- Nothing Ear (1) is the first product from the new venture from the co-founder of OnePlus, Carl Pei.
- A set of truly wireless earphones (TWS), Ear (1) comes with a strikingly transparent design and the promise of great audio as well as ANC.
- Rather remarkably, it brings all of this at a price of Rs 5,999, which makes it potentially one of the best options for anyone wanting a bit more on their TWS but not having the bucks to get close to the five-figure zone.
It has been quite a while since we heard a pair of truly wireless earphones (TWS) being as talked about as the first product from OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei’s new venture, Nothing. The TWS have been hyped and leaked and speculated upon in a manner that would make flagship smartphones blush with pride. And now, they are out in the open. With great hype come great expectations. How do the Ear (1) live up to those?
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Nothing Ear (1) Review
Even the looks have “transparency mode”
Rather unusually for TWS, which are considered to be eyesores (“EarPods with the wires cut off,” “accessories for Frankenstein’s monster,” and so on), a lot of talk around the Ear (1) has been around their design. And well, they definitely do look very different from other TWS. Whether they look good or not is going to be a matter of opinion, but they do stand out.
The buds themselves are made of plastic and are transparent, although you will need to look at the inside of the stems to really see some components – the external part seems almost like a black band beneath clear transparent plastic. The bud for the right has a red dot on it, evidently to help people realize it is the “right” one (pun intended). While this is a nice design touch, we suspect it tries to solve a problem that does not quite exist – we have not seen folks having problems figuring out which is right and left in TWS with stems. That said, it adds a bit more to the design aura of the buds. As does the recessed thumb-like imprint on the case, which honestly does not add much to the portability of the buds.
The case itself is rather square and semi-transparent and grabs attention for this very reason. It seems a bit fragile, though, especially when compared to the hard, thick plastic cases we have seen with other TWS. It did split open when it fell, although it was totally undamaged, which could concern some folks. Incidentally, the buds are splash and sweat resistant, and that case supports fast charging and wireless charging. You get two other ear tip sizes in the box – the buds come with “medium” sized tips and the box contains “small” and “large” options.
The case is also likely to turn a few more heads than the buds themselves – that transparent lid does remind you of jewelry and wristwatch cases. And of course, also the iPods. All said and done, the Ear (1) are one of the most distinct-looking TWS out there in terms of appearance. They are also very light at less than 5 grams, although you will not really sense the difference as much unless you have a digital scale fitted into your ears.
Very easy to use as well
In terms of usage, Nothing has kept the Ear (1) pretty simple. Connecting is as easy as flipping the case open and pressing a button on its side (right next to the USB Type C port for charging). There are apps for iOS and Android for the TWS, but you can connect directly to the Bluetooth settings on your phone. We would suggest using the app, though, as it will enable you to get firmware updates and change ANC levels and use the in-app equalizer to tune your audio. It is also a remarkably cleanly designed app, minus a lot of the clutter we get to see on others.
The buds fit rather well in our ears, and while they did fall out once or twice, they felt snug. Controlling audio on them is a mixture of tap and slides. There is a touch panel on each and sliding your finger up and down increases or decreases the volume. Three taps take you to the next track, two taps pause audio (or take or disconnect a call), and a tap and long-press activates with active noise cancellation or transparency mode. These settings can be tweaked in the app if you wish. You can even deactivate the taps altogether.
And for the most part, this works very well indeed. We did have the odd occasion when tapping the buds did not take or disconnect a call, but these were very seldom. Getting used to volume levels through sliding your finger will take a little getting used to, but we like the fact that similar controls are available on both buds, making them easier to use. Our only problem in our usage – whether with iOS or Android devices – was the fact that the buds sometimes refused to disconnect even when we placed them back in their case. And on one occasion, they even connected from there. It is a bug that we have seen in other TWS too (most notable Realme and Lypertek TWS) and, while inconvenient, is not a deal-breaker. We suspect the reason for this might be the fact that the buds connect magnetically to tiny stick-like connectors in the case, rather than to the base as in most TWS – the magnetic connection is not the tightest, and sudden movements can sometimes disconnect them from the connectors and connect them to your phone.
