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OnePlus Buds review: Apple didn’t fall too far from the tree

OnePlus Buds are your typical OnePlus affair. They're not perfect, but they are surely striving for perfection.

The other day I had written a piece trying to explain how OnePlus had pulled an Apple with the OnePlus Nord. OnePlus had also launched the OnePlus Buds alongside the OnePlus Nord but I deliberately chose not to write about them before trying them out in person. After all this time, you probably know what to expect from a OnePlus phone. The OnePlus Buds are the company’s first truly wireless earbuds, so things could swing either way. Now that I have used them for over a week, I am confident to say that the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.

In many ways, the OnePlus Buds are your typical OnePlus affair. They’re not perfect, but they are surely striving for perfection. It’s apparent they know no other way. Whether it’s in design, user experience, top-ups, or pricing. In the process, OnePlus has managed to make one of the most value for money TWS earbuds in the market today, especially for OnePlus users for whom I can go out on a limb and say, they are an absolute no-brainer.

Having said that, if you’ve been keeping track, you’d know, India’s TWS market is buzzing with activity which means there’s a fair bit of competition, including one from OnePlus sister brands Realme (Realme Buds Air), Oppo (Oppo Enco W31) and Vivo (Vivo TWS Neo). Question is, do the OnePlus Buds make sense for the non-OnePlus crowd? Let’s find out.

Design and build quality

There’s no denying that the OnePlus Buds borrow some inspiration from the AirPods — especially in styling — but there are still plenty of OnePlus elements here that make them stand out as unique alternatives to Apple’s much more expensive TWS earbuds. The OnePlus Buds are like AirPods, yes, but with a OnePlus twist.

The limited-edition nord blue colorway I have for review has a dual tone design with a teal blue interior and neon exterior. This one can go from soothing to being house party-ready in the blink of an eye. OnePlus designed this version to go specifically with the blue marble OnePlus Nord, though it can gel well with any other blue-colored OnePlus phone (there are quite a few of those out there now). The OnePlus Buds also come in more conventional white and grey flavors for those who like to keep things simple.

OnePlus Buds are like AirPods, yes, but with a OnePlus twist. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The charging case is pill-shaped with a thin and light-weight — but solid — profile, dedicated pairing button and LED, and USB Type-C for charging. The lid is fairly solid with a firm and confident snap every time you close it — opening it is also a breeze, you can do it with one hand. The magnets housing the earbuds are nice and strong too.

The OnePlus Buds are your typical OnePlus affair. They're not perfect, but they are surely striving for perfection. It's apparent they know no other way.

As for build materials, the whole thing is made of plastic which is understandable considering their low price. While the charging case has a soft touch finish, the earbuds themselves are glossy.

The charging case is pill-shaped with a thin and light-weight design. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The OnePlus Buds are not really in-ear so to say which means they never really lock snug inside your ears. The design, though it has its advantages, has a major drawback in the sense that there’s always the risk of them falling out. Of course, this would also depend on the fit but because they are one-size-fit-all, it’s advisable to try them out in person first before investing in them. What I can tell you from my experience is that I have had a hard time keeping the OnePlus Buds in place at all times. They’ve had a tendency to slip off my ear(s) even during brisk walking. Clearly, these aren’t designed for the gym.

Speaking of which, the OnePlus Buds are IPX4-certified which makes them sweat and splash-proof just in case you do decide to hit the gym with them.

Setup and connectivity

Pairing the OnePlus Buds to your smartphone is a straightforward process. And it’s fast, provided you have an Android phone and even better if you have a OnePlus. The OnePlus Buds support Google’s fast pair technology so you don’t need to fire up your Bluetooth settings or even take the earbuds out of the case for pairing. Simply pop open the lid and your phone will detect them. The OnePlus Buds offer the best implementation of this technology at their price point.

Bluetooth 5.0 meanwhile ensures seamless pairing and range is also quite good (up to 10m). So is the connectivity. I have had no odd instances of signal drops or failures during my review, even when I was on the move, or even when I was in the adjacent room (away from my phone) though your mileage may vary depending on the exact dimensions of your place.

