They say that there are two kinds of truly wireless earphones users: those who use AirPods and those who do not. Those who do not use the AirPods have been largely torn between AirPods alternatives that are expensive and budget offerings that get rid of the wires but also sacrifice quality and performance. The Oppo Enco Free tries to strike a golden balance in between these two, by attempting to deliver good performance without compromising on quality even while keeping the price relatively on the affordable side. It is quite a balancing act. Does it succeed?
Got the looks
The Oppo Enco Free does a good job in terms of design. The buds come in a very compact charging box that is about the same height and width as that for the AirPods (2nd generation) but is significantly thicker. The buds are connected magnetically to the case and the box also shuts magnetically – a good touch. We got the black variant (it is also available in white and pink), which is made of sturdy plastic and has a matte rather than glossy finish and does not pick up scratches and smudges easily. It also has the Oppo branding on a vertical metal strip on the front, which gives the case a very distinct appearance. There is a tiny light in the metal strip to indicate the battery levels and charging status – it is a little too subtle at times, but you get used to looking out for it. There is a button on the right side to initiate pairing and a USB Type-C port on the base. As we said, the case is a little on the thicker side, but it will slip into most pockets easily. There’s no wireless charging, but then, we were not expecting it at this price point (the Realme Buds Air is an exception rather than the rule in this regard in the sub-Rs 10,000 segment).
The buds themselves look a bit like the AirPods, with stems protruding beneath them. The fit is very much on-ear rather than in-ear – basically, they are designed to hang gently from your ears and not be pushed deep into them. The fit can be changed slightly, as they come with removable ear tips. The small-sized ones are installed by default (and suited us just fine), but you can also try medium and large. The buds and the inner part of their stems have a matte finish but the external parts of the stem are glossy. The external parts of the stems, incidentally, are also touch-sensitive and allow you to control the volume, skip tracks, and so on. They are super light, though – each earbud is less than 5 grams in weight. And as long as you do not do anything too extravagant, they stay firmly in place in your ears. They also have IPX4 dust and water resistance, so one can use them in the gym.
Do they look good? Well, they are slightly more prominent than the buds with smaller or no stems (the Jabra 65T and 75T for instance), and while we do not think they are style merchants, they look distinct enough. Smart rather than spectacular, we would say. We would put them easily among the better looking truly wireless ones out there, and give them marks for not looking like out and out AirPod clones, unlike some!
Sort of got the UI too
The Oppo Enco Free’s interface is a bit of a mixed bag. Pairing is relatively straightforward. You flip open the charging box (with the buds inside) and press the button on the right to initiate the pairing process. Both buds are paired simultaneously, sparing you the hassle of pairing one bud with the other. We did not encounter any problems pairing the buds with Android and iOS devices (both iPhone and iPad) and even with Windows and Mac notebooks. Of course, they can stay paired to only one device at a time and tend to reconnect to the last device they were connected to. So if you frequently switch between devices, you might find yourself having to go to settings again and again. But that is something one has to put up with, with most truly wireless earphones.
Then we come to the controls. And things get a little slippery here, literally. A double-tap on either bud starts and stops the music, and can allow you to take or end a call. Taking out one earbud pauses music, and putting it back resumes it. Standard fare. The tricky part, however, is in controlling volume and switching tracks. Sliding your finger up and down on the left bud makes you increase or decrease the volume. Similarly sliding a finger up and down the right one lets you skip to the track ahead or to the previous one. That may sound simple enough but the execution is slightly difficult because as you move your finger along the stem, the stems do tend to wobble a bit.
They never fell out but the feeling is not a comfortable one. The fact that the stems are touch-sensitive also meant that we often ended up accidentally changing volume or switching tracks when we were adjusting them. Finally, long-pressing either bud invokes the virtual assistant (Google Assistant or Siri), and we found this to be really iffy – sometimes we kept a bud pressed and nothing happened at all, and at other times we suddenly accessed the assistant when we were fitting the buds into our ears. Controls remain a fiddly issue with true wireless earphones, alas, and more often than not, we often preferred controlling volumes and tracks from the devices on which they were playing.
A sound performance, mostly
Which brings us to the most important part of all – the sound. The Enco Free comes with 13.4 mm drivers, which is very decent at this point (the Realme Buds Air has 11.2 mm drivers, just for comparison). Geeks will point out that the buds do not come with support for Qualcomm’s aptX codec, but that said, the quality of sound delivered by the Oppo Enco Free was generally quite good. No, it will not give the AirPods sleepless nights, but it is a clear notch above what the likes of Noise and Realme have to offer. The signature sound is on the balanced side, so if you are one of those who like deep, rumbling bass, these are not for you.
There might be slight stress on bass sometimes, but it is not always noticeable. For the most part, the Enco Free is very good for casual listening with a good level of clarity. The sound has a bit of body but you do not ever feel that any part of the audio is overwhelming the other, which can happen with some of the bass-heavy earphones. Volume levels are reasonably high but not exceptional, although what needs to be noted is that there is no distortion even at high volume levels. That said, as these are on-ear rather than in-ear earphones, a fair deal of ambient sound does sneak in.
We think classic pop and rock lovers will like these a lot more than those who like house or dance music (they might want more bass). Watching videos and playing games is also decent to an extent, although we did see some latency creeping in at times. Call quality was decent enough, if well below AirPods standards in terms of clarity. Battery life was around three to four hours, and the case could recharge the buds about five times from scratch. So if you charge the case once, you are pretty much set for about four days of reasonably heavy usage. That’s pretty good in our book.
There were a few issues, though. The biggest was the tendency of the Enco Free to suddenly drop the connection to the device it was connected to. And this did not seem to follow any pattern – the connection would suddenly disappear, and we would have to reconnect the buds to the device. Also invoking the assistant in the middle of a listening session led to a drop in connection. We really do not know if this is a software issue, but it can get rather irritating, especially if it happens in the middle of a film or a phone call.
Oppo Enco Free Review Verdict: A sound investment?
So should you be buying the Oppo Enco Free? Well, if you are looking for a decent pair of truly wireless earbuds that do not blow a big hole in your bank account and yet are much better than basic budget offerings, we would say these definitely come into contention. Their price of Rs 7,999, puts them right between the super affordable buds like the Realme Buds Air (Rs 3,999) and the likes of the slightly older Jabra E65T (around Rs 10,000). In fact, the only other set of truly wireless earbuds that come to mind near this point are the 1More Stylish True Wireless, which are priced at Rs 5,999, and while bass lovers might prefer them, we do not think they are in the same league as the Enco Free in most regards.
The Oppo Enco Free is not going to give the AirPods a run for their money, but then they are significantly better than most of the competition at their price point, in terms of functionality and sound quality. They are not quite in the premium zone, but they are well above the low-end segment, and come with features like USB Type-C charging, water resistance, comparatively better sound quality, good design, and battery life. At the time of writing, these are perhaps the kings of the truly wireless mid-segment – perfect for anyone who wants a good pair of truly wireless earphones without getting into the five-figure category, and yet does not want to make the compromises that inevitably accompany relatively low budget offerings.
- Good design
- Balanced sound
- Good battery life
- Dust and water resistance
- Connection drops abruptly
- Controls are a little iffy
- Some might want more bass
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| SUMMARY |
It might be mainly known for its smartphones, but Oppo has a formidable reputation in the audio department as well. The brand has been manufacturing high quality earphones and headphones for a while, and has now brought its truly wireless offering to India, the Oppo Enco Free. And has placed it in a very interesting price segment.