OnePlus Buds hands-on: $79 wireless earbuds with lots of compromises

The AirPod-like design isn’t for everyone, especially on mediocre earbuds.

Billy Steele / Engadget

At this point, nearly every top-tier phone maker has introduced a set of true wireless earbuds designed to be used with its handsets. Apple has the AirPods, Samsung has the Galaxy Buds and Google has the Pixel Buds. Mid-range phone companies have followed suit, and today another is joining the fray. The OnePlus Buds are OnePlus’ first foray into true wireless earbuds and being pitched as a companion to its affordable phones. Aside from the AirPod-esque design with a few trademark OnePlus flourishes, the key to the Buds is the $79 price. And, sadly, that’s about it.

OnePlus opted for the stick-like design for the Buds with a circular panel for touch controls. Interestingly, they only accept a double tap or a press and hold. By default, tapping twice on either side skips to the next track. Press and hold for three seconds on either the left or the right will switch the Buds back to the last connected device. When these are paired with a OnePlus phone (OnePlus 6 or newer), you can customize the double tap controls for play/pause, returning to the previous track or activating a voice assistant. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to try this as some of the Buds features aren’t yet available with the current software.

A handy feature OnePlus did include is automatic pausing. A lot of low-cost true wireless earbuds (and even some pricier models) skip this. When you remove these earbuds from your ears, the music or other audio will pause, and if you put them back in within three minutes, it will automatically resume. If you wait longer, you’ll have to manually press play on your connected device. What’s more, this automatic pausing works on non-OnePlus devices, so you can still enjoy it while listening on your laptop, tablet or other machine.

If you’re hoping to take these to the gym, the OnePlus Buds are IPX4 rated against water splashes. So unless your ears get super sweaty, you should be fine. Of course, the lack of silicone or foam ear tips means these don’t stay in place very well. If you’re looking for a workout partner, you might want to consider something else. Plus, they’re not very comfortable to wear.

A closer look at OnePlus' first true wireless earbuds.
Billy Steele/Engadget

At least OnePlus made pairing a breeze on its phones. Much like the AirPods do on iPhone, the Buds pair quickly via a pop-up notification. In 2020, this isn’t necessarily novel, but it’s still much faster than tapping through a Bluetooth menu.

In terms of audio, the OnePlus Buds are mediocre at best. Due to the all-plastic ear tips with no rubber fittings these let a lot of ambient noise in. The overall sound quality is also a muddy mess, with a complete lack of definition across the frequency range. The turning of the Buds leans more on mids and highs, and the bass gets lost. They really struggle with booming low-end tracks like Run the Jewels’ “Walking in the Snow.” There is a preference for vocals, so words cut through even the most chaotic of styles. That makes the OnePlus Buds a solid option for podcasts, but most of us need our earbuds to handle music well too.

OnePlus does list a Bass Boost feature among the specs for the Buds. Since we couldn’t test the final software with all of the settings for these, it’s unclear if the extra bass tool is activated by default or if it’s something you toggle on. We’ll also have to wait and see if OnePlus offers any kind of further EQ adjustment. A pending update for the OnePlus 7 Series and OnePlus 8 Series will deliver Dolby Atmos support and the ability to customize the touch controls to existing phones. Core features will also be available on the OnePlus 6 Series, except for Atmos. Those software updates are expected to arrive next week.

A closer look at OnePlus' first true wireless earbuds.
Billy Steele/Engadget

The company says the OnePlus Buds will last for seven hours on a charge. When you combine the earbuds with the compact, pebble-like case, the combined figure is 30 hours. Thanks to Warp Charge tech, you can expect 10 hours of use after being plugged in for just 10 minutes. Dock the earbuds inside the case for 10 minutes and OnePlus says you can expect over an hour and a half of listening time. I haven’t tested the Buds for a seven-hour session yet, but I’ve had no trouble getting through a few days of moderate use, docking them back in the case each time I finished.

OnePlus also gave some thought to calls, albeit with mixed results. The company says “a unique noise-reduction algorithm” alongside a trio of mics on each earbud work together to enhance clarity and reduce background noise. During my tests, the person on the other end could still hear background noise and they said my voice sounded like I was on speakerphone. At times, they said it seemed like the Buds were trying to pick up the soccer play-by-play on a nearby TV instead of my voice. So, your mileage may vary.

If you already have or are planning to buy a newer OnePlus phone, the Buds might be tempting for the integration you’ll only get on those devices. However, even at $79, there are better options that offer much better audio, a better fit and more features. Anker, for example, has two options for $80 that will outfit you for the gym while offering a better all-around experience to the OnePlus Buds at every turn. If you’re eyeing the Nord Blue color variant of these earbuds, it will only be available in Europe and India. The white version will be available globally at launch, and a grey variant will follow in August. The OnePlus Buds will be available in North America starting July 27th. When we get word on other regions, we’ll update this post.