Carl Pei has his own way of doing things, be it naming his latest company ‘Nothing’ or defying the laws of science in making the first product for Nothing. The Nothing ear (1) like its name is an exception in many ways. Be its transparent design, the placement of exposed internals or the attention to detail to each aspect. I’m worried that this review has already started sounding biased so without any further ado let’s talk ‘nothing’ in an unbiased and detailed manner.
But before we start the review, let’s see what comes in the box and check out all the specs:
- Nothing ear (1) TWS
- Charging Case
- Charging Cable
- Extra Ear-Tips
|Specification||Nothing ear (1)|
|Dimensions & Weight||Earbuds
|Battery and Charging||Earbuds
- Transparent/Clear Design
- Functional Design
It has been 5 years since the launch of Apple AirPods, the cult True Wireless Earphones that changed it all. And, since the launch of AirPods, they are the most hated or loved TWS earphones one can buy. The design has been polarizing for many and you either hate it or simply love it. Even after so many years since its launch, the memes continue but like it or hate it they are a wonderful piece of technology. And the catalyst of the entire wireless earphones category.
But that’s it!
Since then, there has been no real competition or gamechanger that could challenge the prowess of Apple. You either have fake versions of Apple AirPods, cheap imitations of them or you have the likes of Bose, Sony, Sennheiser and others working on Pod style of TWS. While the premium ones from these companies are great and offer great sound, they come at a premium price. Often even crossing the price of Apple AirPods Pro. And even with a premium price tag and features, they all have had one fundamental problem – seamless pairing with iOS devices.
And finally, things are clearer (no pun intended) than ever before thanks to the transparent design of the Nothing ear (1). First, look at them and you go WOW, it’s different, it’s refreshing, it’s clear and nothing compares in terms of the design.
Even before you reach the actual product, it’s worth mentioning the packaging. Like everything else, the packaging is distinctive and stands out. Whether the tab to peel off the box, revealing the startling silver box that has Nothing (for obvious reasons) on it.
The attention to detail continues and even the documentation comes as black paper booklets with white font, continuing the website design.
After almost a month of using the Nothing ear (1), I have to admit that both the case and the earbuds are not scratched or smudged. I have no scratches to report, but that could also be because I’m very careful of my tech. I keep my ear (1) in a soft pocket in my backpack or separately in my denim away from coins or keys. But if you are someone who just drops them in a bag or throws them in a drawer, then be prepared to have a scratched case in a matter of days.
But for me, the USP of the ear (1)’s design is not its clear case but its functional design. The dimple on the case to separate the buds internally and a thumb grip externally and the red dot (might also get the Red Dot Award this year) to differentiate between the left and right buds are on the case and the right bud.
The attention to detail carries on the half-transparent earbuds, where the stem shows the circuitry. Now it isn’t as simple as it may look, it’s not like a random design choice to use transparent materials on the buds. There were a lot of prototypes that were trashed as the magnets and the circuit board had to be set aesthetically. A true amalgamation of art and science.
But it is not all rosy, the white part in the case is where the battery lies and it is asymmetrical. It is like the amoeba, with an undefined shape and size, and to someone like me, it is an OCD trigger.
I mean why couldn’t be something symmetrical like the hurley logo? Not exactly similar to avoid copyright issues, but something that is uniform.
And since the design of the case is boxy square and bigger than most TWS cases, you can’t toss them in the coin pocket of your jeans and even when you put them in the actual pockets you feel the bulge. Also, the case is a bit ambiguous so at first, you will have to figure out how to open or which side to open it from as both the sides have silver magnets instead of a clear marking.
- 11.6 mm Dynamic Driver
- 3 Microphones on each bud
- Bluetooth 5.2
- IPX4 rated
In terms of hardware, these are really light and tiny buds. They weigh a mere 4.7 grammes each and that allows you to wear them for longer durations. I could watch two 90 minutes movies without feeling tired or irritated. Well, the credit also goes to the super comfortable soft silicone tips.
It is astonishing to see how Nothing has managed to keep them so light and small, yet have 11.6 mm drivers and a 31mAh battery considering they are transparent. And it also is appreciable how snuggly and comfortably they fit in.
By default, the medium-sized tips are pre-applied on the ear (1) and you also get a pair of small and large ones if you need to change to get a more custom fit. I didn’t feel the need to change the liquid silicon tips. They stayed in all the time irrespective of the activity and even when it was really sweaty and humid.
Speaking of sweaty and humid, the ear (1) is IPX4 rated, so you don’t have to worry about sweat or a drizzle. In fact, I got a chance to use them in both heavy sweating and mild rain conditions.
