Nothing Ear (stick) review: the best affordable alternative to Apple AirPods

The Nothing Ear (stick) are half-in-ear headphones with good sound and some useful extra features but there's no ANC

Nothing Ear (stick) review: earbuds with bugs
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

You need to consider the Nothing Ear (stick) if you want a pair of half-in-ear headphones but you don't want to spend hundreds on them. They're jam-packed full of handy features like custom EQ settings and in-ear detection, it's just a shame that they don't have ANC to keep outside sound out.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Comfortable half-in-ear fit

  • +

    29 hours of battery life

  • +

    Reliable sound

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    There's no noise cancelling

  • -

    Lacks wireless charging

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Any Nothing Ear (stick) review would have to start by saying that these won’t be for everyone, but they’re some of the best cheap headphones for those who don’t like the feeling of slotting earbuds deep inside the ear. 

This is Nothing’s second pair of earbuds, the first, the Nothing Ear (1) were massively hyped up at launch and proved to be a brilliant pair of affordable in-ear headphones with good sound, effective noise cancelling and custom audio settings.

A year on, Nothing has launched this next pair of buds but this time around with a half-in-ear style for those who prefer that shape: the Nothing Ear (stick) are built for all-day comfort, you can’t expect them to isolate sound as well but the audio quality is actually surprisingly good.

Nothing Ear (stick) review: price and availability 

You can buy the Nothing Ear (stick) for $99 in the US and £99 in the UK, so they’re an affordable alternative to the likes of the Apple AirPods. Take a look at the widgets on this page to see where you can pick up a pair. 

Nothing Ear (stick) review: design and fit 

Nothing Ear (stick) review: headphones in case on red shelf

(Image credit: Future)

For those who don’t like the idea of pushing a silicone ear tip inside their ear canal, the Nothing Ear (stick) buds are designed to be placed in the outer part of your ear. I personally really like this style because you can wear them for a much longer period of time without getting tired of having them in. 

These earbuds do exactly that, they’re really comfortable and I could wear them for hours on end. The only downside to this fit is that they aren’t quite as secure for more high-energy activities like runs, you might find them slipping out every now and then.

A small transparent dangling stem stretches from the bottom of the white rounded plastic earbud. Apart from anything else, the Nothing ear (stick) buds look a little different to the rest of the true wireless crowd. While the so-called ‘transparent’ design might be a stretch, they still look cool and they’re very discreet as well. 

To keep them charged up and safe when you’re not using them, they come in a matching see-through charging case, which is in the shape of a tube hence the (stick) in the name. To release them you just twist the top where there’s a red panel and pull them out. The design not only looks interesting but it’s practical too because they won’t fall out if you were to drop the case, as lots of other more typical TWS earbuds do. 

The case has a USB-C charging port at the end, with a small Bluetooth button next to it. When closed, there’s a rough white panel blocking the entrance which has a Nothing logo across it. It’s all great to fiddle with although the shape of the case isn’t quite so good being kept in a tight jeans pocket. 

Nothing Ear (stick) review: closed headphones case on red shelf with houseplant

(Image credit: Future)

To protect them against damage, the Nothing ear (stick) are IP54 water and dust-resistant so they’ll cope if you get caught in light rain or if you’re a little sweaty at the gym, but you will have to bear in mind that they’re not fully waterproof so don’t go dropping them into a pool.

Unlike the Nothing Ear (1) these don’t have touch controls, instead, you manage the music using new press controls where you squeeze the stem once to pause or play the music, twice to skip forwards to the next track, three times to skip backwards and hold to adjust the volume. Those are the default settings, through the Nothing app, you can change them if something else makes more sense to you, or if you’d like to add controls like to call your smartphone's voice assistant. What I like about press controls is that it would be hard to accidentally trigger them, unlike earbuds that use gestures. 

From a single charge, the earbuds will last about 7 hours of listening time, with the case providing an extra 22 hours - so 29 hours in total before you’ll need to plug it in. If you get caught short then a quick 10-minute charge will give you 2 hours of use.

Nothing Ear (stick) review: performance and features

Nothing Ear (stick) review: true wireless earbuds on red shelf

(Image credit: Future)

Down to the nitty gritty and the Nothing Ear (stick) sound great considering the fact that they aren’t sealed in, that’s partly because they feature Bass Lock, a technology that's able to detect sound leakage and adjust the audio accordingly to give you the best possible experience at all times. 

Rich, deep sound is what you get from these earphones. The bass is strong without overwhelming the treble which is crystal clear, while the mids push through very naturally. You might still find they lack a bit of oomph in comparison to in-ear buds but really the only significant downside I could find is that outside sounds can very easily distract you from the music because there’s no noise cancelling, but not everyone will be looking to block the world out anyway.  

Using the Nothing X smartphone app available for both Android and iOS, you can tune the sound to suit you using the easy-to-use custom settings. If you own the Nothing Phone (1) then these controls are all integrated into your settings app. They let you add emphasis to different parts of the audio whether that's to get more bass, more push on the mids or more force behind the treble. For gaming, you’ll also get an extra low lag mode included in the earbud settings which gets automatically switched on if you're using the Phone (1).

For the most solid connectivity possible, the Nothing Ear (stick) has Bluetooth 5.2, and the antennas are a little different to Ear (1) because they’ve been moved further up the stem, away from the controls, which ultimately means there’s less in the way to block the signal. I quite happily wandered away from my phone and even into another room with these earbuds in without the music cutting out.

In-ear detection is another feature that comes in handy because it pauses the music when you take one out which should stop you from losing one, and means you won't miss any of your favourite songs or important sections of a podcast. You’ll also get Find My Earbuds which triggers an audible buzz in the buds to help you pinpoint where they are in the room. 

Last but not least, is call quality. The Nothing Ear (stick) are loaded with Clear Voice Technology which has been upgraded from the Ear (1) to filter out more decibels so those on both ends of the call can hear everything more clearly. When I made phone calls with these I was pleased with the results, and the person on the other end had no complaints either.

Nothing Ear (stick) review: verdict 

Nothing Ear (stick)

(Image credit: Nothing)

To cut a long story short, I really like the Nothing Ear (stick) because finally, there’s a worthy AirPods alternative that won’t cost you the earth. You don’t need to make huge sacrifices on sound and there are still plenty of features like custom EQ settings and Find My Earbuds. 

You can’t expect these to perform as well as a pair of the best true wireless earbuds that you push inside your ear, but considering the shape, these do actually sound good. I’d recommend them to anyone looking for a pair of half-in-ear headphones, and to Nothing Phone (1) users in particular. 

Nothing Ear (stick) review: also consider  

Another affordable pair of earbuds that you don’t have to push into your ears are the JBL Tune Flex, but what’s great is that if you want to feel more immersed in the music then they do come with ear tips too, so you can wear them both ways. They’re also very reasonably priced. 

Not fussed about the shape, and more interested in having excellent sound? Take a look at the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+ because the audio quality is fantastic considering how affordable they are even if you don’t get any extra features like ANC or wireless charging. 

Yasmine Crossland
Freelance Tech Expert

Yasmine is the former Reviews Writer for T3, so she's been knee-deep in the latest tech products for reviewing and curating into the best buying guides since she started in 2019. She keeps a finger on the pulse when it comes to the most exciting and innovative tech and is happy to tell you exactly what she thinks about it too. In her free time, you'll catch her travelling the globe – the perks of being a freelance tech expert – tending to her plants when at home and, but of course, planning her next big trip.