Nothing Ear (1) – Review: A bold new design that breaks the clutter
When was the last time you bought a gadget purely because of its design? From smartphones to headphones, very few products have chosen to deviate from design templates that have become the norm in those categories. Carl Pei has been a maverick almost from the time he co-founded OnePlus with Pete Lau in 2013. Earlier this year he embarked on his own path and announced a new venture – Nothing, with a mission to remove barriers between people and technology. A month later Nothing revealed that Swedish design company Teenage Engineering will drive the design aesthetic of the brand and products. It’s just been about six months, Nothing is all set to shake things up with its first product.
It’s not just smartphones, there’s a bland sameness about most True Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds. There has been the odd exception (Samsung’s jellybean-shaped Galaxy Live Buds springs to mind) but the category that has seen a major spurt with WFH lifestyles has been a tad predictable. It’s why unboxing the Nothing ear (1) was ‘nothing’ short of awe and surprise. Maybe it’s my predilection for Scandinavian design or the sheer joy of discovering a new experience in an unexpected category. If design is your thing, you’re likely to share my excitement.
This is no one-off wow moment. It’s equally a design aesthetic that grows on you. Simplicity is one of the hallmarks of great design; many Apple fanboys will concur. It’s the same with these earbuds, that prompt the question – “Why didn’t anyone think of this before?” It’s like Swatch’s iconic Jellyfish transparent watch that debuted in the 1980s. The ear (1) takes a similar route to a product that has become ubiquitous and strips it down. You see the microphones, magnets and circuit board. This is a case you’re likely to flaunt and just the kind of product that might spark a conversation with a mysterious stranger.
The design is not intended to be just a showstopper but also features practical touches. A fisheye dip in the case secures the buds while the instantly recognisable red colour differentiates the ‘right’ earbud. You don’t have to worry about figuring which bud goes into which ear when you’re running late for that dreaded Monday online review meeting with the boss. The buds feel remarkably light (just 4.7 gm) in your ear. The default silicone tip offered a snug fit in my case but there is a choice of three customisable liquid silicone tips in the box for the perfect fit.
The buds aren’t just featherlight but also don’t fall off easily – yes, they passed the gym test I put all earbuds through. The snug fit also ensures a perfect ear seal that filters external sounds. You can switch to ANC (Active Noise cancellation) mode with the flick of a button. The ANC is reasonably effective, it’s certainly not in the league of pricier earbuds on this front but is among the best at this price point.
Sound quality is a win, the ear (1) punches way above its weight and price in this department. It’s propelled by fairly large drivers (11.6 mm) and offers balanced bass, mids and treble. I tested a range of sounds from podcasts to Imagine Dragons to some easy electronic beats from the likes of Alex Lustig and it packed a punch. Quite a few earbuds in the sub Rs 10,000 price band tend to struggle when volume levels cross the 70-80% threshold, not this one.
Battery life is a key consumer purchase driver in this category. The ear (1) comes with wireless charging; Nothing pegs the battery life (without ANC) for 34 hours with the case and about 5.7 hours for the buds (that we validated). But more than the feature set and spec sheet, the Nothing ear (1) deserves your attention for its radically bold design language that finds the perfect balance between form and function. It certainly delivers on the hype and anticipation that has surrounded the Nothing brand since January 2021.
The Nothing ear (1) is available for Rs 5,999/- on Flipkart