When OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei announced the name of his new venture, Nothing, it took many by surprise. Enthusiasts and the average Joe interested in the tech space kept talking about the uniqueness/ different name that Pei chose to have for his new company. Since then, there has been some buzz around Nothing - be it the name of the company or the first product. Jump to August 2021 and we have the Nothing Ear 1.
Nothing Ear 1 Review
The Ear 1 is Nothing’s first truly-wireless earbuds launched in India under Rs 6,000. These are affordably priced in India when you look at international pricing. The Nothing Ear 1 does not skim out on the features to keep the price low. In fact, the sound quality, which is typically a selling point for most audio products, is not the only USP of the Ear 1. It is the overall design language of the TWS that is among the most-talked-about features.
In this sea of sameness, where every other TWS comes with a stem design in (mostly) White colour, the Ear 1 sports a sort-of-transparent design. It looks similar to the AirPods Pro in terms of shape but the stem attached to the earbuds has a transparent design. The transparent plastic houses a black band that neatly houses various components like the mic, battery, etc. It also has white and red dots to make it easier for the user to differentiate between the left and the right earbuds.
With regards to the fit and feel, the Ear 1 is perhaps among the most comfortable pair of TWS that I have ever used. They are not just lightweight (4.7 grams each) but also fit well inside the ear. I did have to change one of the silicon ear tips to get the fit right. The earbuds, by default, come with medium-sized silicon tips. You can choose to switch to the small or large-sized ear tips that come shipped with the retail unit. The earbuds are also splash and sweat-resistant, making them useful for those outdoor runs and workouts.
Much like the earbuds, the squircle-shaped case also sports a semi-transparent design. It has a plastic lid on the tip, which has a small crater to ensure that the earbuds don’t move while they are attached to the magnetic strip during charging. This small indentation also doubles up to make it easier to lift the lid, and maybe even use it as a fidget spinner while on the go.
My only complaint with the design is that the transparent case is too prone to scratches. Despite taking good care, the plastic lid had scratch lines on it. This makes me wonder how many scratches will the case attract in the long run. You can probably apply a skin on top but then that takes away from the “Retro Futuristic” transparent design.
Sound, App and Controls
To help connect the earbuds to your iOS and Android phone, there is a button on the right edge, next to the USB Type-C port. Press this button for a few seconds till you see a white blinking LED on the case. You can choose to connect the buds to your phone via Bluetooth and also pair it up with the companion Nothing Ear 1 app from the App Store. The app gives users the control to adjust the Equaliser (EQ), Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) levels and even update the earbuds to the latest firmware. There is also a “Find my Earbud”, which plays a loud sound if you want to locate your lost earbud. As someone who recently lost his AirPods, I find this feature quite useful.
Nothing Ear 1 app user interface
While we are at it, the Ear 1 app is quite simple and easy to use. The home screen shows the battery levels of the buds and the charging case. It also has two options called “Hear” and “Touch”. As direct as the menu options are, the Touch menu lets you adjust the gesture controls. You can triple tap on either earbud to switch the next/ previous song. You can double-tap to play/ pause songs or accept calls. You can also increase or decrease the volume by sliding your finger up or down the stem. During our Nothing Ear 1 review period, this particular volume adjustment gesture did not work always. Also, Nothing, please bring support for activating voice assistants via the earbuds.
The other “Hear” menu lets you switch between the various ANC levels and EQ. Users can choose to switch between ANC and Transparency mode or simply disable ANC by tapping and holding on to either stem for a couple of seconds until they hear a couple of beeps.
The app also offers two different modes of ANC called Light and Maximum. The ANC is good enough to cancel out the fan noise completely at the Maximum setting. I also used these earbuds during my flight from Delhi to Bombay. They do cut out the typical “airplane noise” to a certain extent. That being said, you do get some hollow effect, even at a full volume.
There’s also a Transparency mode that helps bring in some ambient noise while you are wearing the earbuds. It comes in handy when you are walking on the street and don’t want to go all out on the ANC to be aware of the surrounding noise. There is also an option to adjust the EQ (sort of). You can switch between More Bass, More Treble, Voice or, like us, stick to “Balanced” EQ by default.
Coming to the most important bit, the sound. Each earbud of the Ear 1 comes with an 11.6mm driver. The earbuds offer a balanced sound overall with enough bass that doesn’t overpower the mids and the highs. If you are looking for something that is thumping bass, look at the likes of the more expensive Galaxy Buds Pro or even the budget Realme Buds Q2 that offer more bass. The latter, however, messes up at times with the highs.
The Ear 1 is well-tuned to help you listen and identify almost every instrument that is playing in the background. The highs are detailed while the mids are quite grippy.
There is a fraction of a second’s delay while using the earbuds for playing games. This is quite common across all TWS earbuds out there. It is best to avoid using the Nothing Ear 1 (or any other wireless earbuds for that matter) while playing games. I also wasn’t happy initially with the frequent audio drop and either earbud getting disconnected. Fortunately, the second firmware update fixed this issue and I haven’t experienced any drop-offs since. The biggest downside though is the battery life.
The Ear 1 offers an average battery life if you compare it with other earbuds in the price range. Each earbud packs a 31 mAh cell, whereas the charging case packs a 570 mAh battery. The earbuds are claimed to offer up to four hours of battery life with ANC on and 5.7 hours otherwise. During my travel from Delhi to Mumbai, the earbuds lasted for roughly three hours and 40 mins, which is close to the claimed time. I kept switching between ANC and Transparency mode during the flight to listen to the abrupt announcements.
The charging case offers an additional five cycles of full charge, making the Ear 1 offer an all-day battery. With ANC off, you are likely to get up to 34 hours of battery life.
The TWS supports fast charging. A quick 10-minute charge offers up to 50 mins of listening time with ANC on. It also supports Qi wireless charging.
Should you buy the Nothing Ear 1 for Rs 5,999? Yes, provided you are someone who wants a TWS with the best of features and a balanced sound. The Ear 1 offers a clean, clear sound that is among the best in the price range. The ANC is also quite useful and helps cancel out most of the outside noise. It isn’t the best out there but we would definitely not complain, considering the price tag the TWS carries along with it. Those looking for something bass-heavy can look elsewhere. The Nothing Ear 1 does offer enough bass but it isn’t as heavy as most budget TWS offer.
The design itself is a big bonus that helps Nothing differentiate itself in the crowded TWS space. The sort-of transparent design is certainly my favourite and I hope Nothing’s next step is to make the next-generation TWS completely transparent. Sure, the case does attract scratches, which might bother some. Unfortunately, there is nothing that we can do here. However, as an overall package, the Nothing Ear 1 certainly is among the best TWS under Rs 10,000 in India.