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Nothing ear (1): What works and what doesn’t

Ahead of the launch of its buzzy Nothing phone (1)Nothing quietly brought its eye-catching earbuds to the Philippines, the Nothing ear (1). I’ve spent the better part of the month with it, giving me the chance to pinpoint what works and what doesn’t with these heavily hyped earbuds.

Nothing Ear (1)’s design

While the final Nothing ear (1) design isn’t quite the same as what was being leaked (no surprises there), it still has a pretty distinctive design. Bits of its interiors are visible through the plastic shell. Nothing carries that to its square-ish case. It’s a looker. That distinctive design can certainly make it identifiable when you’re wearing it while you’re out and about.

The downside to this design is it’s a pretty scratch-prone package. The case has a few scratches on its shell already, and I’ve made a dent in one of the earbuds when it fell off a desk and onto a concrete floor. If you’re a bit of a klutz or plan to throw it in with your other things, it’s unavoidable to damage the plastic build.

Having a mostly plastic build makes for a comfortable fit, though. It’s ultra-light at 4.7g. Discomfort isn’t an issue with this pair. I can wear it through the duration of its battery life without any strain. Nothing attributes this comfy fit to pressure-relieving vents, ergonomic design, and three liquid silicone tips.

Each earbud gets a composite mesh design for improved sweat and water resistance with an IPX4 rating. I could use it for quick workouts. It typically stays in, but sometimes I worried it would fall off when I was skipping rope. These are built more for day-to-day use instead of as a workout companion.

Audio features

When I talk about the Nothing ear (1)’s audio capabilities, I’d be negligent if I didn’t mention that the company worked with Swedish synthesizer maker Teenage Engineering. Theoretically, that should bring an impressive audio performance from these buds. But I wasn’t particularly blown away by its audio quality.

The Nothing ear (1)’s get 11.6mm speaker drivers and support for AAC and SBC codecs. The sound quality is not bad per se, but it just seems on par with others I’ve used that are slightly more affordable than this one. I can switch between them and not notice much of a difference.

Noise cancellation is pretty good on these buds, though. It has two levels for noise cancellation (light and maximum), and I find it can keep distractions out fairly well. It could keep most of that noise out on a particularly rainy day.

What I did wish it offered was more control over the equalizer. There are four modes to choose from (Balanced, More Treble, More Bass, and Voice), but I was hoping it would give listeners more flexibility over how audio sounded on these earbuds.

Another missing feature is a multipoint connection. But maybe because it’s still somewhat in the budget range (although on the higher end of that) that Nothing opted out of including it. But it would’ve made it convenient to use the ear (1)s with multiple devices.

Call quality isn’t something to write (or call) home about either. Sometimes I’ve been told by the person on the other line that it was a bit noisy. It’s not the best feature of these earbuds, despite Nothing saying these buds come with Clear Voice Technology and three high-definition mics with AI-powered Environmental Noise Cancellation.

The software experience 

Nothing adds support for Google Fast Pair, allowing for easy connection with nearby Android devices. The moment I opened the case near any Android phone, I’d get a prompt that reminds me I can connect the earbuds to that device. So, it’s really easy to connect these buds to your phone.

As with most devices, you would need to install another app to get more out of the Nothing ear (1)’s. Fast Pair will prompt you to download the app so you don’t forget. It’s not ideal to have to install another app, but it’s what we have to work with. And you will need that app to get any software updates that will (hopefully) improve the use of these earbuds.

The app is also the easiest way to switch between sound profiles. And this is where you’ll tweak gesture controls on the ear (1). Using gestures on the stems is fairly responsive on these earbuds. I like that there’s volume control on these buds.

But what I’m hoping Nothing addresses is the mode switching on them. You can switch between noise cancellation and transparency or disable these altogether. But the feedback you’ll get when you switch are beeps I’m still not able to decipher. I’d rather they took the route of the earbuds telling me what mode I’m in.

In-ear detection works most of the time. If that isn’t your cup of tea, you can disable that in the app, too. The app also comes in handy if you want to switch to a lower latency mode. This is what you need to reduce delays between the device and the earbuds. If you’re playing games or watching something, you’d want to enable this feature.

What about the Nothing ear (1)’s battery life?

Battery life is at par with many wireless earbuds I’ve used. I could get up to five and a half to six hours of use with ANC disabled and an extra five charges out of the case. It’s within the range of what Nothing claims you can get with these earbuds (up to 34 hours with the case with ANC off and up to 24 hours with ANC on).

Final thoughts

Hype played the biggest role in generating buzz around the Nothing ear (1). While it’s a pretty decent pair of earbuds, it does fall short in ways that prevent me from making it a slam-dunk recommendation. The design is refreshing and cool, and I want to see more of that, but I want it to sound just a bit better. Of course, that’s what you need the most from a pair of earbuds.

The Nothing ear (1) retails for USD 99 or PHP 5,990.

Are you planning on picking one up yourself? Let us know on social media!