True wireless earbuds continue to dominate the headphone market. But with so many options to choose from, how does one decide on a particular purchase?
Nothing’s third product to hit the market, the Nothing Ear (stick), continues to push the design envelope with its innovative earbuds that are bound to capture everyone’s attention.
The Ear (stick) is simple in its packaging in that it arrives in a rectangular box. One side holds the USB-C charging cable, while the other carries the charging case with the earbuds within.
Following the transparent design language of Nothing, the Ear (stick) could be easily mistaken for the Nothing Ear (1) when worn. It is only when you remove it that you are able to tell the difference, as the Ear (stick) lacks the in-ear silicone plugs.
While this makes it easier to clean, it is also not meant for all ears, since people have differently shaped and sized ear canals. Unfortunately, you are unable to test it before making a purchase, so you might want to approach with caution.
If you currently use open-ear buds, chances are the Ear (stick) will fit without any issues. Those with larger canals might want to give it a miss since the Ear (stick) could fall out relatively easily with sudden movements such as a vigorous workout or intense sporting activity.
Magnets are visible on the stems of the Ear (stick), with the name printed in its iconic font on each. A red dot on the right stem makes it easier to visually identify where to place it in the charging case after use.
The Ear (stick) comes in a unique lipstick-shaped case, the cylindrical shape a stark departure from the standard rectangular fare everyone is used to. A red bit of plastic houses the USB-C port on top for charging, located next to the Bluetooth-pairing button.
Unlike the Nothing Ear (1), the case itself does not support any wireless charging. This is excusable for entry-level earbuds, although the physical constraints of the case design might have played a part.
Accessing the earbuds is easy – just twist the case around and voilà! You can remove the earbuds before twisting it back closed with a satisfactory click.
An LED provides a brief visual identifier of how much battery life remains in the charging case, so make sure you connect it to a charger whenever it turns red.
Features and performance
There is no active noise cancellation with the Ear (stick), and the lack of in-ear silicone plugs means outside noise will filter in regardless of how high you pump the volume. This also means there is no transparency mode – you can choose between wearing comfort and audio immersion, but cannot have both.
The stems, which rely on pinching to determine the next course of action, lack the touch sensitivity of the Ear (1). The outcome depends on which stem you pinch, and for how long.
These actions can be programmed in the companion Nothing X app, which is basic and easy to figure out even for newbies.
Each bud carries a trio of microphones intended to pick up your voice, making it a decent hands-free kit for those who tend to carry out conversations on their smartphones.
Each earbud carries a 12.6mm audio driver specially built for the Ear (stick). You will find it satisfactory for everyday podcasts and general listening, although there is a lack of bass, and the non-isolation of ambient noise translates to a flat listening experience at times.
The Ear (stick) does not offer multipoint connectivity, meaning you cannot connect to several devices simultaneously. This might be a deal breaker for some, although at this price point, you might not want to set your sights too high.
It does, however, offer an IP54 rating against water, dust, and sweat, letting you wear it during your workout sessions without any worry. Be aware that the case is not water-resistant at all.
Battery life and price
Nothing claims up to 28 hours of non-stop audio playback, taking into account the case, which holds enough juice for up to three more charges. This is more than enough to keep you company on long flights.
It is the price, however, that would likely turn people off. The Ear (1) was released with a RM499 price tag while featuring ANC and better audio performance. At RM469, the Ear (stick) comes close to the Ear (1)’s original manufacturer’s suggested retail price, which has since been bumped by another RM100.
It makes sense to take into consideration the rising cost of manufacturing, but those hoping for a cheaper entry point to the world of wireless earbuds might want to look elsewhere – unless it’s important for you to stand out from the crowd with a truly unique design and form factor.
Find out more about the Nothing Ear (stick) by clicking here.
Edwin Kee dreamt of being a pro-gamer only to have circumstances mould him into a programmer in a past life. He has since moved on to write about consumer electronics and other topics. Check out his blog at manatau.com.