Nothing is a brand that should require almost no introduction. Founded by OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei, its first offering has built plenty of hype all on its own too. So when the offer came up to test out and review Nothing ear (1) as the ANC-enabled TWS earbuds are branded, I was quick to take the opportunity.
Now, in their own right, Nothing ear (1) goes a long way toward achieving similar goals to OnePlus. Namely, offering flagship wearable audio gadget features in a lightweight, budget-friendly bundle. Despite the price tag being set at under $100, I’d expect nothing less. But they also come with some fairly severe teething problems that weren’t at all expected. And those could give at least some potential buyers reason for pause.
So let’s dive right in and take a closer look at Nothing ear (1).
The hardware here is unique but potentially problematic
Now, hardware was one of the first areas I noted issues with Nothing ear (1) under review and I typically like to get caveats out of the way first. In fact, there are two main caveats worth noting from a hardware perspective. The first has less to do with production units and more to do with potential quality control issues. Namely, the first set of buds sent to me had issues charging. The left bud, specifically, just wouldn’t.
Nothing was quick to respond and to send out another review unit, which we’ll discuss later on. But it wasn’t until the third — the second production unit — that I was able to actually conduct a review. Although it’s only fair to note that the first pair was a pre-production unit.
The second hardware caveat is inherent to the design of these earbuds. The transparent white dual-tone design language used here is unique and fun. It also looks and feels premium, to an extend. But it isn’t the best to ensure long-term aesthetics. As discussed in other reviews around the web and as I discovered, the design is easy to scuff. And easy to scratch. So users are going to need to take extra special care when it comes to Nothing ear (1) if they want to keep it looking pristine.
In terms of the remaining aspects of this hardware, the company went above and beyond. The design language, as hinted above, is incredibly unique and aesthetically pleasing. So long as it isn’t scuffed, allowing me to see a good portion of the internals. And, on the earbuds, the clear red or white dot markings ensure that the buds are easy to put in the right slot the first time. Or in the right ear on the first try.
Leaving behind the tech enthusiast leanings, and the potential trouble with scuffing, the effect is striking. At the very least, in person, you won’t find any other headphones that look like this
The smooth plastics, conversely, feel good in the hand and don’t bother in-ear. In fact, Nothing Ear (1) is easily among the most comfortable earbuds I’ve reviewed. All without considering other hardware aspects such as the incredibly high comfort level these bring or the three built-in mics per bud.
The latter of those, combined with Clear Voice Technology, ensured that I could continue conversations even in strong winds. The mics are well-placed enough that I was even able to continue a conversation on a windy day during a bike ride. Although, that wasn’t a perfect experience by any stretch either.
Battery life won’t wow with Nothing ear (1)
Battery life for any wearable or portable audio gadget is arguably as important as the quality of audio. Or, at the very least, it comes close since many need to use their audio wearable for long stretches. And, on that front, Nothing ear (1) did okay under review. But certainly not great.
To begin with, Nothing claims that these earbuds will see 5-hours of ANC-active time. Under my test conditions, at around 75-percent volume, 20ft of distance from source on average, and streaming movies and music with ANC active, that didn’t quite hold. They saw just 4.5-hours of use instead. Which is around an hour short when compared to the average time these types of gadgets typically last.
That’s with around 24-hours of use possible with ANC turned on.
The company’s claims regarding charging time are more accurate. It took just over an hour to charge up the buds completely. With fast charging happening during the first portion of the process. So it is possible to get over an hour of listening from just a few minutes of charging. But charging the case took closer to three hours during my review of Nothing ear (1), too. And that’s hardly impressive.
Fortunately, a fully charged case will last all day. And the inclusion of wireless charging does start to make up for the long charging time itself. Especially for those who will charge the case overnight and use the wearable throughout the day.
Audio from Nothing ear (1) is better than expected
Now, we’ve already discussed at least some of the audio aspects of this particular offering from Nothing. The mics, for instance. But we haven’t really addressed the overall quality of the buds. That’s with the volume set at a moderate level, EQ set to balanced, and media streamed from a high-quality source.
This is one area where the Nothing ear (1) excelled under review. Standing right alongside some other competitors’ offerings that are generally priced at over $200. Bass tones, for instance, are well-represented, with highs and mids equally well-represented. Summarily, equating to a detailed, deep listening experience that I simply wasn’t expecting based on other aspects of this gadget.
Balance in terms of in-head placement was near perfect for an offering in the sub-$300 price bracket as well. These buds create a great soundstage for the money.
For those that want a bit more bass, the “more bass” mode delivers pounding power with great resonance recreation. So there’s never really any time where bass overrides everything else. And the same holds true for “more treble” mode.
Voice mode, conversely, drops and cuts away at all frequencies that clearly aren’t voice-oriented. As a result, I was able to watch a lecture online and YouTube talks without worrying about whatever music or other ambient noise was in the mix. It was effectively drowned out.
All of which is to say that this audio experience was one I wasn’t expecting but was definitely welcome. The quality of sound here is right where you’d want to it be for a $200 – $250 pair of earbuds. Let alone earbuds that cost under $100.
Connections and features were great for the money when they worked
Now, typically the ‘connectivity and features’ segment of my earbud reviews is relatively straightforward. But, of the three sets of headphones Nothing shipped to me, one of those pairs (the first production pair) simply wouldn’t connect at all. That’s via the app or via Bluetooth directly. So there do seem to be some quality control issues on this front.
That’s not to say that there were any connection issues with the third pair sent to me. Everything in that pair worked as well as expected and Nothing was quick to respond when I reached out about the issue. As with the other issue noted above. So everything on that front worked out in the end. With solid connections to my smartphone and Chromebook via nearly-lossless Bluetooth 5.2.
Although I’d definitely recommend checking that these earbuds work properly early and contacting Nothing if something isn’t working properly.
In terms of functionality and features, Nothing brings a lot to the table too. Especially for sub-$100 true wireless earbuds.
To begin with, Nothing includes app support with EQ support, two levels of noise cancellation, transparency mode, and more. With transparency mode offering reasonable amplification for non-music sounds. Such as the voice of somebody talking to me while I was listening to music. The app also allows users some control, though not much, over triple-tap actions and noise cancellation gestures. Each of those worked as expected during review as well.
In fact, the EQ adjustments were pronounced and accurate enough that I feel comfortable saying it’s one of the best EQs I’ve used in this price bracket. Despite the fact that there’s no fine-tuning, with only balanced, more treble, more bass, and voice modes offered.
Should you buy Nothing ear (1)?
Put simply, whether or not any pair of headphones is perfect for you is going to depend on a number of factors. From audio quality to value and battery life. And on those fronts, there are, of course, a few areas that may cause hesitation when it comes to Nothing ear (1).
Quality, based on my experience during this review of Nothing ear (1), is not a guarantee. At least not in terms of everything functioning how it should. And the randomness of the two — seemingly unrelated — issues I encountered isn’t a great look. Neither is promising a next-gen experience while delivering a mediocre battery life. Or a case that’s so easily marred through daily use. Even at under $100.
Having said that, the quality of the sound from these earbuds, coupled with their features, the company’s response time on the issues, comfort, quick charging — for the earbuds, and wide range of features are a different matter. Each of those went above and beyond my expectation. For those who want great sound, these are still very much worth considering. Although they likely aren’t going to be the best earbuds for every user.