Vivo has finally joined the growing market for true wireless earbuds in India. With the launch of Vivo TWS Neo last week, the top five smartphone makers now offer true wireless earbuds in the country. Vivo, being Vivo, is taking a different approach to the segment. It is offering a product that is more expensive than those from its Chinese rivals. There is also the expertise of Vivo’s audio engineering from the phones being brought to the earbuds. Dismissing them as another affordable AirPods clone is easy but there is definitely more to it. Also Read - Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 Review: A must have for Xiaomi and Redmi smartphone users
Every smartphone maker now wants to be an ecosystem player. The idea is that smartphones will play the major role while all other devices will become tethered to it. Some might use the “1+8+N” or “1+4+N” strategy to describe it but it is clear that every brand has that ambition. As a result, the Vivo TWS Neo is best enjoyed when you use a Vivo smartphone. I have been using these with Vivo X50 Pro, which I reviewed last week, and a couple of non-Vivo smartphones, laptop and iPad. Here is my review. Also Read - Oppo Enco Free Review: Impressive entry in the wireless earbuds segment
It is now evident that true wireless earbuds will be either half in-ear design or the earbuds form factor. Vivo TWS Neo, no prizes for guessing, opts for the half in-ear design first made popular by Apple AirPods. It is the design we saw with other BBK brands like Oppo, Realme and most recently, OnePlus, used for their own true wireless earbuds. It is clear that there is no one-size-fits-all approach possible here. For me, the Vivo TWS Neo was comfortable and stayed in my ears most of the time. The only time they fell out of my ears was when I went cycling.
My former colleague Ritesh Bendre had much worse luck with them. He told me that they fell out of his ears even if he sneezed. So, it is clear that he will have to stick with full in-ear design while I have the luxury of choosing between either designs. If you have an active lifestyle then these might not really be ideal. I tried to make them fit my ears even when I was cycling, they were stable for sometime and then they started becoming lousy and gave away the feeling that they might fall out. Your experience might vary from me and your ears might be perfect for this kind of design. Or you might end up being one of those people, who have only one option: full in-ear earbuds.
The earbuds themselves are plastic but they don’t feel rigid. The open-air design, however, limits the overall sound capability. The case looks like a flat egg and looks more like a toy than an audio accessory. Our review unit came in moonlight white color but I recommend you avoid it. It gets dirty easily and also does not fit inside the coin pocket. There is a button at the front to see charge capacity and a LED to indicate the status. At the bottom, there is a USB Type-C port for charging. The design of Vivo TWS Neo is functional but at the same time, funny enough to make people give it a weird look.
Sound Quality and Battery Life
This is where the experience of Vivo TWS Neo becomes subjective to a large extent. Because of the half in-ear design, Vivo TWS Neo does not offer a tight seal. This means you will hear the outside world at all times. The only way to avoid this is by increasing volume to the max, which is both uncomfortable and if you ask experts, they will call it unsafe. The volume toggle itself gives you an alert when you increase volume beyond a certain threshold. This design does have an advantage, especially while making phone calls.
Since I don’t have Apple AirPods lying around, I am not unable to make a judgement but I used these for phone calls on Vivo X50 Pro, few other phones and specially MS Teams calls on my work laptop. I was not only able to hear people on the other side clearly, they also did not realize that I was speaking through TWS earbuds. Apple AirPods are widely considered to be the best for calling and I think these perform equally good. These are really perfect for voice-based experiences like sitting at a place and talking or walking and listening to podcasts. However, when you start playing music, the experience is definitely not the best.
Wilderness by Explosions In The Sky is a good way to test balance of any audio device. In the case of Vivo TWS Neo, the soundstage did not seem wide enough and left me seeking for more. Even though Vivo has put large 14.2mm drivers, it is not a solution to the physics and design of these earbuds. I am not trying to say that these earbuds sound bad but they will never be able to match those full in-ear earbuds designs. If you listen to indie pop music, you will notice that these earbuds offer decent separation between instruments. However, for me, the bottom-line was that I ended up looking for more.
These earbuds support AAC and aptX and the sound quality is right there but the open style will leave wanting for more bass and more clarity. You might wonder if there is an equalizer setting to do that. Well, on Vivo phones, you can tune the audio between three options: Clear voice (default), Mega bass and Clear high pitch. If you get these TWS earbuds, I recommend changing to Clear high pitch and listening to You’ve Got To Have Freedom by Pharoah Sanders. Then stop the music and switch to a clear voice to observe the difference or coarseness in treble frequency.
Here is the thing: these customization are limited to really take advantage of those drivers. For most, the default sound profile would be good enough but if you want more, there is a limited option to stretch the output. I am getting a feeling that Vivo will add a full set of customization options with a future update. However, I hope that those are not just limited to Vivo’s own phones and I also hope Vivo Earphones app is not a gateway to land back at the settings page. It should be a proper app like the Jabra Sound+ or Sennheiser Smart Control.
If you are designing true wireless earbuds then I would suggest not putting those touch controls on the earbuds. They are bad on premium earbuds like Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 and they are not that great on Vivo TWS Neo. In terms of actions, you get double tap on the left or right earbuds while swiping up or down on either changes the volume. You can customize the first two to do things like play or pause music, wake up the voice assistant, skip to the previous or next song. These are not only limited but also leave a lot of false positives. I have set the double tap on the right option to wake up my voice assistant but instead it always ends up pausing the music.
On Vivo phones, I could at least change these controls but the same is not possible on other models. This is a perfect example for the “ecosystem play” where those with different Android phones should not buy these TWS earbuds. These earbuds offer low-latency of 88ms while playing Games and on Vivo X50 Pro, I did not have any issue hearing my mates while playing PUBG Mobile. These support fast pairing with Vivo phones but with other devices, you will have to use manual pairing. These earbuds have really good battery life and I am yet to charge them. Vivo‘s claim of 22.5 hours of battery life is accurate and at optimal sound, you can stretch them for nearly a week.
Should you buy Vivo TWS Neo?
Vivo TWS Neo is a good example of a first generation product from an established brand that wants to achieve a lot but falls short. They offer IP54 water and dust resistance, which makes them withstand sweat and splashes of water. They include sensors to automatically pause music when you remove one of the earbuds but lack wireless charging. You cannot use them with more than one device at a time but Vivo does let you find them using the app. Vivo TWS Neo has solid battery life but is not exceptional in any other way. It is a good attempt by the company to convince its customers to buy these true wireless earbuds earbuds over those from rivals. They tie in well with Vivo smartphones but make sure they fit in your ears.