Nothing’s first product was a pair of wireless earbuds called the Ear (1) that managed to deliver on an impossible level of hype with excellent performance and solid features for $99. With the company’s equally hyped smartphone now out in the wild, Nothing is returning to earbuds once again with a follow-up called the Ear (stick) that, like Apple’s AirPods, are designed for those who prioritize comfort over blocking out the noise of the world.
As with any wireless earbud that comes with active noise cancellation, the original Ear (1) earbuds relied on swappable silicone tips designed to sit snugly in the ear canal to create a tight and soundproof seal. It’s an effective approach for those wanting silence, but often an uncomfortable one, particularly when the buds are worn for a long time. So the new Ear (stick) use a half in-ear design similar to the AirPods that rests in the folds of the ear while directing sound towards the ear canal. As a result, the new earbuds don’t offer active noise cancellation.
With a new 12.6-millimeter custom driver—larger than the 11-millimeter drivers in the Ear (1)—the new Ear (stick) will just try to drown out unwanted sounds with whatever you’re listening to. The half in-ear design does mean some sounds will inevitably escape, but Nothing promises to work around that limitation with a feature called Bass Lock Technology that uses the three mics on each earbud to measure the bass frequencies that leak out, and then compensate for the loss through automatic equalizer adjustments.
Most wireless earbud makers try to outdo each other with smaller and smaller charging cases that disappear into a pocket, but to date that hasn’t been Nothing’s approach. The original Ear (1) had a charging case with a dimple in the lid allowing it to be used as a make shift fidget spinner, but the charging case for the Ear (stick) looks more like a cylindrical stick of lipstick requiring the bottom to be twisted to access the buds inside.
For those who find themselves mindlessly flicking the lid of a charging case open and closed, twisting the Ear (stick)‘s case may serve as another activity to help burn off nervous energy. The case offers functional benefits too, however, particularly for those who are prone to accidentally dropping their devices. Unlike earbuds in a charging case with a hinged lid that can pop open on its own when dropped, sending the buds flying, the Ear (stick)‘s case keeps them securely protected at all times.
Nothing promises improved wireless connectivity with the Ear (stick) courtesy of a redesigned antenna in the stems that sits farther from the user’s face to help minimize blocked signals. The stems on the Ear (stick) also trade the touch sensitive strip that facilitated swipe gestures on the Ear (1) with press or squeeze controls instead that are supposed to be a more reliable way to control playback, take calls, or make volume adjustments.
Battery life is claimed to be up to seven hours with the earbuds alone, while the charging case provides an additional 22 hours of usage when you’re away from a power source. Fast charging is also available, with a 10 minute dock in the case promising an extra two hours of listening time. That’s slightly less than the Ear (1)‘s battery life, even with the added drain of ANC.
It probably comes as no surprise that the most seamless experience with the Ear (stick) comes with pairing the wireless earbuds to the Phone (1), with often used controls made easily available in the phone’s Quick Settings while the earbuds are paired. But all the same functionality will be made available through the new Nothing X app which will be available for iOS and Android devices soon.
Last week, Carl Pei announced on Twitter that Nothing was raising the price of the Ear (1) wireless earbuds to $149 and cited “an increase in costs” as the main reason. What probably played a bigger part in that price bump, which goes into effect today, is that the new Ear (stick) will now be Nothing’s entry-level wireless earbuds, taking over that $99 price point. If both options were priced the same, the version with ANC would be the obvious choice.
You’ll have to wait until November 4 to actually buy the new Nothing Ear (stick), which go on sale starting at 5:30am EST in 40 different countries.