There’s a lot riding on the Ear 1 wireless earbuds, which are the first product to come from Nothing — a new company created by OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei. Backed with investment from GV, Tony Fadell, and influential creators like Casey Neistat, Nothing is aiming to build out an entire family of products that follow the design ethos debuting with the Ear 1. Transparency is at the heart of that: the Ear 1s have a clear “stem” that lets you peer at their internal components, and the unconventional charging case has a transparent lid to keep the buds in view at all times.
Pei has said his motivation for starting Nothing was a consumer tech industry that felt stale, unimaginative, and awash in gadgets that all feel very same-y. I don’t really buy into that viewpoint; sure, AirPods clones are everywhere, but the best earbuds from Samsung, Sony, Google, Amazon, and other big players are all visually distinct. Regardless, Nothing doesn’t see itself as “an audio company,” according to Pei, but the booming true wireless earbuds market seemed like an advantageous place to start. He’s also aiming to capture the same price-to-performance magic that was associated with OnePlus in its early days.
At $99, the Ear 1s include active noise cancellation, wireless charging, IPX4 water resistance, and smaller conveniences like in-ear detection — features that cost anywhere from $150 to $300 from Nothing’s big brand competitors. Their sound has been tuned by Teenage Engineering, a company well versed in audio electronics. They’ll go on sale widely starting August 17th, but you can grab a pair early from Nothing’s website on July 31st.
Like all transparent tech, the Ear 1s are fun to examine up close. On the outward-facing part of the stem, you can see the voice / ANC microphones, touch sensors, and a dot — red (right) or white (left) — to indicate which ear that bud is for. On the side facing your ear, there’s some circuitry, magnets, and the pins where the earbuds connect to the charging case.
Nothing says it was so obsessive over small details (like polishing the magnets) that some manufacturing plants turned the startup away. Finding the right glue to bond the two sides of transparent casing together without leaving any ugly remnants behind was also apparently quite a challenge.
The Ear 1s definitely look cool, but do they come off as radically different? I’m not seeing it. If the clear stem were opaque white instead, these earbuds would look just like Apple’s AirPods Pro or any number of competitors. Nothing’s early concept images showed a more unorthodox design, but the final product looks mostly normal with a dash of unique style — and maybe that’ll be enough to sell some people on them. Not reinventing the wheel makes for good comfort, at least. Three sizes of silicone tips come in the box, and I found that the Ear 1s have a similar in-ear feel to the AirPods Pro. They fit snugly, feel airy light (each earbud is 4.7 grams), and didn’t come loose during runs or while I was eating, which are two scenarios where true wireless buds sometimes get dislodged.
The charging case is where Nothing definitely gets more out there with design. It’s a squished-down square with rounded corners that opens and closes with satisfying spring tension. There’s a USB-C port for wired charging, and you also get Qi wireless charging; that’s always nice to see at this price. But for all the visual flair, it feels like I’m doing more work to seat the Ear 1s back in their case compared with other earbuds I’ve got around. The magnetic hold isn’t particularly strong, and laying the earbuds flat instead of plopping them into deep charging cradles takes more direct attention. The big dimple in the top of the case helps keep the earbuds in place, with a side effect of turning the case into a fun thing to fidget with and twirl around in your fingers. Still, I think Nothing could’ve come up with something more efficient and compact. This case is form over function and obviously intended to showcase Nothing’s transparent aesthetic. Just don’t expect it to stay pristine: my review unit has already collected scratches on the case’s bottom, and it’s only a matter of time before the top picks up some, too.