With the premature death of the headphone jack on various smartphones, we’ve seen a marked emphasis on wireless earbuds and headphones in the past few years. Most wireless earbuds come in one of two formats: the “fully wireless” variants, and those in which both earphones are united by a cord and/or neckband. The OnePlus Bullets Wireless, announced just yesterday, are the company’s fourth generation audio accessory, and they fall in the later category. It’s definitely a crowded market, but OnePlus hopes its added functionality and comfortable design paired with quality audio will carve it a space in the segment.
Such segment is currently dominated by Apple’s famous AirPods, which see limited functionality on Android, and products from a few companies including Beats, Bose, Bragi and Jaybird. Samsung and Google itself have also entered the space with the Gear Icon and IconX, which I’ve owned, and the Google Pixel Earbuds, which sees continued support through software revisions. Most of these products, though, sit at a significantly higher price point than the new Bullets’ $69 price tag. At the same time, they either inherit a reputation for quality audio due to their respective company’s track record, or adopt quality features for fitness, real-time translation and so on. The Bullets Wireless have their own fair share of tricks as well, and in this mini-review, we’ll document the user experience to determine how they measure up to competitors, and whether the comfort and quality-of-life functionality sprinkled throughout the product makes it worth the price.
Design & Unboxing
For $69, you’d certainly expect some decent packaging and OnePlus doesn’t disappoint in this regard. That said, the unboxing experience might be considered superfluous to some of you so I’ll make this rather short. You get a typically-OnePlus solid white, black and red box with multiple layers, and upon first opening it you’ll find a printed design of the Bullets, with two circular cutouts that show the actual product through. On the inside of the box, you find text that reads “Free Your Music” and “Created together with our fans <3”, another reminder that OnePlus directly takes into account its community’s opinions when designing new devices or accessories. You’ll also find a very soft silicone red case that hosts a cute tiny red USB Type-C cable (not Dash Charge branded, more on this later). At the top of the box, a little paper door with the motto “Never Settle” opens up to reveal a collection of earbud tips for you to choose from, or replace lost/worn-out ones.
The presentation is definitely up to par and the unboxing experience is neat, but what’s ultimately important is the actual product. The neckband of the Bullets Wireless (which resembles competing products like the BeatsX) is built with a soft and matte liquid silicone material that’s flexible and lightweight, while the earbuds themselves are built from aluminum. They are just as light as the company’s previous metal Bullets earbuds, and they definitely present some design continuity, though this time they are quite larger and instead of being strictly cylindrical, they feature a slight curvature. That and its mirror-like finish make for an attractive and reflective design, complemented by the earbuds’ circular end showing a nice pattern not unlike the ones found in previous Bullets, and on many competing earbuds. There’s also a slight red accent to add a touch of color, and the shape of the bud itself makes it fit nicely and snugly in the ear.
The end result feels durable, with stretch-resistant cables and a somewhat-robust headband. You will also find in-line controls for volume up and down, and the middle button allows you to both pause/play and summon Google Assistant (more on this later).
One end of the neckband hosts the USB Type-C port, a single button and an LED that’s primarily to assist with pairing. Of course, the fact that it carries a neckband and that the earbuds are wired together makes the product “not truly wireless”. There are forum pages upon forum pages of debate on the internet on whether a truly wireless set of earbuds is superior, or the other way around. Having owned both, and being a fan of the Gear IconX and the old-school Moto Hint, I can offer some perspective.
In my opinion, this style of wireless earbuds lends itself better to activities like jogging and biking, and I already felt an increased sense of safety when going out on a bike ride with the new Bullets. I also think that wireless earbuds in general are superior to wired ones for bike-riding in particular, because of how awkward being conscious of the cable can get if you need to take out your phone for any quick operation (don’t text and bike). Neckband wireless earphones are also much easier to “take off” for short periods of time, as one can leave them dangling on one’s neck and then resume playback whenever the social interaction or whatever task is finished. I’ve also had cases where I came close to either losing or forgetting truly wireless earbuds because of their size, and my tendency to periodically place them on some surface when needing to take them out quickly — though I admit that’s more of a personal failing than anything.
