Realme has made some great affordable smartphones since the company’s debut over a year ago. The company has proved that it can match Xiaomi, phone-to-phone. And like Xiaomi, Realme has been focussed on expanding its accessories portfolio in India. The philosophy that the company has applied to its smartphones can be seen in its accessories as well – attractive design, good performance, low cost. Products like the 10000mAh Realme Power Bank and Realme Buds Wireless are proof that the company is serious about making good affordable products beyond just smartphones. The new Realme Buds Air further expands Realme’s ecosystem, and this the product we’re looking to review today.

Realme Buds Air is the third audio accessory from the company following the Realme Buds and Realme Buds Wireless. While the latter two have some form of wired attachments, the Realme Buds Air is the company’s first true wireless earphones. This is a segment that is still growing in India. Good TWS earbuds are usually found around or above Rs 10,000 like the Samsung Galaxy Buds, Apple AirPods and Bose SoundSport Free. Here we have the Realme Buds Air priced at Rs 3,999, and this could potentially open up a huge market for affordable truly wireless earphones.

Realme Buds Air design and comfort

Let’s get the elephant out of the room first. Yes, the Realme Buds Air look awfully similar to the Apple AirPods. From R angle shape of the earbuds to the long stem to the charging case, the Realme Buds Air will make you say that they look like cheap AirPods knockoffs. Realme knows that they are going to invite this comparison, but the company won’t mind it as long as the design works. And they kind of do. 

When it comes to TWS earphones, there are only a few ways to go about it. You can either have them look like the Galaxy Buds that snugly fit in the ear and look inconspicuous, or they can have a stem, which allows the microphones to reach closer to your mouth, which help while making calls. The latter is a design made popular by the Apple AirPods, and it’s the design that Realme felt was the best way to go.

Look, for a pair of true wireless earphones under Rs 5,000, I can’t be too critical. I can say that the construction of the case and the earbuds feel plasticky and cheap. They’re not as smooth or solid as the AirPods. The plastic is glossy and it can feel quite greasy. Opening and closing the case lid doesn’t feel as satisfying as it does with the AirPods.

But these issues can be neglected if you consider the features that the Realme Buds Air does get right. The earbuds fit well enough in the ear and don’t fall off if you vigorously shake your head or while you’re running. The Buds Air are extremely lightweight at 4.16 grams, which the company says is lighter than a sheet of A4 paper. The charging case is small and can be kept in the pocket conveniently. The earbuds are also sweat-proof, so you can take them along with you to the gym.

Additionally, the case supports wireless charging, which is fantastic to see in a sub-Rs 5,000 TWS earphones. On top of all this, the earbuds come with some smart connectivity features which we will dive into in the next section. 

Much like the AirPods, the comfort and fit of the Realme Buds Air will differ from ear-to-ear. Some may find the earbuds to fit well, while for others may find the fitting lose. It would be wise to test them out first before purchasing a pair.

Realme Buds Air connectivity and features

Realme has really gone all out in making the Buds Air feature-rich at an affordable price. It’s not just the design that mimics the AirPods, but so do the little smart features. The optical sensor on the buds can detect when they’re being used. So, they will automatically play music or a video when they’re in your ear and will pause whatever you’re listening to when you take them off, similar to the AirPods. This may not sound like a big feature, but they can be extremely convenient when you need to quickly listen to something or someone in your environment.

You need to open the lid of the charging case to enable pairing. Once paired to a phone or laptop, the earbuds will automatically connect to the device the moment you flip the lid open, so they’re already connected by the time they’re in your ears. The button on the case is used for pairing and you can only pair the earbuds to a device when they’re in the case. Using these smart features were mostly smooth sailing, but there were times when the Buds Air stayed connected to my phone even after placing them back in the case and closing the lid.

The Realme Buds Air come with a Gaming mode, which reduces latency to the lowest industry standard. By pressing the mound on both the earbuds at the same time. You’ll hear the sound of a race-bike, which means Gaming mode has been activated. In gaming mode, latency is reduced by 51 percent to 119.2ms, so you won’t be able to notice any delay while playing games like PUBG where latency could mean the end of the game. 

What brings all of these smart, seamless features together is the new R1 chip with Bluetooth 5.0. This is a custom processor that Realme has developed for the Realme Buds Air, and it is what sets the earbuds apart from the competition in this segment. It is the difference between a cheap knockoff and an actual attempt at making good TWS earphones.

Environment Noise Cancellation or ENC is present here, according to Realme. The two microphones on each earbuds help isolate some external noise during calls. I didn’t find ENC to be extremely noticeable, but I had no troubles at all while making or receiving calls over the Buds Air. The caller could hear me clearly and that’s why the long stem design really works.