From good audio to great calls
The design might grab the eyes, but the Ear (1) sound is very impressive too. Unlike many other TWS in this segment, Nothing has opted to avoid a bass-heavy signature and instead go for a more balanced sound. You can tweak the equalizer in the app to increase stress on bass, treble, or vocals, but we would suggest sticking with the basic audio signature. The 11.6 mm drivers deliver an impressive volume, but what is most striking is the clarity of the sound you get. Whether it is classic rock, underground techno, folk, or even good old Bollywood dhinchak beats, your listening experience is going to be an enjoyable one. Just do not expect rumbling bass or sharp trebles – these were built for clarity. The vocals almost always shine through without getting crowded out.
Bassheads and audiophiles might not be exactly over the moon at it – it is not bass-heavy, and neither is it totally flat – but this makes the Ear (1) great for many scenarios, from music to films to even the odd spot of gaming. A note of caution – latency does creep in when you are in gaming mode. We would put them comfortably above everyone else in their price segment in terms of sheer audio quality.
We would also put them on par with TWS, twice as expensive when it comes to call quality. The Ear (1) are very good at handling calls, as long as you can avoid the case triggering accidental connections. These are the only TWS at this price where we made and received calls with astonishing clarity – those microphones really do work. If you value making calls, these are among your best bets out there. Just watch that case.
Cancelling out some noise
The Ear (1) also come with two levels of active noise cancellation (ANC) – light and maximum. You can tweak these from the app (another reason to download it). The ANC itself is reasonably good at maximum settings in areas like cafes but is not super effective – the snug fit at times seems to do a better job of keeping sound out. That said, it is definitely far more effective than what we have seen at this price point, where ANC is often token and just initials in a spec sheet. These are not TWS that will kill the sound in noisy conditions but give them a relatively “buzzy” and not noisy surrounding, and they will make the sounds of silence just a little bit louder for you (get it? Sounds of silence getting louder!!). Great for cafes, we would say, but perhaps not for the Metro.
Battery life on the buds is about four hours with ANC and an hour or an hour and a half extra if you turn off ANC (we did, as we valued the battery life more than the ANC and buds themselves fit snugly and delivered audio at good volumes). The case is supposed to deliver about 6 recharges, so basically, a single charge to the case should take you through a week. Very handy indeed.
Nothing ear (1) Review Verdict: ‘Ere, do you need Ear (1)?
The Ear (1) are priced at Rs 5,999. And well, at that price, given the functionality they bring to the table, they are excellent value for money. Their call quality is frankly among the best we have seen in TWS below Rs 10,000 (and some above that too), and the audio quality is superb in terms of clarity, although bass lovers might not quite like the relatively balanced sound on these. The ANC is not likely to give the Rs 10,000-and around TWS brigade sleepless nights, but it is definitely the best in its segment. In fact, barring a slight latency in gaming and the odd connection quirks, there is nothing to complain about. Yes, those who want better sound (and with a distinct bass touch) might prefer the Sony XB 700, but that is more expensive. The Lypertek Tevi at Rs 6,999 also provides better sound and battery life but has no ANC, and well, its availability is iffy at the moment.
In fact, the only real challenger that we see to the Ears (1) in its price zone is the Samsung Galaxy Buds +, which is now available for Rs 4,999 or Rs 5,999 at some retailers. Still, that worthy lacks ANC and has lower overall battery life with the case, although we think it has slightly better audio quality. The Oppo Enco X scores in better audio quality and ANC but is again more expensive and is not as much a head-turner as the Ear (1) is (we do not think ANY TWS right now is).
Its pricing of Rs 5,999 places the Ears (1) perfectly between the base budget TWS and the premium ones. And by bringing a number of premium features (design, ANC, call quality) at a relatively lower price, the Ear (1) might have just set a new benchmark for its segment. It is not perfect, but it does more than enough to ensure that whenever a person plans to purchase a TWS for anything between Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000, someone will inevitably ask, “Have you thought of the Ear (1)?”
With its debut, Nothing has definitely given audio lovers much more than something to talk about. And hear as well. Oh, and look at, too.
- Superb call quality
- Very good audio quality
- Different design
- Best ANC in its segment
- Good battery life
- Case seems a little fragile
- Sometimes connects even from within the case
- ANC is decent, but not great
- Some latency in gaming
Build & design
Value for Money
Nothing Ear (1) comes with a strikingly transparent design and the promise of great audio as well as ANC. Rather remarkably, it brings all of this at a price of Rs 5,999, which makes it potentially one of the best options for anyone wanting a bit more on their TWS but not having the bucks to get close to the five-figure zone.