Do the AirPods Max work with Android phones?
Best answer: Yes, but not in the way you'd want expensive headphones to work. Apple's AirPods Max are premium over-ear Bluetooth headphones built with features that have some exclusivity attached to them for iOS users. Given the price, there are premium alternatives that do more for less.
- Maxing out: AirPods Max (opens in new tab) ($549 at Best Buy)
What the AirPods Max can do
The AirPods Max have H1 chips in both ear cups. It's the same chip introduced in the second-generation AirPods that facilitated the super-fast pairing and easy access to Siri through voice activation. The improved battery management means the headphones won't die faster since they're constantly listening for the "Hey Siri," command, plus you get longer talk time for calls.
Apple put in a digital crown like the one from the Apple Watch as the primary form of onboard control for volume, skipping/repeating tracks, making phone calls and activating Siri. There are nine microphones, eight of which are included to handle the active noise cancelation (ANC) feature, with three kicking in for voice calls. The mics also step in for Transparency mode to let in ambient noise for your own spatial awareness.
Apple has always designed its AirPods products to work seamlessly with its hardware devices. It's a hardware-software combination meant to feel different, and that's clearly the plan here. While the jury is still out on how good they will sound, it's not clear if the audio quality will be affected by using an Android device. Apple supports the AAC Bluetooth codec, which contrary to some belief, is actually an open standard, not one licensed out from Apple. From that standpoint, there shouldn't be any issue with codecs.
What won't work with Android phones
Apple doesn't officially mention Android (or any other non-Apple device or brand) in its device compatibility details, so it's not clear if the company is simply ignoring everyone else, or not listing others because some features are missing. In any case, there doesn't appear to be any technical restriction to cut off non-Apple devices completely, but there will be features missing.
Some things will work, regardless of compatibility. Each ear cup has a smattering of sensors to do things like pausing audio when removing the headphones, and playing again when putting them back on. That kind of feature works no matter what you pair the headphones with because they're standard features in other cans, too.
ANC and Transparency modes should also work with Android devices, given they aren't really software-specific. The Adaptive EQ, on the other hand, may not work at all, so you could be missing a chance to adjust the sound to your preferences.
One thing that is clear is the AirPods Max have Apple's spatial audio, 360-degree virtual surround technology that is only meant for Apple's devices because there's proprietary software doing the legwork. That feature definitely won't work on an Android device because of that. In addition, the seamless sharing and switching features are unlikely to work as well. These two respective options mean the headphones can automatically switch from, say, a Mac to an iPhone, or share an audio stream with another pair of AirPods. Those are software-based features that won't apply to anything that's not Apple.
Naturally, you also don't benefit from quick pairing through the H1 chip, and voice activation will also be specific to Siri, adding yet another cutoff for Android users. In a surprising move, Apple also equipped the headphones with a Lightning port for charging, rather than USB-C. There's no 3.5mm jack, either, in case you wanted to use them for wired playback.
Not the full monty
It's hard to justify headphones that come handcuffed out of the box, but that's basically the story behind the AirPods Max with hardware not made by Apple. Even if they sound exceptionally good, the competition is fierce in this category, and that's obvious when you look at which ones make the best wireless headphones and best noise-canceling headphones lists. In fact, Sony's WH-1000XM4 look like a real bargain compared to these cans.
When headphones cost this much, they need to be exceptional in every way, but that's not only unclear here, it's also irrelevant when key features are missing. There are plenty of AirPods Max alternatives that offer similar features, won't cost as much, and provide better functionality for Android devices.
Not the full Max with Android
To the Max — sort of
Apple's AirPods Max are expensive by any standard of headphones, and they're even pricier when you lose features on Android.
Get the Android Central Newsletter
Instant access to breaking news, the hottest reviews, great deals and helpful tips.
Ted Kritsonis loves taking photos when the opportunity arises, be it on a camera or smartphone. Beyond sports and world history, you can find him tinkering with gadgets or enjoying a cigar. Often times, that will be with a pair of headphones or earbuds playing tunes. When he's not testing something, he's working on the next episode of his podcast, Tednologic.