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Nothing ear (1) review: unique design, comfortable fit

Nothing ear (1), the first product from OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei’s new venture, is here. The ear (1) truly wireless earbuds from Nothing are a breath of fresh air in an already overcrowded TWS market. They bring a design that we haven’t seen before and a set of features that are often found only in the most premium devices in this category, especially considering the affordable price tag of Rs 5,999.

Also Read: OPPO Enco W51 review: ANC on a budget

However, looking at the Nothing ear (1) as just another pair of TWS earbuds would be taking a myopic view, at the very least. It is a device that puts forth the vision of Nothing. Hardware is hard and building a successful hardware startup is even harder. With the ear (1), Nothing has made something unique and it has done so in a profound fashion. Amidst all the hype and the noise, let’s find out whether Nothing ear (1) live up to expectations.

Design

Nothing ear (1) Review

The transparent design is the USP of Nothing ear (1)

If there is one thing that really stands out about the Nothing ear (1) it is the design. Honestly, it is a polarising design that has its pros and cons. The culmination of this design has a lot to do with the maturity of the market, which has been growing at a break-neck pace.

As a result, we now have true wireless earbuds that either follow the Apple AirPods design of a white colour with a stem sticking out of your ear. The second design is the one followed by the likes of Samsung and Jabra that relies on an earbud that sits inside your ears. Nothing has smartly chosen the design propelled by AirPods but has brought its own DNA to the game. That DNA is what Nothing calls transparent design.

Now, before I delve into this design language, let me admit that this is not half close to the design initially teased by the company. In every industry, you need to play by the rules of materials that you are working with and Nothing is no exception. As a result, we get earbuds that are semi-transparent. The side facing your ear shows the circuity, magnets and the pins through which earbuds connect to the case. The ingenuity of this design is the smart engineering that has managed to hide the glue that binds all of these components together.

Nothing ear (1) Review

The top of the case has a concave dimple for that fidget spinner feel

The outward side of the stem also has red and white dots that indicate the right and left side of the buds respectively. This clever tweak reminded me of the alert slider found on OnePlus phones. It may not seem important at first, but brings subtle, underrated convenience. When you align these buds with the case, you know these dots are there for a purpose.

Once you look past the rectangular stem, these earbuds are just like any other in the market. They have an orb-like shape that houses the driver and is connected to the eartip, which is white in colour.

Coming to the case, Nothing really shows that transparency is key to its design language. For starters, this case is much bigger than that of most other earbuds.

Nothing ear (1) Review

The case won’t stay in pristine condition for too long

It looks more like a jewellery case than the case housing earbuds. Again, Nothing is relying on transparent plastic and once again clever engineering. The case has a divot to house both the earbuds and there is also a concave dimple at the top to match the imprint of your thumb for a very fidget spinner feel. The case has rounded corners, opens and closes with a satisfying click, supports wireless charging and also has a USB-C port for charging.

While it is visually appealing, a few days of usage tells me it will headache to maintain. My case has already developed enough scratches, but the earbuds are in pristine condition. I hope there is a skin for this case sooner than later.

Comfort

Nothing ear (1) Review

Nothing ear (1) are among the most comfortable earbuds I’ve tested

I generally tend to club comfort with design but the Nothing ear (1) are so comfortable that they deserve a dedicated section. These are among the most comfortable pair of wireless earbuds in the market right now. They don’t exert any kind of pressure once inside your ear and the soft ear tip makes it gentle on your ear canal. Each earbud weighs only 4.7 grams and they are so light that they have Carl Pei’s attention to weight management written all over them.

When I listen to true wireless earbuds, I often tend to take them out for a few seconds even if there is no stress or pressure. In the case of Nothing ear (1), I never once did remove them from my ears. I went on a battery rundown test where the earbuds stayed in my ears for a little shy of five hours. It is an art to make comfortable earbuds and Nothing has mastered this with its very first product.

Sound quality, calls and ANC

Nothing ear (1) Review

The Nothing ear (1) pack 11.6mm drivers and produce a balanced sound

The ear (1) pack a 11.6-millimeter driver and they don’t produce a sound that instantly makes you go “wow”. However, they have a sound signature that is more akin to this segment. For most people, the Nothing ear (1) will end up being one of the best sounding earbuds they have ever tried. For testing the sound quality, I paired these earbuds with my phone, iPad and laptop and the source of music varied from Apple Music, Spotify to local FLAC files.

