Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Nothing Ear and Ear (a) Review: Polished, Striking, and Great Value

Nothing has come a long way from its early Ear 1 days. In a very short time, the company has churned out some decent products, starting with TWS and moving on to phones and more wireless audio products. 2024 for Nothing is already looking exciting, and I recently got our hands on the all-new set of TWS from Carl Pei’s London-based venture – Nothing Ear and Nothing Ear (a). Notably, the third-generation TWS from Nothing have launched, dropping any signs of iteration, which is both confusing and interesting. It’s confusing because, for someone like me who has been closely following Nothing from the early days, the naming convention was always not great. But, by the second generation, I, along with other users, almost got the hang of it, only to see the company dropping it altogether for third-generation. Nothing Ear is a successor to the Ear 2 launched last year. What’s a bonus here is Nothing Ear (a) – the new affordable TWS offering from the company sporting the signature transparent design packed with features. 

For pricing, the Nothing Ear is Rs. 11,999, while the Ear (a) is the new sub-Rs. 10K product in the company’s TWS line-up and comes at Rs. 7,999. I have been using both products for our calls, meetings, streaming, and music to see if they are worth the money. 

Nothing Ear and Ear (a) Design and Features

Both Ear and Ear (a) come with Nothing’s signature transparent design, which is still striking after all these years. The best part is that Ear is still eye-catching thanks to the see-through design, and a case in point is the multiple queries from the people around me during the review asking about the design. However, one of our biggest confusions was differentiating Ear and Ear 2 (Review) when kept on a table. Yes, they are identical unless you look very closely. Much like what you expect from Carl Pei’s venture, there’s a decent amount of attention to detail on small things, from printed branding to other elements on the Ear. 

nothing ear case review3 Nothing Ear

While the company claims that the Ear has a pressure-resistant and scratch-resistant case, our review unit picked up some scratches during daily use. Scratches are the biggest Achilles Heel of transparent design on Nothing audio products. The Ear comes in White and Black colour options. 

Like previous-gen TWS, the Ear also supports gesture controls, such as a single pinch to play or pause the song or answer or hang up calls, a double pinch to skip forward and reject calls, and a triple pinch to skip back. There’s also pinch and hold, which helps you switch between ANC and transparency mode. The best part about Ear is that you can tweak gesture controls to your liking via the companion app. At under 52 grams, the Ear case is lightweight, and each earbud weighs under 5 grams. 

nothing ear case open review4 Nothing Ear

The Ear’s impressive list of high-quality Bluetooth codec support includes AAC, SBC, LHDC 5.0, and LDAC. However, this also meant that I had to test Ear with an Android smartphone, as iPhones (and some Android devices) still support AAC (and SBC) codecs, which would have made it impossible to take advantage of higher bitrate streaming. For the uninitiated, LHDC offers the best streaming quality at up to 1Mbps 24 bit/ 192KHz, while LDAC offers a lower data rate of up to 990 kbps (24 bit/ 96KHz). But for most Android devices, you will find LDAC support. 

Talking about upgrades on the Nothing Ear, it has an IP54 rating, while the case is now IP55 rated for water and dust resistance. Other features include in-ear detection, Google Fast Pair, Microsoft Swift Pair, dual connection, Clear Voice Technology with three mics per bud, LED charging status, and support for Low Lag Mode. 

nothing ear buds review5 Nothing Ear

On the other hand, the Nothing Ear (a), the all-new sub-Rs. 10,000 TWS that sports the same eye-catching signature transparent design. The Ear (a) comes in three colours—the regular Black and White along with Yellow—making it the first audio product from Nothing in a colour other than black or white. The company shipped the Yellow colour model for review, and is definitely a head-turner. As I mentioned above, the Ear (a) is the bumblebee of TWS products. During my review, I got more enquiries for the Ear (a) because of its unique colour choice compared to the Ear.  

The yellow colour perfectly complements Ear (a) ‘s transparent design, which is slimmer and more compact than all Ear products launched thus far. Compared to the Ear, the Ear (a) has a better, more evident orientation, making it easier to identify the opening of the case. As with other Nothing products, Ear (a) also pays great attention to detail, like the metal hinge on the Ear, which can be seen through the plastic transparent case. 

nothing ear a review7 Nothing Ear a

The Ear (a) charging case seems less sturdy than Nothing Ear, which isn’t surprising. However, the yellow colour is better at hiding scratches, but that doesn’t mean the transparent top case cover isn’t prone to scratches. 

The Ear (a) feature set remains the same, including up to 45dB active noise cancellation. There’s also an adaptive ANC algorithm, IP54 water and dust resistance rating for buds, and IPX2 for the charging case. It supports AAC, SBC, and LDAC Bluetooth codecs. The company has chosen to drop support for LHDC audio codec to offer it in the costlier Ear, which isn’t a wrong decision considering the Ear (a) pricing. 

nothing ear a case review8 Nothing Ear a

There’s also support for pinch controls to skip tracks, switch between noise cancellation modes, and adjust volume. The best thing is that all of this can be customised in the Nothing X app. 

