When Carl Pei, the co-founder of OnePlus announced his exit from the company last year, a lot of people were excited to know about his next venture. Since OnePlus was a brand that catered to enthusiasts, the expectations from whatever was to follow were quite high. Earlier this year, Carl revealed that his new undertaking would be called Nothing, with a focus on integrating tech seamlessly into people's lives. What followed over the course of the next few months was constant hype on social media with the company posting teasers every now and then, quite reminiscent of the OnePlus hype machine. We finally now have the brand's first finished product with us -- the Nothing Ear 1.
Nothing's first launch is a pair of truly wireless earbuds that stand out from the mundane, ubiquitous pairs of generic wireless earphones. Upon first look, they're nothing like what you would imagine a pair of TWS earphones would look like. A transparent case, partially see-through housing for the earbuds, and the brand's core philosophy of integrating tech with everyday life are what constitutes the Nothing Ear 1's key selling points.
The important question to ask here though is whether the Nothing Ear 1 delivers on its main intended purpose -- does it even sound good? After all, that's what you're buying a pair of earphones for. We've used the Nothing Ear 1 for a while now, and here's what we think about it.
About this review: Nothing sent us a pair of the Ear 1's for review. This review was written after using them for more than a week. The brand did not have any input into the contents of this review.
Nothing Ear 1: Specifications
Nothing Ear 1
Dimensions & Weight
Battery and Charging
Build and Design
The Nothing Ear 1's case is built completely out of clear plastic. While it surely makes the case stand out from typical TWS earbuds, it's a scratch magnet. Most cases for TWS earbuds are made up of plastic and therefore easy to scratch. However, since most cases also have a paint job either in black on white, the scratches wouldn't be as visible as they are on the Nothing Ear 1. However, there's no denying the earphones look very pretty inside the transparent casing.
It's not just the case of the earbuds that stands out. The earbuds themselves have a unique, half-transparent design on the stem that shows off the internal circuitry. The overall theme of the Nothing Ear 1 seems pretty clear -- a distinct design that's recognizable from afar. The earbuds also have colored indicators that are also present in the case. These indicate which earbud goes where inside the case. Again, a simple but helpful touch.
The outer lid of the case has a dimple that serves two purposes -- one, it holds the earphones in place inside the case, and two, it acts as a perfect groove to rest your thumb in and use the case as a makeshift fidget spinner. The overall footprint of the case is larger than what you would get with most other TWS earphones. As a result, the Nothing Ear 1 isn't the most comfortable pair of earphones to carry in your jeans pocket.
What is comfortable though, is the fit of the earbuds. Nothing is using liquid silicone ear tips on the Ear 1 which is soft and easily fits into the ear canal. Personally, I'm not a big fan of in-ear-style earphones. It's difficult to find the right size of tips that fit and stay inside my ear and even once they're in, I can't wear them for an extended period as they start to feel uncomfortable. Surprisingly, I didn't encounter any of these issues with the Nothing Ear 1.
[sc name="pull-quote-right" quote="The Nothing Ear 1 is one of the most comfortable pairs of earbuds that I've tried."]I swapped out the default medium-sized tips for the small ones provided in the box (you also get a set of bigger ones) and the earbuds stayed inside my ear even during rigorous workouts. Speaking of workouts, the Ear 1 is IPX4 rated, so sweat shouldn't cause any issues. I'm not sure if it's the liquid silicone making the difference here or the shape of the earbuds, but the bottom line is the Nothing Ear 1 is one of the most comfortable pairs of earbuds that I've tried.
Nothing Ear 1: Sound Quality
The Nothing Ear 1 heavily relies upon its unique design to turn heads towards it. Will it make you groove and move your head though? The short answer is yes. Nothing has partnered with Teenage Engineering to build the Ear 1 and they've done a pretty good job. There's nothing extraordinary about the sound produced by the Ear 1, but the sound signature is such that it's going to please most people.
The sound is balanced with an emphasis on both bass and treble. It didn't feel like some frequencies were overpowering the others. Vocals are clear and the instrument separation is also great. Now, let me make it clear these are not meant to compete against the big guns like Sony's WF-1000 XM4 or even the XM3 for that matter, or Apple's AirPods Pro. The Nothing Ear 1 sells at a different price point and for the price, you're getting a pair of earphones that sound good.
