Reviewers Agree That This Is the Weirdest Thing About the AirPods Max

AirPods Max with Smart Case Credit: Apple
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Although Apple’s new $549 AirPods Max over-ear headphones don’t come cheap, it’s worth keeping in mind that they’re competing in a premium product space that’s already dominated by many other even more expensive headphones, and clearly that higher price tag hasn’t stopped them from selling like hotcakes.

However, while most of the early reviewers have concluded that the price of the new AirPods Max is justified by the sound quality and features that they offer, there’s one specific aspect of the new headphones that’s left just about everybody scratching their collective heads: The so-called “Smart Case” that comes with them.

When Apple unveiled the AirPods Max earlier this week, we noted the passing reference to the Smart Case, which Apple explains is designed to automatically switch the headphones into an “ultra-low-power” standby state designed to preserve battery life. We also picked up on the implication that the included Smart Case could very well be the only way to actually do this.

Well, it turns out that’s entirely true, and it’s arguably one of the most cumbersome features of the new headphones. Specifically, they don’t have a power button or standby button — the only controls offered on the headphones are the Digital Crown that’s used for volume and track navigation, and a Noise Control button to toggle noise cancellation and transparency modes.

In other words, you can’t turn the AirPods Max off. Instead, if you want to conserve battery power, you have to put them into the included Smart Case. As Marques Brownlee notes in his video review of the AirPods Max, if you don’t use the case, they’ll take about two hours to go into an automatic low power mode, during which they’ll keep on draining the battery needlessly.

To add insult to injury, the case itself also just looks…. strange.

As TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino notes, “it looks like a butt,” and it’s “just as ridiculous as it looks,” and feels incredibly cheap. In fact, Panzarino points to his MagSafe Duo review that we reported on last month for an apt comparison, adding that “The construction here is just as dodgy” as Apple’s $129 charger.

Oh, and the case is just as ridiculous as it looks. Sorry. The construction here is just as dodgy as the MagSafe Duo. It feels cheap, and like it will dirty easily, not exactly what you want from a ‘travel case’. And it looks like a butt.

Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch

The fact is that the AirPods Max Smart Case is a strange departure from what you’ll find from most other premium headphones, which often include hard cases that offer considerably better protection. The Smart Case, on the other hand, seems to be a matter of some designer at Apple trying to be different for difference’s sake.

In his review for The Verge, Nilay Patel simply says he has “no idea what’s going on with the AirPods Max case,” describing it as a “goofy one-piece contraception” that looks more like a purse than a headphones case. Patel also points back to the MagSafe Duo as what could be the start of a disturbing trend of cheap design on Apple’s part.

It is one of the cheaper-feeling things Apple has ever made, in my estimation — the second in a trend that started with the MagSafe Duo Charger. I hope there is not a third thing.

Nilay Patel, The Verge

Since the Smart Case is included with the AirPods Max, however, we wouldn’t be entirely surprised if Apple begins selling a hardened version of the Smart Case separately, at an additional expense, although if that’s what Apple has planned it’s sort of odd that it hasn’t already at least announced that it’s coming, as it did with its MagSafe accessories.

It’s also unclear right now exactly how the Smart Case actually works to communicate with the AirPods Max once inserted, but hopefully it’s something that third-party accessory makers will be able to replicate, in which case even if Apple doesn’t begin offering its own improved case, other accessory makers will undoubtedly step up to the plate as they always have.

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