OnePlus Bullets Wireless Review: A Tangle-Free Mess
Last year we received our Bullets Wireless review unit very late (compared to other outlets) from OnePlus and by the time the review was finished the product item was almost never in stock and certainly not consistently enough to warrant us publishing a review.
We did not particularly like the original model that much and this is in spite of many other outlets suggesting they were great headphones. Considering the company has now announced a new model and it is presumed that many outlets will be quick again to push these headphones, it felt the right time to now publish our original review.
While you might not be able to buy the original model, hopefully this will provide some context on what to expect and/or look out for with the new model.
Here’s our original review in full.
Even at $69 these are hard to recommend
For many, OnePlus is the darling of the industry as it looks to establish itself as a disruptor by bringing quality products to market at more affordable prices compared to competing brands.
Over the years, OnePlus has somewhat stuck to focusing more on smartphones with every now and again an additional product or accessory coming through. 2018 was one of those times as in addition to announcing the new OnePlus 6 smartphone, the company also unveiled a new earphone option, the new OnePlus Bullets.
OnePlus has previously offered Bullets-branded earphones but the difference this time is the new ones are wireless.
In spite of the wireless nature, OnePlus is positioning these earphones as a competitively priced solution – $69 in the US.
OnePlus is a strange company when it comes to specs as whenever it releases a new smartphone it always makes the point the specs don’t matter. But, at the same time, the specs are exactly the main selling point with OnePlus smartphones, resulting in somewhat of a conflicting marketing message.
When it comes to the OnePlus Bullets Wireless it would seem this is a case of the specs not mattering at all as OnePlus has provided next to no information on the technical parameters for this product. Make what you will from that, but if specs do matter to you when it comes to audio solutions – you won’t find them here.
Unboxing & Contents
Usually an unboxing experience requires little explanation as it’s a fairly generic process and even more so when it come to earbuds and headphones.
OnePlus is no ordinary company and the unboxing experience in this instance proved to be both good and bad. To start with the positive, OnePlus has attempted to be smart with the first impressions experience and once you open the main box you’ll see the back of the earbuds poking out of holes along with an artistic impression of the rest of the earphones. Essentially, combining the real with the artificial and it’s a nice presentation touch.
However, once you get beyond this superficial aspect and actually get down to trying to remove everything from the box, the experience becomes far more tedious. OnePlus has spent so much time on this artistic element that the actual functional part of the unboxing experience is horrible.
You literally have to manhandle the box and its contents to get everything out. It’s not neat, tidy, or pleasant. It would have been significantly better if the company had just focused on the packaging and the ease of use instead of how it can make the product look different.
In terms of the actual contents, things are a little more standard. In addition to the Bullets Wireless earbuds, you can also expect to get three pairs of different-sized ear plugs, three pairs of different-sized fins, a USB charging cable, and a carry case, along with the user manual, safety and warranty card.
Hardware & Design
Design is typically always at the forefront of the OnePlus experience and according to the company, the Bullets Wireless earphones are no exception.
In saying that, these are not the premium product OnePlus suggests they are. When you first pick up the Bullets Wireless there are two things that immediately become clear. The first is how lightweight they are (a good thing), the second is how cheap the earbuds actually feel (a bad thing). It would seem in a bid to make these as light as possible OnePlus has compromised massively on the quality of the earbuds. Keeping in mind, this is effectively where the “driver” is located, this should be the most durable and well-built aspect of the product, it is not.
These feel very low quality and sport a build which does not lend well to an enhanced sound quality – more on this later.
These are neckband headphones and even this is something that is hit and miss most of the time. On the one hand, a design like this offsets the weight placed on the ear which makes the design good for gym-goers – there is less likely to be friction when moving. But, we now live in a world of true wireless earbuds and anything else adds unnecessary weight and bulk to the product. While light on the ears, the neckband in this case adds too much weight and bulk.
The neckband cable feels very well-made and sturdy (and therefore presumably will last over time), however the cables attached to the earbuds are not anywhere near as durable and immediately highlight the weak point in the design chain. A cable is only ever as good as its weakest point and regardless of the more durable neck aspects, this design is highly likely to fall victim to breakages and intermittent connections near the earbuds – ironically, the place which is likely to see the most movement and by association, wear and tear.
Another strange decision choice is the inclusion of a separate in-line remote control panel. Generally speaking, neckband earphones usually incorporate controls on one of the neckband panels. This type of product always contain two of these panels which sort of act as counterbalances for each other and are therefore positioned a lot closet to the user’s shoulders – making them within easy reach.
For example, the power button on the OnePlus Bullet Wireless is located on one of these panels. But then, the volume and track skipping controls are located on this third and unnecessary panel. It’s presumed OnePlus thinks this makes the volume and track controls easier to reach although that’s not really the case. The general larger size and more stationary position of the neckband panels make the panels a much better place for the controls.
OnePlus has combined two different earphone form factors here and this just leads to a more complicated experience overall.
It’s worth taking a minute to also mention the carry case as this is an extremely poor accessory. It not only lacks in function, but is also one of the ugliest cases you will find with a product like this. It’s simply a silicone pouch with no redeeming features or design points. Other than the OnePlus branding the product lacks in every respect.
This is not a case that closes properly and is more of an always-open pouch which you squeeze to open enough to stuff the earphones in (any which way you can) and then hope it manages to close enough – it doesn’t most of the time. Even the sound it makes when you squeeze the case is horrible.
