~ Auto Buzz ~: Opinion: Don’t Buy The OnePlus Bullet Wireless Hype, Expect $69 Earphones

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Opinion: Don’t Buy The OnePlus Bullet Wireless Hype, Expect $69 Earphones

OnePlus unveiled the OnePlus 6 earlier today and in doing so tried to ‘surprise’ everyone by announcing two products. The “two new products” confirmation came through at the start of the event with a view to OnePlus trying to add to excitement and anticipation to what the other product could be. However, unlike its other non-phone product launches, the second product is once again looking like it will be a disappointment, and more hype than anything else. First thing’s first, the other product OnePlus announced today is a new pair of earphones, the OnePlus Bullet Wireless. It is difficult to really isolate what the main selling point is although OnePlus did debut these earphones as if they had literally just invented the headphone. And this is not even an exaggeration as here are a few quotes made during the event prior to the actual unveiling

We will only create products if we can do better than what is out there

This is the reason we have not offered you a wireless audio product yet.”

We finally have something that’s worth bringing to the world.”

Sounds like something amazing, right? Well, in reality what they announced was a $69 pair of headphones. That is it. Yes, the price is good, but a good price does not make a good product. In fact, the opposite is usually much more true and especially when it comes to an audio product as there are limitations in mind with audio products due to a compromise on the quality of the materials and hardware. Unlike other products and markets, audio still primarily remains a hardware thing. And on that note there was very little of substance when it come to the Bullet Wireless with OnePlus not provided any actual specs. The website listing doesn’t either and so the frequency response, signal-to-noise ratio, and so on, are all unknown, conveniently. Although the page listing does confirm Bluetooth 4.1 is in use – which by today’s standards is below par. After all, the new OnePlus 6 comes with Bluetooth 5.0.

Instead of the actual specs OnePlus has opted to focus much more on very select and questionable features. For example, according to OnePlus “the really cool part” is they are magnetic. Though, not quite sure why this is so cool as it’s certainly not groundbreaking due to the number of earphones that already come with magnet support. Arguably, it is usually the cheaper options that mostly tout this feature as high-end audio products normally focus more on the actual quality of the sound as “the cool part.” Which is another point to note, as like the hardware, the announcement from OnePlus only barely touches on the sound quality and does so more as an afterthought than the main selling point. For example again, OnePlus states due to the inclusion of Qualcomm aptX support along with “powerful hardware”, these earphones “are tuned to deliver the best possible audio experience.” If this is not just marketing spiel, than what is? No actual detailed information on what it means beyond the soundbite. Although the company has said the design makes use of an “energy tube” approach to essentially funnel sound to the ear. This funneling supposedly helps to make it sound better though it remains unclear why channeling alone increases quality compared to volume. Again, better and quality in audio land are highly contentious issues and especially nowadays where most companies try to compensate on quality through artificial tweaks. Making things sound better than they actually are.

What is more interesting is these are built upon the standards set out “with the critically acclaimed Bullets V2.” This is a point to note as “critically acclaimed” suggests these are somehow at the pinnacle of audio reproduction which is very far from the truth. In fact, most reviews of the Bullets V2 specifically comment on the quality in respect of the very cheap price. In other words, for the money they are good quality. That is not the same as saying they are good quality. While you might be getting a lot for what you pay for, you are only getting what you pay for. This is not too far from what I found with the original ‘Silver Bullets’ from OnePlus released back in 2014. Here’s a direct quote from that summary of the company’s first foray into the headphone market.

After using the Silver Bullets solidly for almost a week the issue is that they feel like two different products. The first is the OnePlus earphones and with that in mind there is this issue of the ‘expectation of quality’. In reality, this is the company’s first proper aftermarket accessory and it should have hit with some force. But that is not the case. If you just focus on the fact that these are OnePlus then they are overall disappointing. The product feels cheap and lacks all the touches we have come to know from OnePlus and the One. The sound quality is good but in an average way with no particular excellent or worthwhile features. The control panel is poor, lacks the tactile clarity and quite often annoys more than it does its job.”