Nothing’s companion app for audio products, X, is one of the best I have used with TWS I have reviewed in recent years. It offers a plethora of features and puts you in the driver’s seat when deciding your exact taste of music experience. The feature set includes Advanced EQ with profile sharing, Bass Enhance, Customise controls, Find My Earbuds, Personal Sound Profile, and Ear Tips Fit Test.

nothing ear a review9 Nothing Ear a

Nothing Ear Specifications

Driver: 11 mm dynamic driver
Diaphragm: Ceramic
Supported Codecs: AAC, SBC, LHDC 5.0, LDAC
ANC: Up to 45dB and Transparency Mode
Weight: 4.62 grams (each Bud) and 51.9 grams (case)
Battery: 46mAh (Bud) and 500mAh (case)
Fast charging: Yes (Claimed 10 mins for 10 hours with ANC off)
Companion app: Nothing X
Bluetooth: Version 5.3
Water and dust resistance: IP54 buds and IP55 case water and dust resistance
Gesture controls: Yes

Nothing Ear (a) Specifications

Driver: 11 mm dynamic driver
Diaphragm: PMI + TPU
Supported Codecs: AAC, SBC, and LDAC
ANC: Up to 45dB and Transparency Mode
Weight: 4.8 grams (each Bud) and 39.6 grams (case)
Battery: 46mAh (Bud) and 500mAh (case)
Fast charging: Yes (Claimed 10 mins for 10 hours with ANC off)
Companion app: Nothing X
Bluetooth: Version 5.3
Water and dust resistance: IP54 buds and IPX2 case water and dust resistance
Gesture controls: Yes

nothing ear case review2 Nothing Ear

Nothing Ear and Ear (a) Performance and Battery Life

Much like the Ear design, most features have been carried over from its predecessor, Ear (2), which is alright. Starting with gesture controls, the Ear supports a bunch of pinch controls that work flawlessly. However, I faced some delay in switching between ANC and transparency mode by pinch and hold gesture. Then, the Nothing X is almost the same as I have seen it since Nothing Ear. What this means is Nothing hasn’t tweaked anything in the app interface for Nothing Ear. 

Handy features like in-ear detection, low lag mode, high-quality audio, personal sound profiles, dual connection, ear tip fit test, find my earbuds and firmware update options are hidden under device settings. I hope Nothing finds a way to put at least a sound profile where it can be accessed via one tap. The personal sound profile is unavailable when LDAC mode is turned on. This defeats the purpose of creating a custom profile on the TWS. 

nothing ear bud review6 Nothing Ear

I have been seeing the same Nothing X app since Ear (1) days and have not seen much change with Ear (Stick) and Ear (2). It’s the same story for Nothing Ear, which is technically the fourth-generation TWS product from the house of the London-headquartered company. This time, however, the Bass Enhance feature has been added, which dynamically improves the impressions of low frequencies in real time. You can choose the level depending on your preference. For me, Level 3 in Bass Enhance was optimum for all kinds of music. Then, there are other customisation options that we saw earlier in Ear (2). 

When it comes to real-world audio performance, Nothing Ear mostly nails it or, to simplify, improves upon the already decent Nothing Ear (2). When listening to The Wilderness album – Explosions in the Sky, I could notice the balance Ear TWS offers. The tracks in the album cover plenty of frequency range to get a fair idea of how well TWS sounds. Moving forward, the Oblivion by Grimes track offers enough dynamic range to see how small and large-scale dynamics are handled by Nothing Ear, and I was not disappointed. Then, I moved to a gritty electronic track, and what better option than Pray for Me from Marvel’s Black Panther soundtrack? It has perfect bass, high frequencies, dual vocals, and an excellent treble tone to test how well your TWS can handle all of this. Interestingly, Nothing Ear could handle all of this comfortably. 

nothing ear app review11 Nothing X app

The company upgraded the 11mm dynamic driver and used a ceramic diaphragm. Compared with Ear (2), there are improvements in highs and mids, along with a deeper base. Within a few hours of using the Ear, one thing was clear – the new TWS is ideal for bass heads. However, the bass-heavy default setting wasn’t suitable for me, so I had a good time after personalising it to my liking. The ANC is another minor improvement over the Ear (2). 

The AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) is still the benchmark for ANC. However, a point worth mentioning is that you also pay almost double the amount for AirPods Pro (2nd Gen). 