Lack of aesthetic appeal aside, the case fails in so many different ways it’s unreal. Not only is it almost impossible to get the earphones into the case fully without having to resort to surgery, but the level of protection the case offers is highly debatable. This is just not a good case and certainly not one which anyone could suggest is premium.
For those who simply only care about the sound quality, it’s not bad. OnePlus has 100-percent placed all its eggs in one basket to make sure the sound quality (the main point of the product) is good, and it’s OK. Although, “OK” really is the best description for the sound.
The immediate issue with the sound is it’s a highly polished sound. While polished would normally mean something has been shined up to be better, in audio land this is not always a good thing as polished means artificial and that is the crux of these headphones. They are way too artificial. If you have no interest in audio other than listening to some music then you will probably like the sound quality as its light and airy – sort of like a well-made sponge. Unlike a tasty sponge, the OnePlus Bullets lack considerable in flavor profiles.
Basically, everything comes with the same pink shade attached. So when you skip from a top-heavy track to a bass-focused track you don’t get the impact of skipping from one genre to the other. One of the reasons for this is the bass or lack thereof. The bass that is offered is so processed it lacks any depth or punch – sticking with the baking analogy, the bass is as flat as a pancake which results in every song sounding exactly the same.
On the positive side, the tops are very good and in this instance it’s literally the life-saving aspect of these earphones. With every track sounding so treble-oriented, if the tops failed, all tracks would sound overwhelmingly bad.
If you are someone who listens to piercing tracks in general, and use these headphones at top volume, it will start to hurt in as little as thirty minutes of continuous listening. The problem is the earphones are so top-heavy that the louder they get the more piercing the tops become. It’s not a pleasant experience during longer sessions and this will affect some users more than others based on the type of music they listen to.
If you are more of a top and pop listener, then you might not find the sound to be as much of an issue and may even find it pleasant – as long as you also do not typically listen at full volume.
If you are a bass-heavy listener, then you can stop reading now.
Daily battery usage is one of the key areas for Bluetooth audio products and this could have been one of the departments OnePlus excelled in, although that is not really the case. The company suggests in standby mode these earphones are capable of lasting up to 255 hours. This number drops down to ten hours and thirty minutes when used for talk time and down to eight hours when continuously playing music.
In testing, the OnePlus Bullets Wireless typically would last around six hours before switching off. It’s worth noting this testing involved the earbuds playing music at the highest volume level and so it’s likely the six hours noted will increase if the earphones are used at a lower than maximum volume setting. Although it is unlikely lowering the volume will add another 25-percent to the battery and so the eight hour marker suggested by OnePlus is not one you should realistically expect.
The good news is like the company’s smartphones, these earbuds are designed to be able to gain a charge quickly when needed. Therefore, when the battery does run low, these earphones can be plugged in and charged for about 10 minutes and gain enough power to get you through the day.
OnePlus states that a ten minute charge will result in five hours worth of playback although this was considered an overestimation considering a full charge only ever lasted about six hours. However, the battery life gained after a 10-minute charge was still excellent and during testing typically converted to about three hours and thirty minutes of continuous music playback.
Regardless of the difference between OnePlus and our measurements, a ten-minute quick charge is more than enough to get the user through a quick session with a full charge possible in around thirty five minutes.
Connectivity & Performance
There were no issues noted with the connectivity of the OnePlus Bullets Wireless earbuds which generally speaking performed very well. These earphones make use of Bluetooth 4.1 to establish a connection and this should mean a connection can be made and maintained up to a distance of thirty meters away from a streaming device.
This was found to be accurate with the earphones able to reliably remain connected up to about 10 meters. Although the reliability of the connection did seem to be highly dependent on line of sight with the addition of walls starting to prove problematic – resulting in more of a spotty connection. While Bluetooth in itself is not something that is necessarily prone to line of sight, this was an issue noted when using the Bullet Wireless earbuds.
Like the connectivity, there were no major issues noted with the performance in general. These were largely considered to be reliable earphones that performed well and on a consistent basis.
One of the design features the company focused on during the launch event was the magnetic nature of the earphones where the earbuds could be snapped together when not in use. Snapping together would also result in the music automatically pausing and resuming when the magnetic chain was broken.
Originally, OnePlus touted this as a feature that would only work with OnePlus-branded devices. In testing the feature worked just as well on other branded smartphones. Although, the feature in itself is not quite as great or as useful as suggested.
For example, other Bluetooth earbuds are capable of stopping and resuming playback when removed from the ear and this method seems to be far more useful in all situations compared to the OnePlus implementation which does require the user to continually snap the earbuds together to stop the music – even if you only want to pause the music for a brief moment. So while this was positioned as a major selling feature by OnePlus, it feels a little backward step compared to what is already on offer by other headphone manufacturers.
Furthermore, when the user breaks the connection and the Bullet Wireless resume playback, they revert to the default volume setting which proved highly annoying over time. This resulted in a situation where the wearer had to continually reset the volume to the desired level each time the content was paused via the magnetic approach.
The OnePlus Bullets Wireless earbuds are really simple to sum up. If you buy into the OnePlus narrative and want to remain part of the club, then buy them. They are cheap enough to make them OK for the money.
However, if you are new to OnePlus or not particularly affiliated to the brand then you should avoid these earphones altogether. Not only are they cheap in price, but they are cheap in general.
To be fair, they are only $69 so they are not unnecessarily expensive for what they are. But to be equally fair, $69 goes along way nowadays in the audio world and you can get a decent pair of earphones for that money. Spend a few dollars more and you will get a significantly better pair of earphones.
For $69 they are just OK.
Verdict – Skip.
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