Mon. Jan 17th, 2022

Looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before and that’s where it scores all the points.

product name

Nothing Ear (1)

Pros

  • Refreshing design
  • Active Noise Canceling
  • Good sound image

One of the things we’ve seen a ridiculous glut of in the past year is True Wireless Stereo solutions or TWS earbuds. As people started working from home due to the pandemic, earplugs and headphones became a necessity. The tech companies made the most of this need, pushing a slew of products onto the market – from Apple, to Samsung, to OnePlus, Xiaomi, Realme, Oppo… pretty much every company had earbuds, in different price ranges, that you could consider . And so it was in 2021.

Throw a proverbial rock out the window and it hits a new smartphone, smartwatch or new earbuds. It can even hit a smart TV. It might even be safe to say that more tech products have been launched in the past year than Bollywood and Hollywood movies.

And then came Nothing, with his first product – the Nothing Ear (1). What could the company do to stand out in a range of products across price ranges? It had to look different… and good. Like a showstopper on a ramp or that one person not wearing H&M or Forever 21 to a party. And boy, yielded nothing on this front!


The red and white dots on the Nothing ear (1) are the only spots of color on the otherwise monochromatic buttons.

The red and white dots on the Nothing ear (1) are the only spots of color on the otherwise monochromatic buttons. (Jhinuk Sen/HT Tech)

Before we talk about the design, we need to discuss something else. Being the burden of a “Nothing”. One tech reviewer compared Nothing and its ear (1) to how things turned out for Apple when they launched the iPhone SE in 2016, and he’s right. As it was with the iPhone SE then, expectations for Nothing’s first product were also overwhelming, and like that smartphone, Nothing barely made it through.

The expectations of Nothing are due to one person: Carl Pei, one of the founders of the very popular OnePlus brand. OnePlus has become one of the major players in the smartphone market over the years and has delivered some exceptional devices. When Pei switched from OnePlus to create nothing, a lot had happened to him. When tech heavyweights like iPod inventor Tony Fadell came on board for the brand, expectations grew. And it may have grown so much that it left very little room for teething problems for nothing.

On paper, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the ear (1). While the 5,999 price is a bit on the higher side, nothing wrong with this either. And what the company manages to deliver isn’t half bad as a package either. There are some stunning pluses and some disappointing minuses, and when you add it all up, you’d still consider buying the Nothing Ear (1), and yet we’re left wondering why we weren’t blown away.

The Nothing Ear (1) has ANC (active noise cancellation), a feature usually reserved for more expensive headphones. The ability to recognize and block out ambient noise using sound waves is a very useful feature, especially when listening to music in crowded, loud spaces and when taking calls.

When it works, the ANC on Nothing Ear (1) is very good. The sound quality on the Nothing Ear (1) is also quite impressive. While songs sound a bit heavy, and I would have preferred a bit more bass, overall it’s not that bad. The Nothing app does offer a few equalizer presets and you can use them to adjust your audio, but only to a very small extent. The buds also deliver a good soundstage, probably the best in this price range.


The nothing ear (1) comes with features such as active noise cancellation (ANC), 11.6mm drivers and Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity

The nothing ear (1) comes with features such as active noise cancellation (ANC), 11.6mm drivers and Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity (Jhinuk Sen/HT Tech)

Adding to all of this are gesture controls that can be customized from within the Nothing app. For example, tap twice to pause the audio, tap three times to skip the track. If you pull out one of the earbuds, the music will pause. Seems basic? It is. But that’s okay. When these gesture controls work, they work well.

So here’s what, two of the significantly more important features on any premium-esque earbud – ANC and gesture control – exist on the Nothing Ear (1) and they work well when they do. The problem is, they often don’t. That’s what pulls Nothing Ear (1) down – software issues. In my use, the music stopped playing a number of times while I was walking or on the treadmill. And with no tap of any buttons, it was able to reboot. And it happened in music apps too – Apple Music, Prime Music and also Spotify.

The ANC on the Nothing Ear (1) also went off randomly while I was on the phone. And it happened several times during long conversations. I had to open the Nothing app and manually enable ANC to turn it off on its own.

Nothing rolled out a few firmware updates but that didn’t fix the issues. I had similar issues with the second set of earbuds the company sent me. Although in the second set the problem with turning off the music was relatively less. Obviously this is a software issue and nothing a few more firmware updates can’t fix, but the point is – we don’t expect any product coming out of Pei and Fadell’s garage to have software issues. To pull a page from Fadell’s old company – it should “just work”.


The sound on the nothing ear (1) is designed by Teenage Engineering and the earbuds also come with Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) support.  The earbuds use Clear Voice technology to ensure your calls are handled properly and they also come with features like Find My Earbud, EQ, Gesture Controls, In-Ear Detection, Fast Pairing, etc.

The sound on the nothing ear (1) is designed by Teenage Engineering and the earbuds also come with Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) support. The earbuds use Clear Voice technology to ensure your calls are handled properly and they also come with features like Find My Earbud, EQ, Gesture Controls, In-Ear Detection, Fast Pairing, etc. (Jhinuk Sen/HT Tech )

The only thing that works for the Nothing Ear (1), and very well, is the design. The transparent design language that runs through the buttons and the clear, square charging case that is dominated by white, black and a red dot – is refreshing and quite stunning. You can see right through the buttons to the magnets and the speakers, perfectly quirky and retro (remember those transparent cordless phones?), but it’s 2021, so it’s all a lot neater. Nothing rakes in the dots here, there was not a single person who didn’t react with a pleasant surprise when they saw the device.

The other two things that work in Nothing Ear’s favor (1) are the “find my button” feature and the fact that it can be combined quite seamlessly with Android and iOS. In our experience, the software issues were a lot less when used with an android device, but not absent.


The Nothing Ear (1) comes with extra silicone ear tips for a better fit and you can choose from three sizes.

The Nothing Ear (1) comes with extra silicone ear tips for a better fit and you can choose from three sizes. (Jhinuk Sen/HT Tech)

What has not boosted anything so far is high expectations, and what pulls it down is also the same. When names like Pei and Fadell work behind a product, it has to be flawless or the names don’t matter. We wanted to be amazed by the Nothing Ear (1), and here we wanted software updates. It’s only a matter of time before Nothing will fix this, it may have already given that the buds have gone on sale twice since their August 17 launch and sold out both times – that’s how excited people were/are about this brand. If they are to thrive, which they are capable of, software bugs need to be wiped off the screen.

Should you buy it?

Yes, they look incredible. Yes, they sound pretty good. Yes, they are not crazy expensive and they offer some good features. And no, not if the bugs persist. But it’s been a while, so maybe it is.

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