Realme is a relatively new company, and its sudden soar in the consumer market shows how serious they are to overtaking the existing brands. Being a member of the BBK Electronics group, realme has lots of resources at its disposal. And we can’t also overlook the fact that the company is still being backed by OPPO.
Lately, things has been quite swift for realme. From smartphones, the company also starts to enter the accessories business. It all started with its wired earphone called “realme Buds” which is now on its second iteration. This was followed by realme Buds wireless which comes in neckband-style.
Now, the latest of these accessories is the realme Buds Air, the company’s first true wireless stereo (TWS). The realme Buds Air is unmistakably inspired by Apple’s more expensive AirPods, only that it cost less than $100.
- 12mm drivers
- 400mAh battery (Case)
- USB Type-C port, supports up to 10W Qi wireless charging
- Bluetooth 5.0, Google Fast Pair support
- Up to 10M range
- Dual-mic noise cancellation
- Low latency mode for gaming
- Wear detection
- SBS/AAC Bluetooth coding
Realme Buds Air in-depth Review
Without the “Designed by realme” branding on the back, it will be easy to mistaken the realme Buds Air as the more expensive Apple Airpods. There’s really no competition though. Apple Airpods is the more premium-looking of the two, has better hinge, and corners. But considering the price range the realme Buds Air is targeting, it’s actually way better than any of its TWS competitors in the midrange segment.
On the front, there’s the button for pairing to unpaired devices, and on top of it is the LED indicator. It glows in three colors to indicate battery life and Bluetooth pairing status. The Product Introduction Guide mentioned yellow, but upon testing, it’s just green, orange, and red. If the case is full or exceeds at least two-thirds of its total battery capacity, it flashes green. It also flashes orange when the battery is less than two thirds of its capacity, and red if near empty, or critical.
At the bottom, there’s the USB Type-C port, instead of Apple Airpod’s Lightning port, and some regulatory information. Funny enough, my unit misspelled “Bluetooth” as “Buletooth”. I contacted realme, and according to them, only the first units were affected and it has already been fixed in later units. Not that it’s a big deal though. The build quality on this thing is superb, as long as you don’t compare it next to Apple Airpods.
The hinge of the case feels rigid and durable, while the lid has magnetic latching mechanism which tells the motherboard and the buds inside when to turn on and off. It’s quite amusing actually.
This Airpod-like design continues to the buds itself. Both products looks the same, with realme Buds Air having some few discernable features. The stem on the Buds Air isn’t rounded but rather flat making it slimmer and a lot sleeker than that of Apple. Also the chrome on the tip doesn’t continue all the way down. Instead it just strips around a few millimetres away from the tip.
There’s also no hole at the bottom. Instead, we see two electrodes which connects to the pogo pins inside the charging case. Furthermore, the buds are held inside the case by a magnetic force, so there should be some small magnet on the tip. The magnetic force is quite strong actually that even holding the case open upside down will keep the buds secure.
On the buds, we see the proximity sensor which placement is the same as that of the Aipods. This works as wear detection which will pause the sound if one of the buds is removed from the ear.
What I don’t like about the realme Buds design is that basically any joints, could it be on the plastic casing or the buds itself, has some small gaps. I notice mine collecting gunk just a day of using which really grossed me out. I tried cleaning mine with a mix of isopropyl alcohol and water, and while I was able to remove some of the dirt, some are just so hard to reach. In this case, the black variant is the far better choice.
Comforts and Ergonomics
The realme Buds Air is quite okay in most regards. However, after like days of using it, I feel some pain in the surrounding of my ear canals. While the buds fits snuggly to my ears, the protrusion on the speaker grill is too sharp and uncomfortable for long time use. The only way to fix this issue is by purchasing a silicon cover for the buds which you can find online at cheap price. Yes, silicon covers made for the Apple Airpods will fit just right.
However, I have asked some colleagues who also owns a Buds Air and they don’t have the same experience. Therefore, it is safe to say that experiences varies depending on the size of your ears.