But do make sure to take them off and secure them if it is raining heavily or if your friends can splash a bucket of water to welcome you 😀
The hardware is much more than what you would get at this price. Only the codecs are a limitation with only SBC and AAC support. But for most people, it won’t matter and they will enjoy every bit of what they are getting.
- Driver: 11.6 mm Dynamic
- Diaphragm: Graphene
- Chamber size: 0.34 CC
- Tuning: Teenage Engineering
- Codec: AAC and SBC
- Hybrid Active Noise Cancellation
- 3 High Definition Microphones
Sound is what it boils down to, the transparent design, the performance or even the price doesn’t matter if they don’t sound good. But thanks to Teenage Engineering, the Nothing ear (1) are great for their price or even double. The selection of components and the tuning has made all the difference when compared to the competition.
H.ear me out!
The Nothing ear (1) offer a good out of the box experience, without the tweaks and that’s what matters to most consumers. We reviewers would go and fiddle with each and every aspect of the app, play around with the EQ and other features but not everyone does that. In simpler words, the signature sound of the ear (1) is supple or balanced (as the default sound mode).
The default Balanced EQ has more of a V sound signature where the vocals aren’t tampered with. The focus is on Bass and Treble with clear and untouched vocals.
I listened to my usual benchmark tracks – Beethoven Symphony No 9, Billie Jean – Michael Jackson, Hotel California Unplugged – Eagles, Rhapsody in Blue, Thundercat – Uh Uh, Money – Pink Floyd, In the Air Tonight – Phill Collins, Afreen Afreen – Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Brown Munde and a few others.
And they all sound as I like it, there isn’t a wow deep bass factor but it has a good thumping bass, especially with the more Bass EQ preset. I also noticed that no matter what EQ mode you are in the preference is always give to Treble and it is always on the higher side. I hope that is something Nothing can refine with the future updates to the app.
Till about 90% volume they are crystal clear and you enjoy the sound but right after that, you would want to go back. They are pretty loud, no second thought about it. But at max volume, they reach the threshold borderline distortion. So between 60-90% is the sweet spot if you enjoy loud and clear audio.
In a nutshell, they are as good as it they get at this price. No complaints at all.
The Microphone quality is up to the mark, it’s not great and it’s not bad either. In simpler words, it is average but do not confuse it with the mic quality of other headsets under 10k. It worked well in all conditions, noisy or calm.
Just like the mic quality, is far better than the $100/10K buds that you get in the market but they are not comparable to the likes of AirPods Pro that zone you out. But we aren’t really comparing them with each other as there is a huge price difference and a completely different product positioning. Any mention of AirPods Pro is for contextual purposes as they are the gold standard of ANC TWS earbuds.
The ANC works great in cutting fan or AC noise but won’t really work on a thud, near a construction site or honking traffic we have in India.
By default, as soon as you plug in both the buds in your ears, the ANC is activated. And very cleverly, when you take out either of the buds, the ANC mode goes into transparency mode assuming that you have taken them off to talk to someone or to listen to an announcement.
The simplicity or clear design language continues to the app. The app comes in both light and dark mode, and can also use system default mode – light/dark that’s on your device.
When I started testing, they were on the pre-released beta software and had some bugs. But most of those bugs have been squashed with various incremental updates in a months time.
There is this one thing that I still want Nothing to fix, a user can’t rename his or her profile Nickname. For me, it was randomly given meV till version 1.05 but after the update to version 1.06, it is now meQ. And nor can I change my profile picture so it’s just a big M.
First time pairing is seamless, keep the only button on the case pressed and open the app. As soon as they are paired you see the page that says ‘MEET EAR (1)’ and shows all the default controls –
Double Tap – Play/Pause
Triple Tap – Next (Can be configured)
Tap & Hold – ANC On/Off (Can be configured)
Slide on Stem – Volume Up/Down
The app is simple and the home screen shows both the buds with battery levels right under them (L & R) and in the middle is the battery level of the case. Right underneath that are two buttons – Hear and Touch.
Talking about all the features you get in the app. The app is primarily divided into sections –
- Hear (Sound) – Lets you change ANC (Light/Maximum or Transparency) and EQ settings (Balanced, More Treble, More Bass, Voice)
- Touch – This lets you configure touch controls of the buds – Triple Tap and Tap hold for each ear.
There is no way you can customise the double-tap option, and there is no single tap option (maybe to avoid accidental touches) but it should be a choice that the user should make instead of completely omitting it.
