Nothing Ear 1 Review: They Now Come in Black

Rating: 8/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $99
Nothing Ear 1 Black sitting on top of their charging case
Justin Duino

Nothing, led by Carl Pei of OnePlus fame, launched the Ear 1 earbuds to a bunch of fanfare and hype. The company focused its marketing campaign on its partnership with Teenage Engineering and the product’s transparent design, but how do they sound? I’m here to tell you that they’re pretty damn good.

Here's What We Like

  • Extremely comfortable
  • Automatic play/pause
  • Wireless Charging

And What We Don't

  • Large charging case
  • No Bluetooth multipoint
  • Mediocre transparency mode

Before jumping into the full review, I should note that I tested the original white model of the Nothing Ear 1 for the better part of a month and the black special edition colorway for roughly two weeks. This review is a summation of my time with both models as functionality and features are identical.

Additionally, we’ve tested a total of four different pairs of the Nothing Ear 1s. The first two (which included a pre-production model), tested by Cameron Summerson, were plagued with bugs. The two units that I’ve tried, running the latest firmware, have been working nearly flawlessly. Other reviewers noted bugs in the software at the time of launch, but most of those appear to have been squashed.

Update, 12/13/21: The Nothing Ear 1 earbuds (in black) are now available to purchase.

Fit and Feel: Surprisingly Comfortable

At first glance, the only thing that makes the Ear 1 stand out from the crowd of true wireless earbuds (TWEs) is the see-through design. The silicone-tipped earbud and stem form factor is something you’ll find at almost every price point after being popularized by Apple’s AirPods.

But take the earbuds out of their charging case and it won’t take you long to realize how lightweight each bud is. Coming in at just 4.7g, they are .7g lighter than the AirPods Pro (5.4g each). Although that doesn’t seem like much on paper, while wearing the Ear 1s, the comfort cannot be beaten.

Everyone’s ears are different, but mine usually get incredibly sore after wearing earbuds for more than two hours straight. It’s a problem I have with the Google Pixel Buds A-Series, Sony WF-1000XM4, and almost everything from Samsung and Apple. I don’t know if it’s the weight or the smaller design, but I have no such issue with the Nothing Ear 1.

Being able to wear these for long periods is helped by solid battery life. Nothing states that the Ear 1s should last you roughly 5.7 hours of listening time with a combined 34 hours using the case’s 570mAh battery (with active noise cancellation (ANC) turned off). Those estimates are cut down to 4 hours of listening time and 24 hours with the charging case with ANC turned on.

From my testing, this is pretty spot on. I only received the low battery notification once, and it was on a day that I only got up from my desk once or twice, ANC was enabled, and music was playing for most of that time.

Sound Quality and Features

The Nothing Ear 1 sound on par or slightly better than what you would expect from a pair of $100 TWEs. Don’t expect any miracles at this price point, but the 11.6mm drivers offer clear audio, bass that isn’t overpowering, and solid mids and lows.

They aren’t going to beat $200-$300 earbuds, but the Ear 1s hold their own.

Unfortunately, there is no way to fine-tune the EQ on the Nothing Ear 1. The company includes several equalizer modes that you can choose from, but they’re pretty generic and non-descriptive. They include Balanced, More Treble, More Bass, and Voice. I kept my units in the Balanced mode for most of my testing.

The Ear 1 app, available for Android and iPhone, allows you to adjust the limited EQ settings, touch controls, and adjust other features. As with most companion apps, you’ll likely use it to make changes to your headphones when you first pair them and then never open it again except to check for firmware updates.

As for touch controls, you don’t find any physical buttons on the earbuds. Instead, there are three different tap functionalities that you’ll have to remember. Double-tapping plays and pauses audio, triple-tapping skips to the next song (or can be configured to go back to a previous song), and tapping and holding shuffles through the noise cancellation modes (Noise Cancellation, Transparency, and Off).

The earbuds also feature in-ear detection, which means they will automatically play or pause your music when you put in or take out the Ear 1s. You’ll hear a ding every time you put in the earbuds if you leave the feature enabled.

As someone who was daily driving the AirPods Pro before this review, I am disappointed with the Transparency mode on the Ear 1s. Although the Noise Cancellation mode does an adequate job of keeping out background audio, Transparency mode amplifies everything in a very unnatural-sounding way. It almost sounds like someone took an audio clip, cranked the gain, and equalized levels so that everything close and afar was played at the same volume.

I think Transparency mode can be improved via software updates because the three high-definition microphones built into the end of the Ear 1’s stems are excellent. No one that I talked to complained about audio quality, and several people even complimented the voice isolation even when there was low to medium volume background noise such as running water.

There are some niceties that are missing from the Nothing Ear 1, though. The first is that there is no virtual assistant support on Android or iPhone. This means you won’t be able to call up Google Assistant, Alexa, or Siri by tapping on either earbud.

The second is that there isn’t support for Bluetooth Multipoint, despite featuring Bluetooth 5.2. Basically, while you can pair the buds to multiple devices, you’ll have to disconnect the Ear 1s from one device before they can connect and play audio from another. The process only takes a couple of seconds, but there is no instant switching.

And lastly, the Nothing Ear 1 only support AAC and SBC audio codecs. The lack of support of aptX and LDAC means that quality should be rock solid on Apple devices, but quality and performance on Android might take a hit depending on where you’re streaming music or movies from.

The Charging Case Could Be Better

My biggest complaint with the Nothing Ear 1 is honestly pertaining to the charging case. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with it, but it’s annoyingly large. It’s thicker, wider, and taller than almost every TWE charging case I own.

If Nothing ships a second-generation pair of earbuds, I’d hope for a physically smaller case. I think part of the current design and size is to showcase the Ear 1’s transparent design, but the coolness factor quickly disappears when you try to throw these in your pocket.

What is nice is that the case supports Qi wireless charging (even if it takes a full 2.5 hours to charge it this way). According to Nothing, plugging in a USB-C cable cuts this time down to 52 minutes, but the convenience of just dropping the case on a wireless charger (or even a MagSafe charger, see the last photo) while sitting at a desk is well worth the extra time.

Should You Buy the Nothing Ear 1?

Nothing Ear 1 Black vs the white model
Justin Duino

I will have a hard time not recommending the Nothing Ear 1 to anyone looking for a solid and cost-efficient pair of TWEs. Most $99 earbuds might offer similar sound quality, but Nothing has packed these with features like wireless charging and ANC that aren’t always found at this price point. Pair that with how comfortable the Ear 1s are, and I think I might take these over more expensive options.

The Ear 1 black edition is now on sale directly from Nothing’s website for $99.

Rating: 8/10
Price: $99

Here’s What We Like

  • Extremely comfortable
  • Automatic play/pause
  • Wireless Charging

And What We Don't

  • Large charging case
  • No Bluetooth multipoint
  • Mediocre transparency mode

Justin Duino Justin Duino
Justin Duino is the Managing Editor at How-To Geek. He has spent the last decade writing about Android, smartphones, and other mobile technology. In addition to his written work, he has also been a regular guest commentator on CBS News and BBC World News and Radio to discuss current events in the technology industry. Read Full Bio »

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