Which probably sums up OnePlus’ audio ambitions fairly adequately and quite likely will be an apt description for the new Bullet Wireless. If you focus on the price alone then you are probably getting a good product for the money. But to think of these as a game-changer or as “something that’s worth bringing to the world” then, no. Just, no.

Skipping passed the price-to-quality ratio, the Bullet Wireless also come with some, not a lot, of additional features. One of which is Google Assistant integration. Yes, this is useful, though, this is now as commonplace on headphones, as headphones themselves. Then there is the added magnetic feature which is one of the few things OnePlus made a push with during the announcement. In short, these earphones offer a ‘magnetic resume’ feature which stops playback when they are ‘snapped’ together and resumes playback when they are unsnapped from each other. There are two things to note about this. Firstly, this is not that useful of a feature, and there are far better implementations of the same feature. For example, earphones which pause/stop the music when taken out of the ear and resume when inserted back in the ear. So the OnePlus implementation is nothing new, noteworthy or as good as existing solutions. What is probably more pertinent though is the second point, as according to the OnePlus announcement on the Bullet Wireless, this feature only works with OnePlus-branded phones. Here’s the direct quote.

The earbuds magnetically snap together to prevent tangles, and when used with a OnePlus 5/5T or 6, clipping them together will automatically pause music. Unclipping them will then resume the music, exactly from where it was left, and unclipping them will also answer an incoming phone calls.”

So, it would seem that unless you own a OnePlus phone (and a recent one at that) this feature is redundant with the magnetic quality simply reverting back to just being a way to store the earphone when not in use – something offered by a number of manufacturers. Which again, is not quite the same as one of the main selling points and “the really cool part” OnePlus claims. Last, but not least, is the feature OnePlus now seems destined to talk about forever – Dash Charge. For those new to this, Dash Charge is the company’s own fast-charging solution and offers owners of a OnePlus phone ‘a day’s power in half an hour.’ While that statement itself is fairly questionable on a false marketing stance, the technology has now migrated over to these earphones where OnePlus reckon five hours (of the total eight hours available) of power can be gained in a charge as quick as 10 minutes. On the surface this is probably the only feature worth noting with the headphones, and even then it is only partially worth noting. For example, is OnePlus claiming a full (eight hours worth of power) is achievable in around 16 minutes of charging? In theory, that is what the company is saying though in reality it is not what the company has said. Which raises the question of whether or not you will actually get five hours of usage from a 10-minute charge. In addition, there is the issue of whether this is actually a needed feature or not. While all headphone makers are now speeding up the time it takes to get a charge for their products, this is not the same issue as with smartphones – as the demand placed on this product is not the same. Those who have zero battery left on a phone will need a substantial amount of battery available for their phone to run for any reasonable amount of time as it is such a resource-demanding product. Headphones are not, and typically speaking people only need enough battery to get them through a commute or their next gym visit. Neither of which will be five hours. This is one of those arbitrary numbers that has been suggested by OnePlus as a marketing angle, not something that actually matters. Full charge time, yes it matters. One-hour’s worth of charge, yes it matters. But from a marketing perspective neither of these chime with ‘ten minutes.’

Wrap up

So are the Bullet Wireless earphones actual competition for Apple’s AirPods, Google’s Pixel Buds, or Samsung’s Gear IconX, or for that matter, the wealth of personal audio products from actual top tier audio brands. No, of course they are not. Even their price clearly argues that OnePlus does not consider them to be of that caliber. As while the company does always look to undercut the competition, the OnePlus 6 is proving that heightened quality does come at a higher cost. Which is the main point being argued here, if you are in the market for a new pair of headphones then at $69 these might not be a bad option. Though, even at that price they will not be the best option for the money. There will be, and are, better options already available that won’t get the same media coverage that these OnePlus-branded earphones will. The takeaway, don’t believe the hype with a $69 pair of earphones – they are $69 for a reason.

On a personal note, they look ugly as.

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