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Apple AirPods: 19 of the top tricks for your wireless earbuds

Your AirPods do far more than just play music from your iPhone, iPad or Mac. We show you what you need to know.

AirPods pro Apple Music

Ready to learn all there is to know about your AirPods? Let's dig in. 

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Apple's AirPods changed an entire industry's approach to completely wireless earbuds, and for good reason. The AirPods and AirPods Pro both have features that were once unheard in the small, wireless accessories. Long battery life, easy and quick setup with near-instant pairing to all of your Apple devices, and Siri's ability to read and reply to messages are just a few examples. 

The earbuds, however, aren't identical in features. The AirPods Pro have a wildly different design and more advanced features. Spatial audio and active noise cancellation are just two examples. Then there's the AirPods Max, over-the-ear headphones that have all of the same Pro features, but resemble more traditional headphones. 

Regardless of the model of AirPods you're currently rocking, there are many features that they all share, bringing more features and capabilities than simply streaming music into your ears. Below, I'll walk you through the essentials, the move on to tips about saving battery, sharing music with a loved one or friend and customizing the controls.

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Pairing is as quick as 1, 2, 3

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. Truly, that's it. 

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. Yes, that means after you pair your AirPods to your iPhone, your AirPods are automagically paired to your Apple Watch, iPad, Mac or Apple TV. It's pretty cool.

Seriously, pairing your AirPods is too easy.

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You can pair them with non-Apple products, too

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, just reselect "AirPods" from your iPhone's Bluetooth settings and they'll re-pair.

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To save battery life, keep one in and swap 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.

Listen to stereo streaming with one earbud

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.

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

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Check remaining battery using your iPhone

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 (it works on the iPad and iPod Touch, as well), 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.

View AirPods' battery life on an Apple Watch. 

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Check AirPods battery status on an Apple Watch

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

Your AirPods are always listening for 'Hey, Siri!'

The second-gen AirPods, AirPods Pro and AirPods Max all 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.

Have Siri read your latest messages to you

Siri can read your incoming messages directly to you through your AirPods without you having to do a thing. You can then reply to the message with a quick voice command. It's pretty cool. You don't have to do anything to set up this feature, but if you'd rather turn it off, you can do so by going to Settings > Siri & Search > Announce Messages. 

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Rename your AirPods on iOS.

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Change the name of your AirPods

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

With your AirPods connected to your iPhone or iPad, 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. The new name will sync to the rest of your iCloud-linked devices.

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Assign tap interactions to each AirPod.

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Customize the AirPods controls

While viewing your AirPods' settings, you can also change the double-tap or press-and-hold function for either earbud. Once again, with your AirPods connected to your iPhone or iPad, 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 interaction at all.

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Use AirPods as a hearing aid with iOS 12.

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Use AirPods as a hearing aid

Your iPhone has a feature called Live Listen, which 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.

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MacOS Big Sur has a dedicated AirPods menu when the earbuds are connected to your Mac. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

How to better use AirPods on a Mac

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, Open Control Center from the menu bar, click Bluetooth select your AirPods.

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

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AirPods' settings on a Mac.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Customize AirPods' controls on a Mac

It's a little buried, but you can adjust your AirPods settings on a Mac by navigating to your Mac's Bluetooth settings. With your AirPods connected to your Mac, open System Preferences > Bluetooth. Click your AirPods in the list of devices, then click the Options button. There are several dropdown options and toggles, each of which controls various settings for how your AirPods act when they're connected to your Mac. Adjust them to your liking, click OK and close the window. 

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

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Your friends can't just use your AirPods without asking

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 their iPhone by tapping Connect, but it's nice to know they can't sneak in some listening time on your AirPods without you knowing.

How to share phone calls using AirPods

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 then Microphone and select the AirPod you want to use as the all-time microphone.

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Two pairs of AirPods, one audio source? No problem.

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Share audio with friends, the right way

If you're listening to a new album or streaming a show and a friend or family member who also has AirPods wants to listen, use the new Audio Sharing feature. Have your friend hold their iPhone near the top of yours, then follow the prompts.

Check if your AirPods firmware is up to date

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. Scroll down until you find your AirPods name, tap it, then view all of the nerdy info about your ear buds, including your firmware version. With that information, you can then search Google for your AirPods model name and the firmware to see if you have the current firmware. 

The wireless charging case 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 get the new wireless charging case as well. The AirPods Pro are $249 and comes standard with a wireless charging case. 

You can buy a first-gen wireless charging case 

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.

Apple continues to improve and add features to the AirPods with iOS updates. For example, the release of iOS 14 added spatial audio -- a surround sound like feature to the Pro model.