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OnePlus has been making excellent earbuds for years now, and today, the company is introducing its first true wireless pair. The aggressively priced $79 OnePlus Buds have an AirPod-like rigid design that’s all hard plastic — marking a shift away from the Bullets, Bullets Wireless 2, and other OnePlus earbuds that used silicone tips for a sealed-off, in-ear fit.
The OnePlus Buds require a OnePlus phone if you want to get the most from them, so these really won’t appeal to owners of other Android devices. You won’t get features like wireless charging or noise cancellation at a price this low, but if you’ve found yourself envious of Apple’s AirPods and don’t like how in-ear earbuds feel, it’s hard to beat the value factor here. The OnePlus Buds have strong battery life, decent sound, and a stable wireless connection. They’re available in white and gray in the US, with the divisive blue / green combo reserved for international markets. I think it looks very toy-like, but such a bold color option might be a breath of fresh air to some.
The reality is that a one-size-fits-most approach — OnePlus calls it a “half in-ear” design — is always going to leave some people out of luck. I’ve never enjoyed how regular AirPods feel in my ears; they’re not particularly stable, and for all the praise they receive for all-day comfort, my ears don’t seem well-suited for them.
The OnePlus Buds haven’t fared much better. When in my ears, I found that they held in place just fine while I was seated or walking around. But if I tried to run with them, they’d eventually get jostled loose. Other people I let try them on told me that they felt just as snug as AirPods and they’d have no hesitation working out while wearing them, so this comes down to your ear shape.
As for why OnePlus went this route, the company gave me this explanation:
Half in-ear buds are generally more comfortable for more people, so we wanted to make the OnePlus Buds more friendly for a wider range of users, especially users who are looking for their first truly wireless earphones. We do understand that different people have different preferences, so we will continue to listen to user feedback for future products. Our goal is always to provide a great balance between high-quality sound, fast charging, comfort, and a reasonable price.
Like with AirPods, the open-air design of the OnePlus Buds will limit their sound potential. You’re going to hear a whole lot of the world around you, and there’s no avoiding that without cranking the volume to a potentially uncomfortable and possibly unsafe level. OnePlus says it tuned the earbuds to boost bass, but without an in-ear seal, the result still falls short of the low-end oomph you’ll hear from the Bullets Wireless 2 neckband earbuds or our top true wireless picks.
If you can live with that, the sound they produce has a pleasantly wide soundstage; Phoebe Bridgers’ “Graceland Too” shines with ample separation for the acoustic instruments and harmonies. But other tracks like The Weeknd’s enduring “Blinding Lights” sound hollow without that full seal. The OnePlus Buds will do the job for casual, through-the-day listening but if you want more powerful bass and better noise isolation, you’ll have to spend a bit more money. OnePlus supports SBC and AAC codecs with the Buds; the company went with a non-Qualcomm chipset inside, so it couldn’t use higher-quality codecs like apt-X HD. (You’re not going to be able to tell any difference between codecs with this open style of earbud anyway.)
The charging case looks like a squished, squatter version of the Pixel Buds case. OnePlus claims it worked for around 90 days to perfect the case’s matte texture. I like the end result, and matte always wins over glossy — especially in the dog days of summer. Take note, Samsung. (The earbuds themselves are glossy, however.) The Buds can reach up to seven hours of continuous battery life, and the case has enough juice to get you to around 30 hours of total listening time.
During my time testing the OnePlus Buds so far, I’ve been unable to do much with the tap controls on each side. There’s no way to pause music with the earbuds right now; all you can do is double-tap to skip to the next song or hold down for three seconds to switch between synced devices. More customization is on the way, thankfully: by the time these start shipping at the end of July, OnePlus will roll out a software update to its phones that will allow you to choose your preferred action for a double-tap so you can pause, activate Google Assistant, or go back to the last song instead of always skipping forward. It’s a bit strange that the controls are so limited out of the box — and this is why you should avoid the OnePlus Buds if you’ve got a different Android phone — but at least a fix is coming.
You can’t deny their AirPodish looks, but the OnePlus Buds benefit from those long stems. Each bud has three mics — at the top, middle, and bottom — and runs some noise-reduction algorithms to help people hear you more clearly on calls. Everyone I called while wearing the OnePlus Buds was able to hear me without any issue. The company is also touting extremely low latency between the earbuds and OnePlus phones when in game / fanatic mode, which should help them keep up with all of the action on-screen.
They lack wireless charging, but the OnePlus Buds do pack some frills despite the low price: they’re rated IPX4 water resistant, so they can withstand sweat and some splashes of water. They’ll automatically pause music when one earbud is removed, and they also support Android’s Fast Pair feature, which ties them to your Google account, shows battery levels for the buds and case, and lets you find a misplaced earbud by playing a sound. Unfortunately, you can’t use either of the earbuds standalone for audio or making calls, and they can only pair to one device at a time.
I think future OnePlus true wireless earbuds will put a bigger emphasis on sound and have a design more in line with the company’s Bullets series. But with the OnePlus Buds, the focus was clearly trying to come up with a cheaper version of AirPods for OnePlus customers. You’re getting a very solid set of earbuds for that $79 — if the fit is right.
Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge