Nothing Ear (Stick) Review: Design Over Sound?
When Nothing launched their first product, the Nothing Ear (1), I was smitten by its design language. The transparent industrial design and overall vibe were different from what we had seen before, thanks to Carl Pei’s collaboration with Teenage Engineering, the Swedish electronics company known for their quirky designs.
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With the company’s third product, the Nothing Ear (Stick), their focus on design seems to have doubled down. However, the single-minded focus on design may have forced Nothing to compromise on sound quality and fit.
Throughout my few weeks of testing, I found the Nothing Ear (Stick) to be a well-balanced product. It’s certainly eye-catching and satisfying to use, with the twist-to-open case action. However, if you are looking for the best-sounding earbuds, you might have to look elsewhere because design takes priority over sound here. Here is our review of the Nothing Ear (Stick). Read on.
Design and Fit
Upon first unboxing the Nothing Ear (Stick) a couple of weeks ago, I was taken aback by how good the Nothing Ear (Stick) looks and feels. It’s quite the eye candy, really! But, meanwhile, the immediate realization of what the transparent would look a few months down the line also worried me. The case is made out of transparent plastic, and it certainly attracts scratches and a whole lot of dust if you keep it out in the open. So, as good as it looks, you might have to baby it a little—if you want it looking good and scratch free.
The earbuds themselves do look phenomenal as well, with great plastic materials on offer. And, let’s be honest, the whole transparent, see-through aesthetic does look cool. However, what’s not cool is the fit of the earbuds, at least for some people. I, for one, am happy with the fit of the Nothing Ear (Stick), but when I handed the earbuds to my brother, who has larger ears than me, he complained that the buds did not fit him well, loosening every once in a while, and he even experienced ear pain.
Therefore, it’s clear that there is no one-size-fits-all solution here, which is also true for popular earbuds like the second and third-generation AirPods. From what I can understand, you will fare better if you have a smaller ear canal, like I do, and might struggle if you have bigger ears.
Now, let’s address the elephant in the room—the half in-ear design. Yes, these aren’t the in-ear type like the Nothing Ear (1) and instead opt for a more traditional half in-ear design, reminiscent of the original AirPods. While this may be a deal-breaker for many, people who like to enjoy their audio while being aware of their surroundings or those who don’t like the seal that in-ear earbuds form in the ear canal might appreciate the Nothing Ear (Stick) earbuds.
Hence, it comes down to preference, and to be fair, more people nowadays prefer the in-ear type, with growing demand for features like noise cancellation and punchier bass.
Sound Quality and Pairing Process
Like most TWS earbuds nowadays, it’s relatively easy to pair the Nothing Ear (Stick) with an Android phone. Upon first twisting the Nothing Ear (Stick) case, I was immediately prompted to connect to the earbuds on my Samsung Galaxy S23—similar to first-party Samsung Galaxy Buds. There was no lag while pairing, and once I installed the Nothing X app, controlling the buds was easy. Once paired, I only had to twist the case to open, and the earbuds were automatically connected to my Android device—quite quickly. In fact, I would say it’s as quick as the experience one gets with AirPods and an iPhone, so this is a solid plus point for me.
As for the sound, simply put, for Rs 8,499, there are better sounding alternatives available in the market, with a more practical (and in-demand) in-ear style design. But, the long answer is that the Nothing Stick may not offer the best sound for the money, but it has certain characteristics that remind me of the original AirPods. The sound isn’t too bass-heavy, and it delivers clear vocals and balanced mids and highs. Don’t get me wrong, the clarity is there, and the Nothing Ear (Stick) does offer larger audio drivers than the Nothing Ear (1). However, the half in-ear design doesn’t allow the earbuds to deliver heavy bass and potentially appeal to the average consumer.
But, if calls are your priority, I’d rate the Nothing Ear (Stick) highly. After receiving a fair share of calls using the earbuds, the opposite party never once complained that I sounded muffled, and the voice from their end was also quite clear.
Battery Life and Connectivity
Nothing claims that the earbuds should provide up to 7 hours of playback time, and while achieving that duration was uneventful, we were able to use the Ear (Stick) for nearly 6 hours before the battery depleted. This usage included taking calls, listening to music and audiobooks, and even a bit of gaming on my Nintendo Switch. Thus, you can expect really good battery life when using the Nothing Stick. Additionally, the case can fully charge the earbuds about four times. Furthermore, you can quickly top up the charge within a few minutes and get around two hours of listening time, so they charge quickly.
The Nothing Ear (Stick) supports SBC and AAC codecs through Bluetooth 5.2 and has a straightforward pairing process. It is advisable to download the Nothing X app from the Play Store for an enhanced experience. Unlike the Nothing Ear (1), the Stick exhibited no bugs and maintained a stable Bluetooth connection with a remarkable range. The app has been updated with a fresh design and additional functionalities, such as a three-band custom EQ and presets you can choose based on your preference.
Verdict: Design over Function?
I really like the Nothing Ear (Stick), and I would happily pay Rs 8,499 for them solely for their eye-catching design. It is a beautiful piece of hardware, but I cannot say the same for the average consumer, such as gym-goers who would like punchy bass and a durable (and more practical) case design, or that one audio purist who might not like how the Nothing Stick represents the overall sound stage. So, yes, the Nothing Ear (Stick) belongs to the growing list of tech products that are in a state of limbo, making it difficult to recommend to most people. However, if you like pretty gadgets, you should be all in for these earbuds. I rate them 7/10.
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