Launched alongside the OnePlus Nord, the OnePlus Buds are the Zippos of wireless ear buds. You have a smart case with a positive action, a lot of functionality, and a rather specialist approach to maintenance.
Available to order for £79 in UK, OnePlus provided a a set for review alongside the OnePlus Nord. You can read about the latter here, and for the former you’re in the right place.
I think a lot of the reaction to the OnePlus Buds will come down to personal preference to headphones. These aren’t full sized over-the-ear multiple driver units. Nor are they tightly fitting in-the-ear units which create a tight seal to keep out external noise for better sound (OnePlus has that covered with its ‘Bullets’ range).
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The OnePlus Buds are the currently popular buds that sit just inside your ear, balancing the audio from your phone without sealing away any outside ouse. They’re not for screwing in tightly to the canal, just sit them at the entrance to the ear canal with the white extension hanging down. Yes, they are available in white, why do you ask?
For many, this style is comfortable and secure. For others they are precariously balanced with a tendency to fall out, it all depends on the design. What works or some may not work for others. For me the OnePlus Buds’ oval design of the central bud is a good fit, although looking at other reviews the fit is not universal.
The charging case is USB-C based (no wireless charging here). OnePlus note a seven-hour life from the buds, with a combined battery life of 30 hours using the buds and the main battery in the case. OnePlus’ brand identity fast charging is also on show here as well, with a ten minute charge offering up to ten hours of listening time.
And while it has little impact on the actual buds, the charging case feels really comfortable in my hind, and I can’t resist opening and closing the lid – it’s on a strong hinge with two position clicks (open ad closed) so there is a continued satisfying snap in each direction. With the case looking for a bluetooth connection when it is opened it causes my phone to keep reporting a new connection to the buds, but it is what it is.
Sound wise the the OnePlus Buds offer a sound that is best described as crisp. The open design means you are going to stay aware of your surroundings. Again, some people want to be completely closed off, in which this is a hard pass (but then almost any buds with this design have that uses).
That has an impact on the sound – it’s very hard to get a good bass response with open buds. The shape of the sound you get here is very crisp, and is tuned towards lighter melodies and lifting voices out. That’s great if you’re going to settle in with the likes of Naviband’s indie folk sound in ‘Historyja macho žyccia’, but cranking up some post-hardcore from AWS’ ‘Viszlat Nyar’ and the musical limits of the Buds becomes clear. If you are a heavy listener to the spoken word (such as podcasts or talk radio) the Buds are slap bang in the sweet split.
In terms of sound quality, the OnePlus Buds do as good a job as more expensive buds, and possibly shade the competition in the higher registers.
OnePlus Buds controls: Nord (l) PIxel 4a (r)
Where the package currently falls down is in the software, specifically the software on the smartphone. As this review is being written, the ‘full’ software suite to control and update the Buds is only available on the OnePlus Nord, the OnePlus 8, and the OnePlus 8 Pro.
While you can connect to the Buds and happily listen to your audio on any bluetooth enabled handset, too many features are locked behind the software wall. That means unless you have the latest OnePlus phone you are not going to be able to reassign the touchpad controls – you are left with the default ‘skip next to track’; you are not going to be able to change away from this default function. Neither will you be able to update the firmware of the Buds, this again is limited to the latest OnePlus handsets.
All of the settings are found under the bluetooth section of your settings, you need to go into here, then into the Buds listing, and then to that settings icon. It all feels a bit haphazard and not incredibly user friendly. I would much rather have seen a standalone app that would be available to all Android devices that controlled the settings, the audio mix, and the firmware updates.
I’d highlight Samsung’s ‘Galaxy Wear’ app as a better way of managing any pair of bluetooth headphones. It allows the Galaxy Buds to be run with a full feature set on any Android smartphone, even the OnePlus Nord.
I can’t help feeling that OnePlus’ focus on bringing the OnePlus Nord to market as quickly as possible has impacted on the OnePlus Buds’ release schedule. The Buds may have clean sound, they may be comfortable in the ear, and the battery life is enough for me, but unless you have the newest OnePlus handset, I couldn’t recommend them. Hopefully that changes in the future.