Vivo recently sent out its TWS Neo earbuds for review, offering us a deeper look at the new listening device. The wearable is easily among the best-looking true wireless headphones currently on the market. The design of the carry case, for instance, is small and luxurious, fitting in-hand like a smooth pebble. The earbuds follow a similar aesthetic.
With its initial release in India placing the cost at right around $100, expectations for audio quality should be tempered. But here, as shown in this review, it matches and, for some content, exceeds expectations. At a minimum, the audio experience is on par with other offerings in the price bracket.
There's some advanced technology in use here too, such as Bluetooth 5.2.
Of course, there are obviously going to be some caveats, drawbacks, and pitfalls at this price too. Among those, the design of the earbuds themselves is larger than others I have tested. That presents potential problems with comfort for day to day use. The battery life falls into that same category. The results of my battery test did not align well with expectations set by advertising. And, worse, the results were inconsistent. And so was the strength of connectivity.
Now, there are dozens — possibly hundreds — of headphone-makers on the market. There are benefits and drawbacks to each of those, even at the upper reaches of the price spectrum. That's not going to be any different for Vivo TWS Neo. So let's take a deeper dive into just how these headphones performed under a thorough review.
I really wanted to love the design and hardware here
Design aesthetics aren't going to be the top reason to buy any pair of headphones but for those who do care about that, Vivo has something special with these. At least in terms of looks. Vivo TWS Neo is available in either Moonlight White and Starry Blue and my review unit was the latter color.
Under almost all lighting, the coloration is closer to black than to blue. But it shimmers with a blue hue under the right circumstances. And there is a heavy mirror-finish regardless of the viewing angle — and which moves with the viewing angle. The case has a smooth in-hand feel that is, again, mirrorlike. So it slips easily into and out of the pocket. The only break in that is a notch to help users open the top and a USB-C port.
The earbuds themselves are similarly smooth, with similar coloration. While that made taking photos without a lot of reflection difficult, it's a very sleek design. In combination with the diminutive size, that makes these headphones feel just about perfect, especially for on-the-go use.
Of course, that was until I realized how easily these pick up fingerprints and smudges. While they were exceptionally easy to wipe clean, Vivo TWS Neo earbuds and their case collect fingerprints like any true hobbyist collects their chosen object of obsession. After just a few moments in-hand, these headphones look like they haven't been wiped clean in weeks.
But that's where the hardware fell apart, at least for me. While the port is snug and the earbuds are easy to get in and out of the case, the design is hardly perfect. It was, for instance, difficult to keep the case lid open, and that's required to connect the headphones via Bluetooth. We'll discuss that in-depth later on.
The other problem with the design is the tipless style. Typically these types of earbuds rest in the ear rather than being wedged in. But the Vivo TWS Neo were somewhat larger than other earphones I've had the opportunity to review.
The shape and weight of Vivo's TWS Neo weren't issues. But the size meant that the hard plastic was extremely uncomfortable for my slightly-less-than-average-sized ears. For me, it felt as though my ears were bruised within minutes of wearing these. And that didn't improve over hours upon hours of use.
Users with larger ears shouldn't have that problem. But another issue here is that they seemed to jostle loose with even moderate head movements. Because these are designed to turn off upon removal — resuming upon insertion — that resulted in audio cut-out too. These aren't, despite an IP54 rating, going to be great for working out. It seems likely that ear size, in combination with the mirror-smooth finish, led to that. It just wasn't a great experience.
Audio quality is going to be a redeeming factor for Vivo TWS Neo
One of the concerns I had when I started my review of Vivo TWS Neo was that their size would impact audio playback. Audio quality is undoubtedly going to be the most important aspect of any true wireless audio experience. With battery life taking a close second in terms of importance. While the design did make these uncomfortable to use for any length of time, the audio experience itself was on-point.
Just for starters, unlike many earphone manufacturers, Vivo doesn't seem overly concerned with making sure bass is the most prominent audio. The lower registers do obviously shine through. Otherwise, these could hardly be called "balanced" at all. But even where they thump with head-shaking ferocity, those tones don't drown out any others. The tones aren't overbearing.
Mids and highs, delivered by 14.2mm drivers, aren't overbearing either. Thanks to Bluetooth 5.2, there's no distortion, unwanted artifacts, or latency under normal circumstances either. Audio remains mostly clear, although not the clearest I've ever experienced, at every volume level as well.
The embedded dual-microphones, meanwhile, keep noise-canceling effects on-point too. And that's certainly a good thing since these aren't very loud at all. My listening, even outside the battery test, never fell beneath 65-percent volume except to test clarity at various volumes.
Now, it's fair to say that these earbuds will, in no way, shape, or form, will keep up with those in much higher price brackets. But all of that holds for call audio too. These earbuds sound natural in calls and there's no distortion in outgoing audio either. In fact, in most cases, it wasn't obvious at all to the person I called that I was talking to them over true wireless earbuds.
All of that is to say that audio here feels dead-on in terms of the price-to-quality ratio.
Connectivity was great but also brought some drawbacks
As noted above, Vivo opted to utilize Bluetooth 5.2 for TWS Neo and that mostly proved a benefit during my review. Where connections worked, they worked extremely well. That led, as also noted above, to a true to production audio representation and balanced listening. But it isn't all good news.
Unfortunately, there are also some special features found with these buds that rely entirely on connecting to a Vivo phone. That includes some sound enhancements and functionality changes. On the latter front, the touch controls can be adjusted via an app identified as the Vivo Earphone app. That doesn't appear to be available on the Google Play Store. So it's only going to be accessible on Vivo phones or in regions where it is available.