OnePlus Buds are not really in-ear so to say. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The OnePlus Buds have touch controls to answer/end a call or play/pause music or turn on default voice assistant. But sadly, the functionality here is bare-bones. The OnePlus Buds support only double-tap controls (for now), and while you can assign one specific function to each earbud on a OnePlus phone, this is locked to just skipping tracks on third-party devices (on both the earbuds). These budget TWS earbuds also support some high-end features like Dolby Atmos, Dirac Audio Tuning, and a low latency mode but only on OnePlus phones. What’s surprising is, not every OnePlus phone gets to support all of these features at the same time. The Dirac Audio Tuner for instance works only with the OnePlus Nord.

OnePlus Buds are IPX4-certified. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Elsewhere, the OnePlus Buds also have sensors to automatically detect when you have them on, or when you have taken them off, to start or pause playback. You can choose to use them in mono or stereo mode as well. Plus, it is possible to pair them with multiple devices on the go.

The OnePlus Buds offer the best implementation of Google fast pair technology at their price point.

Lastly, OnePlus users also get the benefit of real-time software updates. My review unit has already received a firmware update and going by OnePlus’ track record, I won’t be surprised if the company pushes out more, hopefully also adding more customization features to these TWS earbuds in the days to come.

Sound quality and battery life

The OnePlus Buds pack large 13.4mm drivers and support the AAC codec for wireless transmission. As is usually the case with most audio products coming to India, the OnePlus Buds are also designed to boost bass though unlike competition, OnePlus’ approach is a lot more subtle. Also, they try and offer a wider soundstage and all-round decent stereo separation.

That’s the technical bit and it looks really, really good on paper. Reality is a little more complicated however. And this is by design. The OnePlus Buds have all the technology you’d need to make a good pair of TWS earbuds at their price, in fact, they punch above their weight in some areas, but at the end of the day, your experience would vary depending on the fit. And it’s the same with any open-air or half in-ear (or whatever you call it) TWS earbuds. It’s true for the AirPods as well.

OnePlus Buds support Google’s fast pair technology. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

If you manage to get a decent fit, the OnePlus Buds will leave you pleasantly surprised with their all-round sound signature and this includes loudness as well. Both of these aspects work fairly well in ideal situations. Hip-hop, EDM and Bollywood stuff sounds good (not overpowering) on the OnePlus Buds. Mid-frequencies could surely have been better, but it should suffice for casual listeners. Orchestrated music has a tendency to get muddy every now and then, but it’s not too bad at this price.

When I say ideal situation, I also take into account the ambient environment. By design, the OnePlus Buds will always let some noise in, which means they’re not suited for crowded places or when you’re traveling (or whenever you will be traveling next). The OnePlus Buds get loud but they’re not the loudest in the business, so that’s also a factor to consider.

OnePlus Buds support only double-tap controls. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The OnePlus Buds also have microphones (three on each earbud) which means you can do voice calls with them. For calling, OnePlus also enables some sort of intelligent algorithm to give you environmental noise cancellation. It works mostly as advertised. Voice calls made and received using the OnePlus Buds are competent, and to an extent even better than some of the more expensive TWS earbuds (around Rs 10,000) in the market.

The OnePlus Buds are a perfect companion for your OnePlus phone.

The same is true about the battery life. OnePlus claims up to 7-hours of continuous music playback and real-world figures have been close. I have been averaging anywhere from 6-6:30 hours on them which is impressive. The case can top up the earbuds up to 4 times. There is fast charging support as well though there is no wireless charging (something that the Realme Buds Air offer at a lower price).

Should you buy the OnePlus Buds?

If you’ve been following closely, the answer is pretty obvious. The OnePlus Buds are a no-brainer if you’re a OnePlus user. They are a perfect companion for your OnePlus phone. They’re not perfect but in the larger scheme of things, these add up as great value for money just like any other OnePlus product. They look good, pair instantly, bring some high-end features to the budget segment, and offer fantastic battery life. They sound alright too. That said, I’d still advise you to try them out in person first.

OnePlus Buds are a no-brainer if you’re a OnePlus user. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

For everybody else, let’s talk about competition. If you’re purely in it for the looks and design, the Oppo Enco W31 are a good package with good all-round audio performance. If you’re in it for higher-end audio credentials, the Xiaomi Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 are what you should consider. If you’re looking for TWS earbuds that give you a healthy dose of AirPods-looks, high-end features and good performance, the Realme Buds Air are what you should be looking at.

The OnePlus Buds are a commendable first effort but with so much competition around, the margin for error is less. Be that as it may, after having experienced OnePlus’ debut TWS earbuds (and also its other wireless offerings), I am very excited about whatever the company has in store next.

OnePlus Buds India price: Rs 4,990

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