Nothing Ear 1 review: interesting, semi-transparent earphones | Headphones
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The Nothing Ear 1 review: interesting, semi-transparent earphones | Headphones
Nothing is the latest London-based tech startup trying to break AirPods’ stranglehold on Bluetooth earbuds, offering good sound and interesting design at a budget price.
The Ear 1 costs £99 ($99) and is the first product from Carl Pei’s new company after he left the popular smartphone brand OnePlus, which he co-founded, to start his own business.
Nothing Ear 1 review The rectangular stems have several visible sensors, magnets and circuitry, and connect to an opaque white earplug and traditional silicone earplugs tip. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian The new earbuds don’t break in shape as they are AirPods Pro-esque, with stems and silicone tips. But they stand out from the crowd by being partially transparent, allowing you to see some of the inner workings.
They are some of the most comfortable stem-based earplugs I’ve worn. The case looks chic, but is slightly larger than the best in the business – it is very handy in your pocket, but it wouldn’t fit in the money pocket of a pair of jeans. The earplugs go with you up up to four hours of noise-canceling playback, while the case can charge them up up to six times. It charges via wireless charging via USB-C or Qi.
The contacts, magnets and hinge are all visible inside the case, while a textured white center section houses the battery and circuitry. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian Specifications Water resistance: IPX4 (splash proof) Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2, SBC, AAC Battery life: Four hours with noise cancellation (24 hours with case) Earbud dimensions: 28.9 x 21.5 x 23.5 mm Earbud weight: 4.7g each Driver size: 11.6mm Charging case size: 58.66 x 58.6 x 23.7mm Charging case weight: 57.4g Charging case: USB-C, Qi wireless charging and swipe control Nothing Ear 1 review You can see the touch sensitive chips in the stems. The white dot marks this earbud as the left one. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian The Ear 1 are standard Bluetooth 5.2 earbuds that support the universal SBC and AAC audio standards used by most devices. They only connect to one device at a time, but switch seamlessly between them, while each earbud can be used individually.
They support Google’s Fast Pair with Android for one-tap pairing and battery level display. The connection with a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and iPhone 12 Pro was rock solid, although due to the Covid-19 situation in the UK they could not be tested in busy areas.
A good set of gesture controls includes double tap to pause/play and triple tap to skip tracks. Press and hold to switch between noise canceling modes and slide your finger up and the lever down to adjust the volume. The music will also pause/play when you remove and reinsert an earbud.
Sound and noise canceling Nothing Ear 1 review The Nothing app for Android and iOS shows the battery level, adjusts the tap controls, noise canceling and the limited equalizer. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian The earbuds have a pleasant, everyday listening sound full of energy. It’s fairly rounded with good highs and highs, while the bass is deep and well controlled. Most music genres sound good, but they can have a bit of trouble separating in really complex songs and can be a little shrill at times with some overly emphasized highs. They won’t bother the best in the business, but the Ear 1’s are an enjoyable listening experience and sound good for the money.
They also have active noise cancellation, which was able to reduce rumble and bass when set to maximum, but struggled to suppress higher notes and voices. They can cut out road noise, but aren’t as effective as slightly more expensive rivals. They also have a fairly natural sounding Situational Awareness mode, which was good enough for having conversations or listening to traffic.
Durability Nothing Ear 1 review The earbuds magnetically snap into the case to keep them secure and charged, held in place by various visible deformations in the lid. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian Nothing estimates that the batteries in the earbuds and case last at least 500 cycles while retaining at least 80% of their original capacity, but they are not replaceable, making the earbuds ultimately disposable.
The earbuds are serviceable but not repairable. Nothing does not offer trade-in or recycling programs in the UK, nor does it use recycled material in the product or publish environmental impact assessments.
Comments Nothing Ear 1 review The clear plastic case is scratched quite easily. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian The earbuds sounded better with improved bass response with noise canceling active, which you wouldn’t normally expect. The call quality was very clear, although a little quiet indoors, and was even better outdoors, effectively isolating my voice from the noise of the city streets and coming through loud and clear. I found multiple issues with the fit of the earbuds in the case and the Bluetooth connectivity with a few early pre-release units, all of which were resolved in the retail versions tested. Price The Nothing Ear 1 costs £99 ($99).
In comparison, Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro has a suggested retail price of £129.99, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro costs £189, the Jabra Elite 85t costs £219.99, the Bose QC earbuds cost £249.95, the Sony WF-1000XM4 costs £250 and the Apple AirPods Pro costs £249.
There’s no end to true wireless earbuds, but Nothing’s transparent design helps the Ear 1 stand out.
They are super comfortable, sound great for general listening, and have excellent controls and great call quality. The noise cancellation works for reducing rumble, but is otherwise quite limited, and the battery life of around four hours is short of the best. But these niggles are pretty easy to overlook as there are few really good earbuds out there that cost less than £100 and aren’t discounted.
However, the battery in the earbuds or the case cannot be replaced, eventually making them disposable and losing a star.
Pros: Great looks, good sound, good price, comfortable fit, great call quality, good control, Bluetooth 5.2, Fast Pair and support for seamless switching, wireless charging.
Cons: Case slightly larger than ideal, can’t connect to two devices at once, no higher quality audio standards, only splash-proof, disposable.
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