Nothing ear (1) earbuds have finally been unveiled and is seems like Carl Pei's claims that they'll give the Apple AirPods Pro a run for their money were on the nose after all. The startup, co-founded by Pei who was director and and co-founder at OnePlus, has been teasing the earbuds for a while now, taking a lesson in hype-building from the Chinese tech giant.
After whetting our appetites with mysterious images, a delectable price point, and a pre-launch auction that saw bids soar to over $1,000 for a limited edition run, the Nothing ear (1) buds are officially here. But can they outclass the AirPods Pro? Here are some of the features and touches that the earbuds are sporting that could make them a worthy opponent to take on Apple.
- Samsung boss confirms Galaxy Note 21 is dead but its legacy will live on
- Apple AirPods 3 launch date revealed in really believable rumor
- Apple Music on Android is better than it is on iPhone – thanks to Dolby Atmos, lossless and a unique new feature
For the specs the Nothing ear (1) buds are packing, consumers will only be forking out $99 / £99 / €99 (approx. AU$182). Meanwhile, the AirPods Pro come in at $249 / £249 / AU$399.
Nothing ear (1) house a powerful 11.6mm driver with a 0.34cc chamber, Active Noise Cancellation using three high definition mics to offer Light, Maximum, and Transparency ANC modes, Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity, touch gesture controls, fast charging, and an IPX4-rated splash- and sweat-resistant rating. And they only weigh 4.7g per earbud.
The two pairs of earbuds are pretty similar, except for the price tag. Why spend hundreds on a pair of AirPods Pro when you get the Nothing ear (1) without breaking the three digits mark?
The AirPods Pro 4.5 hours playtime per charge with ANC activated, which bumps up to 5 hours with ANC turned off. The charging case is rated to give you 24 hours of total use time, and just five minutes in the case will get you an hour of juice.
The Nothing ear (1) smashes it on the battery front; you'll get 5.7 hours of listening time and 34 with the case with ANC off, and 4 hours with ANC plus 24 from the case. And after a brief 10 minutes charge of the case, you get up to 8 hours power.
If you travel or commute frequently, or just can't be bothered to face the rigmarole of charging things that often, the Nothing ear (1) has got you covered for hours. And hours and hours and hours....
R and L markers
Apple AirPods are sleek, white stems that balloon into buds at the top, and at a glance, they're pretty much identical. That's not a massive issue but it is a design oversight that doesn't take into account how irritating it is – if only for a brief moment – to figure out which is which when popping them into the case.
The Nothing ear (1) solves this with the application of a red dot on the right earbud, which ties into the overall logo. Interestingly, the dot aesthetic is based on a dot matrix, as Thomas Howard, vice head of design at Teenage Engineering, explained to WIRED (opens in new tab).
"We had an advantage. You come into a category where there’s stuff already out, and we’ve all had experience with using others like the AirPods Pro. And you run into these issues. So what a fantastic opportunity then to be able to jump in and try to solve some of those things.
"Also one of the great advantages of having a transparent case that you know whether the earbuds are in or out. It’s also about challenging how things are done by our friends over in Silicon Valley. We’re trying to have a conversation, in a way, through our products."
Dropping the spatial audio gimmick
Apple AirPods Pro feature support for spatial audio, which is somewhat divisive when it comes to sound quality. Nothing opted to skip spatial audio, because it's arguably somewhat of a gimmick at the moment. In the same WIRED interview referenced above, Carl Pei was asked why the company chose to forgo the feature, and his answer makes perfect sense.
"We had some discussions early on about spatial audio. For it to work really well it needs to start at the source. So the recording has to be done in a special way. You can take current recordings and retrofit them into spatial audio, but it doesn’t sound as good. So we made the call. Once there’s more recordings with this at the source, then we will consider it."
This recent Reddit thread (opens in new tab) illustrates the issue perfectly, and ultimately why pay over the odds for a feature that can't be properly implemented yet? Nothing has made the right call by passing it over until it becomes a necessity.
It's difficult to advance a design when the form factor for a product has been ingrained into the population at large. While Apple seems to have made its mark with the stem, competing brands like Google and Samsung have steered clear with their Pixel Buds and Galaxy Buds Pro.
Nothing has gone down the stem route, but has given the design a fresh twist with its transparent materials. The AirPods Pro look positively bland by comparison, with Apple doing little to jazz things up once it's found a winning formula – you only need look to the iPhone to see how little it changes a design once it's found success.
The iPhone 12 is still sporting that giant notch, and while a handful of companies are now moving their front-facing cameras under the display, like the upcoming Galaxy Z Fold 3, Apple is reportedly rolling out a slightly smaller notch this year with the iPhone 13. Truly ground-breaking stuff.
"A lot of us were uninspired by consumer tech looking more and more the same," Pei told WIRED. "t was important to find a design language we could stick with. Jesper [Kouthoofd, founder and CEO of Teenage Engineering] showed us a picture from the Sony museum where there was a bunch of products on the wall. You could see a consistent vision. Companies today don’t really have a design vision, they just do whatever is in fashion each quarter.
"The trick is to find something different, that’s also desirable, but not just different for the sake of it. Pure transparent design, where you see everything on the earbuds and also the case, does not fulfil that criteria. We want to make the products accessible to more people. It would have been very niche if it was fully transparent."
Nothing ear (1) buds go on sale on August 17 on the Nothing website (opens in new tab) and at select retailers. There's a second limited drop planned for this week, July 31 at 6AM PDT/ 9AM EDT/ 2PM BST on the Noting website. So if you can't wait a few weeks for launch, bookmark the page and head over there this Saturday.