Nothing Ear (stick) review: Stick it to me

Nothing is a relative newcomer to the tech space, and with its first two products, it launched a pair of earbuds and a phone seeking to stand out from the crowd. Carl Pei’s company delivered two familiar consumer tech items with unique designs to ensure that neither would disappear into the sea of sameness that lots of other affordable product makers are happy to do.

In 2022 it launched its third product: Ear (stick), yet again delivering something a little outside the ordinary that looks really cool, delivers convenient features and packs great sound at a very affordable price point.

Design and case

  • 29.8 x 18.8 x 18.4mm bud size
  • 4.4g per bud
  • 87.1 x 29.8 x 29.8mm charging case
  • IP54 water, sweat and dust resistant

Even before it produced its first product – the Nothing Ear (1) – the manufacturer was keen to emphasise that it sees design and aesthetics as a key part of its brand’s focus. And it’s not just about appearance, it’s about tactility too.

The first Nothing Ear (1) case had a dimple in the lid so you could spin it around in your hand, and the Nothing Ear (Stick) offers something a little different.

Like all of Nothing’s products so far, there’s an element of transparency. In this instance, the outer layer of the cylindrical case is completely see-through. This transparent layer rotates, giving a soft ‘click’ every 180-degrees, so you know when it’s open and when it’s shut, with a large pill-shaped cutout in one side so you can get access to your buds.

It’s designed this way for practicality as well as visual effect. With the case shut, there’s no way the buds could escape, even if you drop the case on the floor. You need to physically rotate the outer case – by turning the base of the cylinder – in order to get to them.

What’s more, the white internal part of the case features an almost invisible layer of small raised dots that you can feel when you run your finger along them. It gives the white part of the case a slightly rough texture, but not so rough as to make it unpleasant. It’s just a tactile point of interest.

The buds themselves feature a very similar design to the Nothing Ear (1) that launched first. They are, unmistakably, Nothing earbuds.

Each earbud stem features a transparent outer, letting you see some of the internal earbud components on the inside, but with the recognisable dot-matrix style ‘ear (stick)’ logo on the outside and either a white or red dot denoting the left or right side respectively.

The one key difference between the Ear (stick) and the Ear (1) is that these are designed to sit lightly in the ear, and so don’t have the in-ear silicone tip of the Ear (1). When worn, they’re really comfortable, because they don’t feel as though they’re being inserted into your ear canal, resting just outside it instead and directing the sound down into your ear.

Of course, that means you don’t get any real passive (or active) noise cancelling, but it means the experience of wearing them is very non-invasive. We found we could wear them for long periods without developing any sensitive spots in the ear.

Each bud features touch-sensitive controls too, so you can skip through tracks, play and pause music or answer phone calls. It works well enough but is a little fiddly sometimes since it requires you to punch the stem of the earbud. This method does mean you’re very unlikely to accidentally trigger an action, so that’s one positive.

We found it took a few goes to get the technique right and get it to respond effectively and reliably – there’s no tactile signal anywhere to inform your fingers where they should pinch, so at times it feels a bit hit-and-hope.

Features, performance and battery

  • In-ear detection
  • Google Fast Pair/Microsoft Swift Pair
  • Up to 7 hours music playback outside case
  • 29 hours music playback with case
  • USB-C charging

Another of Nothing’s big talking points has been developing a product ecosystem where devices all integrate seamlessly with each other, making them easy to control and easy to find important information like battery levels on your buds and charging cases.

For the Nothing Ear (stick) that means – when paired with a Nothing Phone (1) – you’ll see the battery levels within one of the large circular widgets that appear when you swipe down from the top of the screen. You also get easy access to controls and customisation for the buds within the phone’s settings app.

If you have a different Android phone you get similar functionality thanks to Google Fast Pair support. Although, to get to the earphones’ settings and customisation you do need to download the Nothing X app from the Play Store.

With Fast Pair, you also get the bonus of having the buds saved to your Google account. That means if you upgrade your phone and sign in to that same Google account, you can easily connect to your Nothing buds without having to go through the pairing process again. It’ll remember the buds and ask if you want to connect when it detects them nearby.

Pair with an iPhone and while you won’t get the quick pairing you will with an Android phone, you will still get the same customisations and controls when you download the Nothing app from the App Store.

Like their predecessors, each Ear (stick) has an invisible in-ear sensor to detect when you place it in your ear and when you remove it, automatically pausing your music when it’s removed. It’s a handy feature and one that generally works reliably. It’s not super responsive and does have a little lag between the action and the response, but it doesn’t tend to fail.

Battery life is generally solid too. With up to seven hours on offer outside of the case on a full charge it’s not likely you’ll succeed in completely draining the buds in one sitting. We certainly never came close, with our usual sessions being about two hours long at a time. In fact, we rarely saw the buds drop below 80 per cent. With the battery in the case included, you’ll get around 29 hours and – in our testing – that seems virtually doable.

Sound quality

  • 12.6mm bespoke dynamic driver
  • AAC and SBC codec sport

It’s worth stating from the outset that noise cancelling – both passive and active – is non-existent when listening to these buds. So if you’re planning on using earphones on your morning commutes, or working from coffee shops, these aren’t really worth considering – not unless you want to hear all the noise around you while also listening to your tunes.

What we will say is that, although they don’t do much to overcome noisy environments like trains and cafes, you still get a good sense of bass and clarity from vocals. So you can still hear your music relatively well, just not as well as if you had a good pair of ANC-equipped buds. Either that, or turning up the Ear (stick) so loud that their sound drowns out the other noises – not a tactic that’s great for your hearing health.

Sound-wise, the default profile is one we’d call high impact, but a little lacking in fullness and bass. It’s an enjoyable listen for the most part, and you certainly have enough impact from the treble and enough mids to offer a good platform for vocals and instruments. It would be great, however, if there was just a bit more bass. Some songs like I Belong to You (+Mon Coeur S’Ouvre a Ta Voix) by Muse or Bombtrack by Rage Against the Machinereally need that bass driving the groove of the song forwards – especially at the beginning and in the verses – and yet it just falls a little bit flat with the bass being completely overpowered by drums and guitar.

It would also be nice if there was a bit more separation between those different frequencies too because sometimes it can get a bit overloaded in the middle. Listen to something like This Town by Jeremy Loops which features Ladysmith Black Mambazo in the background, and suddenly in the choruses, it struggles with the competing layers of drums, guitars, lead vocals and the layered harmonising from the choir. It all just gets a bit muddled and undefined.

For less complicated tracks they’re more than good enough, especially when you consider the price point. These aren’t – after all – super high-end, expensive premium buds. Plus, if you use the Nothing X app you can adjust the frequency balance somewhat. A bit of tweaking to the original profile would be much appreciated though.

Similarly, the call quality is decent enough. It’s not the best we’ve ever used, but more than passable thanks to its mic-driving noise-cancelling efforts that ensure your voice is picked up above anything else.

Original Article