We also want to mention that each of the buds weighs just 4 grams, making it almost unnoticeable to the user once wore. While this may sound like a good thing, it will also be incredibly easy to lose one of the buds if you are not playing anything.
As for the case, it’s so small that it fits easily on any pockets of my jeans. Also thanks to its rounded corner, and shiny finish, it’s also easy to slip it out of the jean pocket if the buds needs a quick charge.
Comfort may not be big on the realme Buds Air (at least for me), it definitely nailed some of the features that only premium TWS have. Each of the buds has touch control on top of the secondary noise-cancelling microphone. While it can sometimes fail, it works about ninety percent of the time.
The realme Buds Air has two modes. The normal mode, which you can use for playing music, and the low-latency mode for gaming or streaming contents. Pushing the touch sensitive area of both of the buds will either activate or deactivate the low-latency gaming mode.
It also natively supports gesture for virtual assistants. Long pressing on either one of the buds will activate the Google Assistant, and depending on the phone you are using, it can also either be Alexa or Siri. A two quick tap will play/pause music, or answer the calls. Three taps skips to the next song, while two second press will either hang up the existing call, or decline an incoming call.
My favourite of all the features is the wear detection. It’s just a fancy name for the proximity sensor, but always comes in handy. Like if you see someone you know, you can just remove one of the buds to pause the song, and then you can greet or talk. And then put it again to pick up where you left.
Quality and Battery Life
Of course, the deciding factor for buying a TWS is its performance and sound quality. The realme Buds Air supports SBS and AAC codecs for high-quality audio. However, the lack of Qualcomm’s aptX audio codec may be a deal breaker for some. Considering its shortcomings though, the realme Buds Air does have exceeded our expectation. Its home-grown R1 chip paired with 12mm dynamic bass boost driver will make sure a better sound quality than any of its competitor in its price range.
The bass of the realme Buds Air is clean and punchy, while the stereo output is decent. It wasn’t that wide or separated, so the illusion of three-dimensionality is quite limited. Regardless, it is still a fun experience if you’re watching movies on your smartphone.
The realme Buds Air can also be quite loud, but distortion starts to peak if you try to bypass the native volume on your smartphone (like the 200 volume on VLC).
As for sound quality over voice calls, it is fine and clear sometimes – but the noise-cancelling microphones doesn’t really seem to work as intended. I can still hear noises in the surrounding, and my colleague on the line still complains of loud noises in the mall.
It’s a different story if you are listening to music though. It can mostly filter out voices in the background, but some can still pass through. This, however, is most likely because of the design of the buds rather than the dual-microphone not cancelling out noises.
Realme has included low-latency mode for gaming. You can enable this by long pressing together the touch sensitive area of the two buds. You can tell that it is turned on if you hear a sound of an engine revving. I’ve tried playing PUBG Mobile, and Mobile Legends and it seems to work fine. Note that leaving this feature on will drain the battery really fast. You can go back to normal mode by pressing the two touch sensitive area of the buds together.
Finally, the battery life. A single charge of the buds can last me about 3 hours of normal usage. However, I found out that using the Buds Air for calls, drains the battery really fast. I once had an hour long video conference, and I ended the call with only one third of battery life left. It wasn’t a big deal though, a quick charge of about 15 minutes charge can restore the battery juice.
Realme has once again made us believe that any brand can work wonder in the mid-range segment. The realme Buds Air is well-built, offers good sound quality, and features than we can only see on high-end TWS like the Apple Airpods.
However, as much I would like to love the Buds Air, the sharp protruding edges on the speaker grill gives discomfort that I went back to using my wired earphone with silicon buds just a day after using it. The joint on the buds also collects gunk, which will look gross if not cleaned regularly. The black variant would have been a good choice only if you can get hold of a stock.
Note that your experience may vary, as it really depends on the shape of your ears. While it may doesn’t work for me, it may work just fine for you. If not, a cheap silicon cover may solve the issue once and for all.