Nothing Ear 1 review

After years of big-name brands like Apple, Samsung, Bose, and OnePlus dominating the wireless earbuds conversation, there’s a new contender in the space: Nothing.

Based in London and founded by OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei, Nothing made a bit of a splash this summer with the launch of its inaugural product, the Ear (1) wireless earbuds.

Specifications

  • Water resistance: IPX4 (splash resistant)
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2, SBC, AAC
  • Battery life: four hours with noise cancelling (24 hours with case)
  • Earbud dimensions: 28.9 x 21.5 x 23.5mm
  • Earbud weight: 4.7g each
  • Driver size: 11.6mm
  • Charging case dimensions: 58.66 x 58.6 x 23.7mm
  • Charging case weight: 57.4g
  • Case charging: USB-C, Qi wireless charging

The first thing you’ll notice with the Nothing Ear 1 is that striking transparent design. Transparent plastic encompasses both the earbuds and the charging case; though despite Nothing’s claims to “reveal the raw beauty of technology,” most of the internals are still hidden. Magnets and a small divot in the case hold the earbuds in place, with white and red dots to identify the left and right earbuds respectively.

The shape and design of the Ear 1 earbuds is very similar to the Apple AirPods Pro, with a short, flat stem that protrudes from the driver housing. Nothing includes three different sizes of oblong silicone ear tips, so you should be able to find a good fit with a tight seal (sorry, folks, no memory foam ear tips here). At only 4.7g each, the earbuds are light enough to forget you’re wearing them. The earbuds also have an IPX4 rating that makes them a fine workout companion.

They support Google’s Fast Pair with Android for one-tap pairing and battery levels display. The connection to a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and iPhone 12 Pro was rock solid, although they could not be tested in congested areas because of the Covid-19 situation in the UK.

A good set of gesture controls include double tap for pause/play and triple tap for track skip. Press and hold to switch noise cancelling modes, and slide your finger up and down the stalk to adjust volume. The music will also pause/play when you remove and reinsert an earbud.

The charging case is where Nothing definitely gets more out there with design. It’s a squished-down square with rounded corners that opens and closes with satisfying spring tension.

There’s a USB-C port for wired charging, and you also get Qi wireless charging; that’s always nice to see at this price. But for all the visual flair, it feels like I’m doing more work to seat the Ear 1s back in their case compared with other earbuds I’ve got around.

The magnetic hold isn’t particularly strong, and laying the earbuds flat instead of plopping them into deep charging cradles takes more direct attention. The big dimple in the top of the case helps keep the earbuds in place, with a side effect of turning the case into a fun thing to fidget with and twirl around in your fingers. Still, I think Nothing could’ve come up with something more efficient and compact.

In terms of sound, the Ear 1s and their 11.6-millimeter drivers don’t pull off any huge upsets against more premium competition. But they also don’t sound bad or “budget.” They’ve just got some weaknesses that earbud enthusiasts will pick up on. Most listeners will enjoy the sound of the Nothing Ear 1. Unlike other affordable earbuds, the Nothing Ear 1 isn’t super bass-heavy, opting instead for a more accurate low and midrange frequency response.

Even with some technical faults, Nothing has its closest competition beat in price, and it’s not particularly close.

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