What you’ll take away from this Nothing Ear (1) review is a clear idea of whether these true wireless earbuds are right for you, or not.
Nothing is a brand new London based company started by OnePlus founder Carl Pei. Attempting to disrupt the tech market with something fresh and unique, the company wants to produce an ecosystem of products that inspires passion and excitement. The first of which are the Nothing Ear (1) true wireless earbuds which were a popular talking point on social media in the run-up to their launch.
So I got my hands on a pair to answer the question, do they live up to the hype? Brief answer - they do in some ways, but not in others. Don’t get me wrong, they’re interesting, they look good and you get way more features than you'd expect at this price, but these aren’t game-changing. That’s not to say they’re bad headphones though, they’re certainly some of the best true wireless earbuds you can buy for under $100.
Find out more in this full Nothing Ear (1) review, but first, check out this video overview.
Nothing Ear (1) review: video overview
Nothing Ear (1) review: price and availability
The best part about the Nothing Ear (1) true wireless earbuds is their price. You can pick up a pair for just $99 / £99 / AU$140. They will be widely available from the 17th August 2021.
Nothing Ear (1) review: design and fit
The Nothing Ear (1) buds have a dangling stem with an Apple AirPods Pro-esque design but the very first thing you’ll notice when you take them out of the box is that they come in a transparent case, and the buds inside are also transparent. Well, mostly transparent.
You can see everything inside the stem and the lower part of the bud, then the actual bud itself is solid white. That’s a shame because on hearing ‘transparent earbuds’ I expected the whole thing to be see-through. What you can see is pretty cool, it does make you appreciate just how much goes into creating true wireless earbuds. Supposedly everything you see inside has a very real purpose, nothing has been put there for the sake of aesthetics. It’s a good idea, but for me, it doesn’t quite go far enough.
The case is small enough to put in your pocket, measuring 58.6 x 58.6 x 23.7mm. Instead of the usual L and R signs on the buds and inside the case, there’s a red and white dot. The buds also don’t intuitively snap back in the box, it took me a second to figure out what goes where and how.
To find the perfect fit, they come with three sizes of silicone ear tips in the box. They feel very soft in the ear, which alongside how light they are (just 4.7g each) makes them really comfortable to wear for a long time. I worked out in them and they didn’t fall out once either. Another factor that makes them fine to use for exercise is the IPX4 rating, which means they are sweat and splash resistant.
You can manage your music using the touch controls on the earbuds. Out of the box they're set to double-tap to pause or play the music, triple-tap to skip through tracks, hold down on the bud to switch between noise-cancelling modes and slide up and down the stem to adjust the volume. You can change what each gesture does from the smartphone app.
I found the controls felt natural and the buds were very responsive. I didn’t use them accidentally either which is always a good sign. One problem I had was switching between ANC modes, there wasn’t a tiny voice to tell you which mode you’re on which made it hard to differentiate between them, especially between the Light ANC mode and Transparent mode which lets the sound in.
With ANC switched on, the Nothing Ear (1) will last up to 4 hours from a single charge, with it switched off that goes up to just under 6 hours. That’s fine, it’s a similar amount to AirPods and will certainly be enough for most people. If you do get caught short, a quick 10-minute charge will give you just over an hour of music. If you have a bit more time, it only takes 50 minutes for the buds to recharge in the case.
The charging case provides you with an extra 24 hours of playback with noise-cancelling switched on which is boosted to 34 hours when it’s turned off. So, you’re unlikely to be charging the case all that often. What’s really great though is that the case supports wireless charging. If you don’t have a wireless charger, then no worries, because you can charge it overnight using the USB-C cable included in the box - it will need to be overnight though because it takes at least 6 hours to recharge to 100%.
Nothing Ear (1) review: performance and features
Packed inside the tiny buds are 11.6mm drivers, that’s pretty big for something so small. They definitely sound like more premium buds than they are, but they aren’t quite game-changing. I noticed the treble wasn't forceful enough, making high notes a little underwhelming at times, while some tracks didn't sound quite as precise as you'd hope for. Overall though these earbuds do sound good, they’re not quite going to deliver knock-out performance but they do deliver rich audio with thumping bass and plenty of detail.
From the app, you can choose between four preset sound modes, those being the default Balanced, More Treble, More Bass and Voice. You can definitely hear the difference, especially in the More Bass mode which actually made some songs far too bassy-heavy, but I’m sure some will absolutely love that feeling. You can’t adjust the equaliser settings manually though.
You get three Active Noise Cancelling modes here. Setting it to maximum, the Nothing Ear (1) earbuds do a very good job at cutting out noise. The noisy road outside disappeared and even my keyboard taps were less annoying. To test out the noise-cancelling more thoroughly, I played a YouTube video of plane noise and they even manage to cut out the majority of that. Impressive for $99 TWS earbuds.
Then, there’s the Light mode which cuts out a small amount of noise, it’ll probably be good for use in places like offices where you want to hear some noise but not all of it. Lastly, there’s the Transparent mode which lets all of the sounds around you back in.
On each earbud, there are three tiny microphones that cleverly filter your voice to make it easier for those on the other end of the phone to understand you. I tested this out and the person on the other end noted how clear and loud I came across in comparison to other buds.
To control the buds, activate the different noise-cancelling modes and to see their individual battery level, you can get the ear (1) app for Android and iOS. The app is great and well laid out.
From the app, you can also activate Find My Earbud which is a really great feature. If you have lost a bud somewhere at home, it makes the buds produce a loud ring to help you find them. They also have ear detection which will automatically pause the music when one falls out, and play it again when you put the bud back in.
Nothing Ear (1) review: verdict
So the Nothing Ear (1) true wireless earbuds promised a lot and while they are fantastic affordable buds, they aren't quite going to be ruling the true wireless market just yet. Despite that though, I do really like them.
With a mostly transparent design, the Nothing Ear (1) buds look a bit different even though they’re not quite as different as I expected them to be. The app is well organised and intuitive, and the battery life will definitely be good enough for most people.
For less than $100 they manage to pack in loads of extra features, decent sound and effective noise-cancelling tech, which makes them a very convincing buy.
They are hardly going to kill off AirPods, yet for anyone who wants cool wire-free headphones without spending a king’s ransom on the very best you can buy, the Nothing Ear (1) buds won’t disappoint.
Nothing Ear (1) review: also consider
If money is no object, then the best true wireless earbuds you can buy are still the Sony WF-1000XM4. They excell pretty much across the board, with brilliantly detailed sound, fantastic call quality and a great app to manage them. The battery life isn’t the best out there, but it’s not bad either. Well worth considering if you have the money to spend on them.
For something more similarly priced to the Nothing Ear (1) take a look at the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus. They won Best Value Headphones at the T3 Awards 2021 because they offer high-end sound for a lower-mid-range price. The design is pretty simple and there’s no ANC but they perform so well in sound and battery life that I don’t think that matters.
- These are the best noise-cancelling headphones