With that app, double-tap and sliding gestures and operations can be customized. So users aren't stuck with the presets shipped with these earbuds.
Similarly, there are three audio effects only available on select Vivo phones — tucked in the Bluetooth settings menu behind 'Device info'. Those are "Clear human voice," "Super Bass," and "High-pitch voice."
Fortunately, I had a Vivo device available to test these features and they each worked exactly as expected. They also shorten battery life, albeit minimally. But they won't be available to just anybody.
The bigger problem with these earbuds is how they respond to interference. At between 1-foot and around 35-feet, the connection with these headphones is strong. And that mostly remains the case even when walls are in the way. But at around 25-feet, if more than one object was between the earbuds and the source device, audio clipping in-and-out became a real problem.
Since the later version of Bluetooth should offer greater distance listening, that was an extreme disappointment to me. At around 40-feet, even a single wall could cause cutting and distortion.
When it comes time to actually connect these earbuds to a device, only single-device-pairing seems to be possible. And it's not an intuitive or easy process. The company requires users to hold open the magnetic — very easy to accidentally close — lid. Then they need to also hold down the center button just below the LED light on the front until the LED goes white and blinks. Only then can these earbuds be connected. Afterward, they sync and pair automatically.
Battery life is hit-and-miss with Vivo TWS Neo… to the extreme
When conducting a battery review of any type, let along for Vivo TWS Neo earbuds, it's important to remember that subjectivity is part of the process. I listened, for the duration of my battery-specific test, with a few set parameters to offset that somewhat. For starters, I set the volume at 90-percent volume. And I kept the source distance at a moderate 30-feet. I also didn't use any special Vivo-phone-only features.
Typically, that type of test returns very consistent results across multiple charge-ups. Particularly for headphones. But that wasn't the case here and the way charging works with Vivo TWS Neo only made matters worse. A single LED is used to let the user know how charged everything is. When the earbuds aren't in the case, the light shows either above or below half full. Green denotes greater than 50-percent remaining. Orange denotes less.
When the earbuds are in the case, the light works the same way but shows for the earbuds and not the case. It's very vague. Users are going to have to rely on the high-accuracy on-phone battery indicator, found in Bluetooth settings in the Settings app. That's if they want an accurate reading since that read-out actually seems to be accurate with these headphones — unlike most others that I've used.
Having said that, it takes between 30- and 45-minutes to charge the earbuds up once. The light switched to green after just 16-minutes, indicating the charge was at above 50-percent. It took right around an hour and a half to charge everything, including the carry case, up from flat dead. And that's good news for anybody who would need to charge these up quickly. But the life of the earbuds is far less consistent too. So it's good in that context too.
In fact, at their shortest-lived, these earbuds only lasted 2.5 hours playing aptX Adaptive-compatible audio at a distance. The most I saw was closer to five hours — around a half-hour more than is advertised. Regardless, over real-world use, the actual lifecycle varied so drastically that it wasn't really possible to predict when they would die. And that was frustrating to deal with. At worst, they'd last through a whole move — for most movies. At best, they'd last for two.
Overall, with the extra charges provided by the case, these headphones lasted me 19-hours and 21-minutes. That's not awful, even if it is split into much shorter listening sessions. But it is also well short of the 22.5-hours promised by Vivo's advertising and specs sheet. It's difficult to imagine, given the somewhat lower-than-expected volume these headphones are capable of, that 22.5-hours is easy to achieve either.
Luckily, Vivo also did its low-battery warning differently with these headphones. Instead of an obnoxious voice overlay, at around 25-percent remaining, these headphones start sounding a chime every few minutes. That's an unobtrusive tone that lasts for less than a second and doesn't overwhelm the other audio playback. There's just a slight dip in volume, the tone trills, and then audio resumes as normal.
That's much less intrusive than most other true wireless headphones. And it saves these from having a much shorter practical lifespan per charge.
Are these Vivo TWS Neo earbuds truly worth the $100 asking price?
When it comes right down to it, there are three major factors in any earbud purchase. Vivo TWS Neo earbuds are no exception and it's difficult to say whether or not they're recommendable based on those factors even after a thorough review. But it is easy to see just why that's the case. There is a serious disconnect between how great these earbuds sound or their eye-catching design and the comfort, connection issues, and inconsistent battery.
Only two of those issues are really something that could be fixed with a software update. So, unfortunately, for those who don't typically do well with earbuds due to a smaller ear size, these probably aren't going to be the best option. In fact, they outright won't be the best option. A high-quality audio experience will never be worth the discomfort of feeling as though one's ears are bruised. And I typically use a huge assortment of in-ear buds. So it's fair to say that's not because I'm just not used to these types of listening devices.
On the other hand, connection issues — as with Google's Pixel-branded buds — can possibly be fixed with a software update. That's if Vivo can find a way to push such updates since there's no dedicated Vivo app available in the Play Store for these. Or at least there wasn't in my region or for my day-to-day device. Although there could be for Vivo devices themselves in other regions. A similar fix could likely be pushed for battery issues.
Having said all of that, the sound quality here is a fair value for the cost. They aren't the loudest earbuds on the market or the most bass-heavy. But that's a good thing. Too much bass response can ruin the listening experience. Balance, in the end, and as is found with these earbuds, delivers the most authentic audio experience. And that, more often than not, equates to a better experience.
Bluetooth 5.2, combined with well-thought-out drivers, means you'll be hearing audio with these that you wouldn't hear with less-well-made, cheaper headphones. For those users who typically have problems with earbuds being too small and falling out, these are going to be an obvious option that should definitely be considered, at the very least. And the same can be said for any user who really just needs headphones for short listening sessions.