On the other hand, there’s something undeniably cool about fully wireless earbuds and their aesthetics. They tend to be less distracting in general, and look particularly nondescript compared to some of the dorkier-looking neckbands one sees when going out and about. That might be a somewhat banal or shallow argument, but it’s also clear that companies that produce such earphones pay careful attention to producing stylish their product, and some like the AirPods or Beats manage to sell some units precisely because of their recognizable design. They also tend to offer much neater and more-intuitive quick storage options, that often double as batteries that replenish your device while you are out and about — the Bullets Wireless certainly can’t do this, though it’s nice to see a pair of USB Type-C earbuds at a time when so many accessories still feature micro-USB ports. Lastly, you obviously can’t tangle these up! But luckily it’s very hard for the Bullets Wireless in particular to get tangled-up as well.
In written form, it’s much harder to “review” audio quality itself than just about anything else there is to review about the Bullets. Before some comments on how the Bullets Wireless sound to my ear, we should note that like some other high-end earbuds of 2018, they support Qualcomm’s proprietary aptX HD. This means that compatible smartphones, like the newly-released OnePlus 6 as well as other OnePlus phones, or other high-end flagships such as the LG G7 or Huawei P20, will benefit from higher-definition audio despite the Bluetooth connection. The technology enables 24-bit 48kHz music playback, which Qualcomm claims is indistinguishable from high-resolution audio. It’s unable to push the sample rates an audiophile would expect out of high-end wired headphones, however, and aptX HD is still an inherently lossy format… So that alone gives the Bullets Wireless an objective “quality ceiling”.
That said, we hear significantly less noise and clearer playback than we’ve heard in previous years with Bluetooth headphones on Android, or even regular aptX (non-HD). This is pretty much as good as it can get at the moment for wireless headphones, and especially at this $69 price-point, so the Bullets Wireless instantiate this technology rather well. The result is deeper bass than I expected, and very crisp treble, allowing me to hear just as many layers of music as my wired OnePlus Bullets v2 earbuds and delivering better audio than my Gear IconX (subjectively, at least). On the OnePlus 6 itself, the audio is pretty excellent considering the price-point, so this would definitely be a nice accessory to pair with a brand-new OnePlus 6, considering the additional features and future support. That said, OnePlus’ handy audio tuner functionality does not extend to the Bullets Wireless, given that these features (which include a few sound profiles as well as EQ tuning) are reserved for wired audio connections at the moment.
There’s also what OnePlus calls “energy tubes”, which is just marketing term for an internal structure in the headphones that supposedly reduce reverberations, frequency diffractionand noise to isolate and/or stabilize sound, in turn increasing clarity. While I’m not exactly an audiophile, I can confidently say that there’s definitely no odd reverberation present in media playback, though I’m not sure how much of that is owed to the so-called “energy tubes” in particular and not other general design decisions.
Features & User Experience
The Bullets Wireless offer a couple of nice little features that I’ve actually found pretty useful so far. First things first, battery life has been quite good and the company’s estimate of 8 hours of continuous playback has been right on the money from my experience. Granted, I’ve only had the headphones for a little over two days now, but in that time I did manage to drain it once for what I estimate to be three to four hours of music streaming, podcasts and calls per day. On that note, it might seem like wearing earbuds for so many hours a day might be uncomfortable, but this wasn’t the case with this particular set (luckily). Coming from Gear IconX, I’m used to worse results of up to three and a half hours, but realistically just over three hours, so there is a significant difference (that said, other wireless earbuds can offer over five hours of playback with no trouble).
