In October 2020, the young co-founder of OnePlus, Carl Pei, surprised the tech world by quitting OnePlus. A few months later in January 2021 he announced he would be starting a new company, oddly called ‘Nothing’.  Of course, there’s a thought behind the name. “Nothing’s mission is to remove barriers between people and technology to create a seamless digital future,” says Pei. “We believe that the best technology is beautiful, yet natural and intuitive to use. When sufficiently advanced, it should fade into the background and feel like nothing.”

After an extraordinary amount of hype and wondering what is the something that Nothing will come up with, we get to see the first of the ‘smart products’ the company will make. Nothing has just launched its ear (1) earbuds (the brackets are part of the name) globally and in India, where we have early access to check it out. 

The Nothing ear (1) earbuds come in a regular gadgety looking box. When you open it up though, a silver coloured box gives you little clue as to what you will find inside. Not a word written anywhere. Open that up and you finally see the ear (1) buds, nestling in their unusual transparent case. Also in the box is one little USB-C cable and a few extra ear-tips. The earbuds themselves are transparent — and yet very stylish. One can imagine that it would have been a tough balancing act to show the tech inside clearly and still maintain an interesting look. They call it ‘stripped down aesthetics’. But they pulled it off well. The short-stemmed buds snap magnetically into the case which immediately shows you whether the battery needs charging or not. I found the light sometimes showed orange even when the buds were charged fully. There’s a lot of attention to detail, evident in the little red dot, for example, that corresponds to the right earbud indicated in the case as well. It’s obvious plenty of thought has gone into that case. 

The ear (1) were instantly comfortable when I put them into my ears. I did not even need to experiment with alternative ear-tips. They feel soft and seemed to mould themselves to the ear nicely. They do not create an uncomfortable seal but could shift about slightly which is why I turned off the ear detection feature, otherwise a small movement would turn off whatever I was listening to or watching. Other than that, they’re easy to wear for long hours. 

I don't even remember how and when the ear (1) connected, it was that quick. But you do need to download the ear (1) companion app for either Android or iOS. At least that’s what it’s called for now. Using that, you can do a number of things. The first of these is to set the on-bud controls such as whether you want a tap to skip to the next song or go back a song or turn on ANC or change its level or mode. You can also update the firmware if there’s an update due, choose ear detection and set the find-my-earbud feature on.  

Quiet please

Active noise cancellation on these buds does nicely dampen consistent noise. The level of ANC offered is not unique to the ear (1) buds, even at the same or lower price points but it’s certainly an important feature to have.  With music or movies playing, the focus is very much on the content including phone calls. I found the person on the other end could not really tell that I switched to earphones, which is good. 

Pleasant sound

Nothing partnered with Teenage Engineering to tune the sound profile. These earbuds sound good, but not exceptional. AAC and SBC are supported. Via the app, you can set the EQ to boost bass or treble or focus on voice. I found the bass quite satisfying but also enjoyed the clarity of higher frequencies. I did not think one needed to change the EQ settings very much. The device uses 11.6mm dynamic drivers and works on Bluetooth 5.2 and holds a signal pretty well. 

The battery gives you 5.7 hours of listening with 34 hours on charges with the case. If you listen loud and use ANC, the battery life will vary, but in general I found it lasted as expected. It does support quick charging with 10 mins giving play time of 1.2 hours. It also supports wireless charging. The buds are splash resistant with a rating of IPX4.

The Nothing earbuds come in at a time when it’s practically raining true wireless buds and neckbands. The competition is truly stiff but they do have several advantages including great pricing specially for India. 

Price: Rs 5,999

Pros: Interesting looking, comfortable, sounds very good, has companion app, uses ANC, full featured, good pricing specially for India

Cons: Perhaps not quite as unique as it would like to be, faces stiff competition, wear detection a little iffy