Similarly, the EQ is more of Presets rather than actual EQ that you can tweak as per your need. So you can either have balanced sound (default mode), or you can select between more bass, more treble or voice.
Everything else is hidden behind the 3 dots on the top right corner of the app. So if you click on the three dots, you will get an option to toggle – In-ear detection; Find my ear (1); Firmware Update; and other generic information like Device Name, Serial Number and Bluetooth Address. Lastly, the options to force disconnect and forget (remove the pairing).
Our review unit of the Nothing ear (1) was on 1.06 at the time of writing this review. We started from version 0.6700.1.60 as TestFlight iOS beta tester.
The greatest accomplishment of the ear (1) app is that works seamlessly on both iOS and Android devices.
We have divided the performance section into various headers so that it is easier for you folks to read the part you want to know about.
The battery life is what you would expect from these light and tiny earbuds – 4-5 hours depending on what EQ mode you are in and if the ANC is on or off. Similarly, with the case, you can churn out 24/34 hours of battery life depending on the usage. Don’t forget these are only 4.7 grammes of earbuds with exposed internals.
In our test, a 10-minute trickle inside the case allowed me to play for 60 odd minutes with the ANC enabled and roughly 90 minutes with the ANC disabled.
And to charge the charging case, you can either plug in a USB-C charger or just place the case on a Qi-certified wireless charger. Also, worth mentioning is the charging indicator light is super quick to show if the charging has started or not when placed on a wireless charging mat/plate. Usually, there is a 5 seconds delay on every other TWS I have ever tested.
Battery life is similar to the claimed battery life and at par with TWS earbuds at this price and size.
As already mentioned, connectivity has been flawless and seamless for both Android and iOS devices.
As expected, the Latency is on point. There is no visible lag when watching content but if you are a pro-gamer then there is a slight delay that you would notice, irrespective of the platform you are on. But for casual gaming, you shouldn’t be bothered at all.
The reason for the slight delay could also be because these don’t seem to support dual-channel transmission. I feel that the earbuds are connected to each other and then one of them connects to the smartphone, instead of each of them directly connecting to the smartphone.
Nothing ear (1) – The Unbiased Verdict
The Nothing ear (1) launched on July 29, the very next day after my birthday. And honestly, it has turned out to be a great gift not just for me but for all the audiophiles out there. So after a month of usage, and the transition from the beta app to the public app and a bunch of updates here’s what I think of the ear (1).
Keeping the hype on the side, I feel that the Nothing ear (1) is an applaudable effort, can it be a gamechanger like the OnePlus One was is something we will have to wait and watch. But as the first product from a newly set up company, it is a great testament of greater things to come.
They are refreshing and striking in terms of design, definitely a head turner and the one that stands out. And as we have seen during the first sale, they are selling like hotcakes. So instead of worrying about whether the ear (1) is a grand success or not, Carl and his team should worry about keeping the production line reach its limit to fulfil all the orders.
While the Nothing ear (1) ticks most boxes. Here are a few things that can get better with the next iteration or the pro version (if any).
- the clear/transparent case has to go or a rubberised coating has to be done on it to avoid scratches
- support for more codecs/formats needs to be added
- ANC and latency support has to improve for pro users/gamers
- Need real EQ and not just presets
A lot will also depend on the availability of Nothing ear (1), will you wait for the flash sales or would you just walking to a store/or simply buy online what’s available? In the fast pace world we live in, everyone wants everything now so delays and the waiting game won’t work for most especially when the competition sells in abundance.
Speaking of competition, the Nothing ear (1) will not only be compared to the likes of Apple, Sony and Sennheiser but will actually have to stand tall in front of Samsung, OnePlus, OPPO, Jabra and others that have models at a similar price. Sure, nothing (no pun intended) matches the finesse and uniqueness of the Nothing ear (1) but what you get, when you want it is a factor that you can’t ignore.
So that it is something as reviewers we have to keep in mind before suggesting something that might not be available for months due to its high demand. In fact, my tweet regarding the second sale of the Nothing ear (1) attracted a lot of users who still hadn’t received their pair even after successfully ordering in the first sale. Most of these users were from the UK and the US sharing how their order is waiting to be shipped while the second sale was on the horizon in India.
That said, they have become one of my favourite pairs of TWS earbuds in this short stint I have had with them. To many more!
Disclaimer: We tested the Nothing ear (1) for a month before writing this review. All our reviews are unbiased and are published without the brand getting to read it before you guys. We don’t change our reviews on pressure from brands and that’s the reason we are not sent review units from companies like Samsung, OnePlus, Xiaomi and a few more.