Another perk is their ability to charge quite rapidly, with what OnePlus simply calls “Fast Charge” (and not Dash Charge), promising 5 hours of usage in just 10 minutes of charging. I did top up my device in about twenty minutes, though it’s somewhat hard to measure drain and recharge accurately given there’s no multi-stage battery indicator on the device itself. Bluetooth accessory battery level on Android is luckily a thing on modern devices, but I must confess I haven’t painstakingly kept track of the accessory’s battery life like I would with a smartphone.
One reason why I likely got such good battery life results out of this device might be because of how easy it is to “turn on” and “off”. The flat ends of the earbuds are magnetic, and snapping them together will automatically turn off the device, pausing whatever audio you were listening to — standard Android behavior. What’s not standard and it’s definitely nice to have is the Wireless Bullet’s ability to immediately turn on, and even resume music playback, upon detaching the earbuds, though that latter perk is a feature for OnePlus devices and only because of a generic earphone setting of the phone. This is actually my favorite part of this accessory paired with OnePlus phones, however, for both how easy it is to turn off the earbuds and to resume media. A quick example:
I’ve been attending the same neighborhood grocery store for about two and a half years, which means I’m chatty with just about every cashier. I’m personally very conscious about not coming off as rude in such social exchanges, so I make sure that I always pause whatever media I’m listening to when going through the register. With regular wired or wireless earbuds, I certainly don’t look forward to pause my music, then remove the earbuds. With wired earbuds and inline controls, the process is somewhat simple as I can leave my earbuds dangling from my neck, but the Bullets Wireless make this process even smoother. I snap them together, chat for a minute, and put them back on to continue consuming media as I walk home. Easy, simple, useful and applicable in many contexts.
Valuable features tend to be those that you use every day
It’s certainly not the coolest, flashiest feature in the world — but it’s a feature I can (and would) make use of just about every day. I’ve learned to place more value on such concrete functionality than on potentiality I’ll never exploit, like my Gear Icon X’s fitness features (I have a much more accurate Gear smartwatch for that) or its internal storage, and so on. A future update will also allow OnePlus users to pick up phone-calls by unclipping their Bullets, which hints that even more features might be on the horizon, similarly to how Google Pixel Buds and others keep getting better over time. On that note, triggering the Google Assistant through the Bullets’ in-line control works well, though the delay can often be a bit too long for my taste. In any case, this is not a especially-useful feature in 2018.
All things considered, the most attractive part of this package has to be its price-point. In general, it’s hard to find quality bluetooth earbuds for Android devices below $99, and some of the more popular names in the game are actually outrageously over-priced in my opinion. The Bullets aren’t really the most stylish, nor the most compact. They also pack few “standout” marketable features compared to something like the Gear IconX, the Google Pixel buds, or Apple Airpods (if using an iPhone). That said, this is definitely a slightly more valuable product for OnePlus customers in particular, and a viable alternative for any Android user.
The smart on/off mechanism OnePlus incorporated with the magnetic clipping is something that you will quite literally take advantage of every time you use these devices, so at the very least its most attractive signature feature is not something you are paying for yet not using. I can say that if I were to purchase these, it would not be based on its audio quality necessarily, which I found serviceable and even great, yet still inherently limited. Instead, I’d consider whether I’d benefit from “wired” wireless earbuds over truly wireless earbuds (again, these are specially great for jogging and other activities), in particular, and whether it’s worth sacrificing some potential audio throughput (and in turn, perhaps quality) for the wireless convenience this product offers. Luckily for OnePlus, at $69, it really shouldn’t be a hard decision for most people.
OnePlus Bullets Wireless Pricing and Availability
The Bullets Wireless will be available by end of June on OnePlus.com for a price of £69 / $69 / €69. For those of you who prefer wired earphones, the Bullets V2 will still be available for purchase. OnePlus’ new wireless Bluetooth-enabled earphones are yet another offering from the company designed to enhance your OnePlus smartphone experience, though there’s nothing stopping you from using these earphones with a smartphone from another manufacturer.