GeneralAbout on your iPhone when your AirPods are in your ears. At the bottom of the page, an AirPods tab will bring up the model and serial number plus firmware version.

14. Hey, Siri!

The second-gen AirPods will recognize the Hey Siri wake command. So if you've got the AirPods in and your iPhone in another room, you can say "Hey Siri" and control volume or music playback, ask for a message to be sent or any of the other commands you can give to Siri. If you're using your AirPods with an Apple Watch, Hey Siri still works as long your watch has a data connection. 

After saying "Hey Siri," the volume of whatever you're listening to will lower, indicating Siri is listening and ready for your command. 

15. Wireless charging is optional

Alongside the second-gen AirPods, Apple released a new AirPods case that works with Qi-based wireless charging pads. You don't have to buy the AirPods with the wireless charging case -- in fact, it saves you a bit of money if you skip it.

You can still buy a pair of AirPods for $159, and they'll come with better battery life and Hey Siri. For $199 you can add a wireless charging case.

16. First-gen case upgrade

If you don't really care to upgrade your AirPods, but you like the idea of wirelessly charging your AirPods you can buy the latest case by itself. It'll set you back $79.

Editors' note: This was originally published on Dec. 28, 2016, and has been updated with new advice and tips.

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