One slight issue I faced was sound quality changing with different ANC modes. The company defines its three modes of noise cancellation according to real-life scenarios – High refers to “Subway/Airplane”. In contrast, Medium refers to “Street/Cafe”, and Low refers to “Office/Indoor.” Nothing Ear sounds excellent on calls for both caller and receiver. Then, there is also the Ear Tip Fit Test, which tries to see the amount of audio leakage detected and recommends the best-fitting size. 

nothing ear a review12 Nothing Ear a

The battery department is another one that has seen improvements. Ear offers decent up to five hours of continuous music playback with ANC on, while this goes up slightly to up to six hours with ANC off. The charging case improved the battery figures by adding a little over four hours. Compared to the claimed battery life with the charging case and ANC of up to 24 hours, I got a decent 20 hours, which is impressive. There’s also wireless charging support with up to 2.5W support – a bonus. The TWS also supports fast charging. 

Ear (a) is just a little behind Ear when it comes to performance credentials. It offers decent sound output for its price. Much like other Nothing audio products, the Ear (a) is a bit more bassy out of the box, and you can further take advantage of the new bass enhance feature, which dynamically improves the impression of low frequencies in real-time. You can play around with sound settings in the Nothing X app. From Imagine Dragons to AR Rahman songs, Ear (a) comfortably handles everything with ease. The ANC is excellent and dampens the ambient while commuting in the metro and walking on busy streets. The best thing about Ear (a) is the comfortable fit, and you won’t feel any fatigue while wearing them for long hours. I managed to use Ear (a) at the airport and in-flight, where the overall commute was over six hours and at no point did I feel annoyed using TWS. 

Another department where Ear (a) shines is call quality. Thanks to Nothing’s Clear Voice Technology, the sound on calls is crisp and clear. The TWS gains some brownie points for features like dual connection and Low Lag Mode that make gaming sessions fun. I wish Nothing had added LHDC codec support on this one to make it more versatile. There’s also no wireless charging and personal sound profile, which I was not surprised to see missing, considering the price tag. 

nothing ear a app review10 Nothing X Ear a

The company claims up to 5.5 hours of battery life with buds only and up to 24.5 hours with the case—both with ANC turned on. In our review, we used the buds for four hours straight, and there was still 30 percent battery left. Of course, using the charging case will enhance the overall output. Additionally, there’s fast charging support that promises 10 minutes of charge and can offer up to 10 hours of battery life. 

ChatGPT integration on Nothing Ear and Ear (a)

OpenAI’s ChatGPT doesn’t need any introduction, and Nothing’s announcement of an integration to which all of its audio products will have access is a masterstroke. Fortunately, we got access to the ChatGPT integration while writing this review. We can only say that ChatGPT has finally gone wireless thanks to this integration. We could test the integration on Nothing Ear and Ear (a). However, one big limitation is that you need a Nothing Phone. Once your Nothing Phone and X app are on the latest firmware, you can install the ChatGPT app and sign in. Once all of this is done, open the Nothing X app, and you should see a prompt to activate ChatGPT integration.

nothing ear chatgpt review13 Nothing ChatGPT integration

To start using ChatGPT wirelessly with your Nothing TWS, pinch and hold the stem, and you can ask ChatGPT whatever you have in mind. It’s worth noting that ChatGPT doesn’t have location access, so queries like “guide me home” or “suggest a good place to eat” will return no result until you add your location to the voice prompt. For example, you’ll need to say, “Suggest me a restaurant for lunch around CP New Delhi, ” which will offer numerous results. Compared to Google Assistant, ChatGPT is still not up to date, so questions like “What are the constituencies voting today in the 2024 General Elections?” offered very generic responses. Of course, lots of work is required. Compared to a host of rivals, Nothing’s new TWS options provide something new to experience, which, for me, is a great attempt to offer a unique proposition. However, it’s very early to compare ChatGPT and Google Assistant on a TWS. 

Nothing Ear and Ear (a) Verdict

Nothing is doing a great job with its TWS portfolio, and Ear is, without a doubt, the best product yet from the company. What Nothing is trying now, Apple has been doing for years – be it for their phones or AirPods range – practically the same design but upgrades inside. For Nothing Ear, the eye-catching transparent signature design works. There are plenty of improvements (compared to Ear 2) under the hood in terms of ANC, sound, battery life, and more. At its price, the Nothing Ear ticks all the right boxes, and ChatGPT integration makes it ready for the future. 

Coming to Ear (a), the new affordable TWS from the house of Nothing is a surprise package. The signature transparent design is still rare in the market and scores more than other TWS options in the same price range. The audio quality is excellent for the price, and the call quality is great. The battery life is decent as well. There are a few misses, too, like glossy charging being prone to scratches, lack of LHDC support, and lack of wireless charging. If you’re in the market for a TWS that’s a perfect package, then Nothing Ear (a) can offer great value at its price.

If you’re looking at options around Rs. 10,000, the Sony WF-C700N (Review) is a decent option alongside the Galaxy Buds FE. There’s also the OnePlus Buds 3 (Review) in this price segment.

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