[sc name="pull-quote-left" quote="The sound signature is going to please most people."]Depending on which part of the world you're in and how much more you're willing to spend, there could be other options better than the Nothing Ear 1 in terms of audio quality. The newly-announced Samsung Galaxy Buds 2, for example, is about $50 more in the US and is very similar to the Galaxy Buds Pro, one of our top recommendations for the best TWS earphones. If you're in India, there aren't a lot of options around the ₹6k mark that sound better than the Nothing Ear 1.
Active Noise Cancellation (ANC)
As for the Active Noise Cancellation, the Nothing Ear 1 does a fairly good job at cutting out constant noise like the sound from a ceiling fan or a moving train. Again, don't expect it to perform like the premium offerings from Sony or Apple. The sound of traffic outside your house or a baby crying for example is what the ANC on the Ear 1 will struggle with. There are two levels of ANC that you can choose from - light and maximum. There's also a transparency mode.
If you take a lot of calls, the Nothing Ear 1 will serve the purpose, but it's not the best out there when it comes to canceling out background noise. At times, the opposite party even complained about slightly muffled voice quality when on a call. We also experienced some sort of static noise during online meetings that can get quite annoying. A firmware update has improved the usability but the static can still be heard at times.
App and Gesture Controls
The different modes of ANC we mentioned can be controlled via the Ear 1 app that's available on both Android and iOS. The app has a simple UI and also offers some equalizer presets. You can also update the firmware on the earbuds using the app. Apart from this, the Nothing Ear 1 has support for gesture controls that can also be modified via the app.
You can choose custom operations for triple-tap and tap-and-hold. The earbuds also have auto-pause functionality when you remove them from your ear but this was slightly finicky during our usage. The other gestures worked accurately for the most part thanks to a flat stem that makes it easier to perform the tap gestures. You can also slide your finger over the stem to increase or decrease the volume level which is quite handy.
Throughout our usage, we were able to get about three-and-a-half to four hours of listening time via the earbuds at about 75% volume and ANC turned on. If you're going to make or attend a lot of calls or meetings, the battery life will drop slightly. With ANC turned off, we were able to stretch the battery to a little over five hours. The case can top-up the earbuds about five times if you use the buds with ANC and about six times if you don't.
When you run out of juice on the earbuds, placing them inside the case for 10 minutes can give you up to an hour of playback time. Charging the case itself for ten minutes via the USB-C port will give you about six hours of playback time with ANC and eight hours without. The Nothing Ear 1 also supports Qi Wireless charging. The numbers aren't great since we've seen several TWS earbuds offering upwards of six hours of battery life. The lower capacity is probably a by-product of the unique design choices made by Nothing.
Verdict: Should you buy the Nothing Ear 1?
If you're looking for a pair of TWS earphones that are comfortable, look different, sound decent, and have ANC, the Nothing Ear 1 fits the bill perfectly. However, the same question we asked earlier is relevant once again -- which part of the world are you in and how much are you willing to spend on a pair of wireless earbuds?
If you're in India, the Nothing Ear 1 is a no-brainer at ₹5,999. There's no other real contender at that price point other than the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ but those lack ANC and will likely be discontinued in favor of the Buds 2 when that launches in the country.
[sc name="pull-quote" quote="It doesn't do anything extraordinary nor is it particularly bad at anything. It just works, and frankly, that's what most people want."]
If you're in the US though, there are several options around the $100 mark you can consider and if you're willing to spend more, the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 at $149 seems like a better option. Samsung generally has a few offers going on and if you buy a new phone like the Galaxy Z Fold 3 or the Galaxy Z Flip 3 from their website, you can also get store credits which you can use to pick up the Buds 2 effectively for free. If your budget is strictly limited to $99, you won't regret picking up the Nothing Ear 1.
Nothing Ear 1
The Nothing Ear 1 is a pair of Truly Wireless Earphones with ANC that comes with a distinct design.
The Nothing Ear 1 gets most of the basics right. It doesn't do anything extraordinary nor is it particularly bad at anything. It just works, and frankly, that's what most people want, which is exactly what makes it a sound choice for consumers.