The first thing I noticed is that Nothing ear (1) do not sound like another budget earbuds. The best way to notice that is to play Fleet Foxes’ latest album Shore and let Robin Pecknold’s voice soar through these earbuds. The vocal harmonies are on point and the bass control of these earbuds is remarkable. However, the overall balance seems to be skewed towards low-end which results in loss of detail.

Nothing ear (1) Review

Nothing ear (1) leaves you desiring a lot more because of the hype

This won’t be the case when you listen to music through TWS earbuds like the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 or Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. It is hard to recognise the subtle difference in detail and Nothing ear (1) does not disappoint when you listen to the likes of Taylor Swift, Arianna Grande or The Weeknd. I played Bollywood and Kollywood tracks too and these really leave a mark but they don’t quite justify the hype that was created before its launch.

Nothing also offers very basic EQ settings called “Balanced”, “More Treble”, “More Bass”, and “Voice”. I found myself constantly switching between “More Bass” and “More Treble” before eventually settling with the Balanced EQ. These earbuds support AAC and SBC Bluetooth codes while the sound signature is balanced, it is not flat or underwhelming.

Nothing ear (1) Review

Nothing ear (1) are light, comfortable and unique

Noise cancellation is another area where the Nothing ear (1) did not impress me. This could be because I had high expectations. They are good at cancelling low-frequency hums like the Galaxy Buds Live, but they never completely cancel the ambient sound. Even at maximum setting, these seem to be capable of cancelling only select frequencies. However, with a good seal, you do get more than passive noise cancellation.

Transparency mode, on the other hand, works fine but does not feel natural. I prefer taking the earbuds out of my ears instead. If you make a lot of phone calls or attend online video calls then the Nothing ear (1) will serve you well. The three microphones on the earbuds allow for clear voice calls and I did not find the person on the other end complaining about having difficulty hearing me.

Battery Life, connectivity and ear (1) app

Nothing ear (1) app lets you check battery life, customise sound and touch controls

All of these features are tied in with the help of ear (1) app. This is a barebones app that shows you battery life of each earbud and the case and offers control to customise sound profile and touch controls. The app is also useful for updating the firmware. The earbuds support gesture control and they are definitely a work in progress. While they could get better with future updates, I found them very sensitive.

I disabled in-ear detection since the earbuds stopped playing music even when I moved my head a bit. The transparency mode switched to Noise Cancellation automatically and sometimes the ambient sound would be boosted. I could not test the Android Fast Pair feature but the traditional Bluetooth pairing works well. During my time using these earbuds, I never faced any issue with connectivity.

Nothing ear (1) Review

Nothing ear (1) supports USB-C and wireless charging

As far as battery life is concerned, I found Nothing’s claims to be on point. The earbuds will last for more than four hours on a single charge with ANC turned on, and the charging case can add another 24 hours. You can increase the endurance of these earbuds to 5.7 hours with ANC turned off and a total of 34 hours with the case. It is remarkable these earbuds last this long despite their compact form factor.

Bottomline

Nothing ear (1) Review

Nothing ear (1) have Carl Pei’s design language written all over them

Nothing ear (1) are arguably the most interesting consumer electronics device that I have tested in recent times. It is mainly because of the design and Carl Pei’s mission to create a product that is different. In that quest, I think Pei achieves reasonable success. The ear (1) are already attracting a lot of eyeballs despite being a new brand, and remind me of OnePlus in its early days in that aspect. The transparent design is refreshing, and gives you a real peek at the internals, unlike the Xiaomi Mi 9 Explorer Edition.

However, if you look beyond the design and comfort, Nothing ear (1) doesn’t outshine other true wireless earbuds in the market in all aspects. Lypertek Tevi priced at Rs 6,999 excels in the audio department while OPPO’s Enco series offers a good balance of features. That said, the ear (1) are a well-rounded product and an excellent first attempt from Nothing, and offer enough and more value at their asking price of Rs 5,999.

Pricebaba’s Rating: 7.5/10

What works

  • Real transparent design
  • Comfortable to wear for long durations
  • Clear call quality
  • Wireless charging
  • Affordable price

What doesn’t

  • ANC isn’t very effective
  • Gesture control is finicky
  • Bugs with in-ear detection and Transparency mode
  • Case gets easily scratched
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Karthekayan Iyer

Karthekayan is an Assistant Editor at Pricebaba. He covers consumer technology for Pricebaba and leads the development of the deals section. With a degree in Instrumentation Engineering, Karthekayan spent three years working for an engineering firm before becoming a tech reporter. He writes news, features and reviews the latest gadgets. He has over 8 years' experience and has worked with Indian Express, Digit.in and BGR India in the past.