Finally, the Buds Air come with touch controls by tapping on the mound or curve of the earbuds. Double tapping on a bud will answer calls, play/pause music, while a triple tap will skip to the next song. By long pressing on one side, you can activate Google Assistant or Siri depending on your connected device.

Realme Buds Air sound quality

Before I talk about the sound quality, I should mention that the right earbud in my review unit would at times make a light hissing noise when nothing was playing. It is unclear whether this issue is being faced by other reviewers.

When it comes to sound quality, it’s best if you keep your expectations low here. Don’t expect the sound of the Realme Buds Air to be as good as the Galaxy Buds or Bose SoundSport Free. I don’t think the AirPods sound particularly great, but they are clear for the most part. 

The Realme Buds Air sound extremely average when you start comparing. So for the purposes of this review, knowing its pricing, I will keep the judgement solely on how the buds sounded to me in isolation. Speaking of isolation, the Buds Air do not offer sound isolation due to its open design.

Realme Buds Air come with 12mm bass boost drivers, which means bass sound signatures will be emphasised to offer some thump. I checked out a few songs from different genres like Acoustic, Rock, Pop and EDM, among others. In most of thee genres, I found the sound  pretty flat rather than layered. The more instruments in a song, the more cramped and muffled things get. Acoustic and EDM songs sound decent enough, but overall the Realme Buds Air earbuds lack richness.  

In There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back by Shawn Mendes, there’s a good bass kick and decent vocal clarity. In more instrumental-heavy songs like Blind Leading the Blind by Mumford and Sons, the experience gets less pleasant. The Buds Air have a very narrow soundstage, so various instruments like the Banjo in the background are barely heard and lack distinction. In a live rendition of New Year’s Day by U2, I found the drums and lows muted while highs felt amplified. But without a wide soundstage, live performances feel flat. 

The emphasis on bass does compromise on the richness of the sound. There is a noticeable lack of clarity and balance between the lows, mids and highs. The earphones perform well when songs are mostly bass-centric and minimal with instruments. And EDM songs like Faded by Alan Walker and Lean On by Major Lazer sound decent, but can get pitchy at higher volume levels. 

Unfortunately, Realme does not have a dedicated app for its audio products yet, so there is no way to tune the sound to your liking with an equaliser. If you’re a serious audiophile who needs good-sounding earphone, the Buds Air are not for you. Realme Buds Wireless offer far better range, clarity and bass-forward tuning at a much cheaper price, and its the one you should buy from Realme if you don’t mind the neckband design. 

Realme Buds Air battery

Realme claims the Buds Air can deliver up to 17 hours of battery life. Each earbud houses a 27mAh battery that can last for 3 hours on their own. With the charging case that houses a 400mAh battery, the earbuds can be charged to 100 per cent a few times over.

Now, it’s difficult to test the 17 hour battery life claim since the earbuds keep charging back to 100 per cent every time they’re in the case. Suffice it to say that the battery life is satisfying. During the review period, I tested the earphones for around 2-3 hours everyday, and the Buds Air managed to last through the week.

The battery life will vary depending on the volume levels of course. Volume levels over 60 per cent will likely shorten the battery life by a couple of hours. The Realme Buds Air charging case gets a Type-C port, which is nice to see. It doesn’t support fast charging and it takes around 90 minutes to fully charge the case. 

As mentioned earlier, the Realme Buds Air case comes with wireless charging support, which is something you won’t find on mainstream TWS earphones under Rs 5,000. The charging case supports any Qi standard wireless charger. Realme has launched its own 7.5W wireless charger during the launch event, but its price is currently unknown. You can even charge the case on a phone that supports reverse wireless charging such as the Galaxy Note 10.

Verdict

At Rs 3,999, the Realme Buds Air are easy to recommend to anyone looking for low-cost truly wireless earphones. There are some TWS alternatives under Rs 5,000 from brands like Noise, JBL and TAGG, but none of them offer the kind of specs that Realme is offering at this price point. Wireless charging, wear detection, low latency gaming mode are good, convenient reasons to buy the Realme Buds Air. These smart and seamless features make the Realme Buds Air standout from other affordable TWS earphones in India. 

However, you should not expect the Realme Buds Air to feel as premium as the AirPods just because they look similar. The build quality and design feel cheap. Moreover, if you’re looking for good sound quality, the Realme Buds Air will not satisfy you. In fact, you are unlikely to find good-sounding TWS earbuds under Rs 5,000 right now, so it’s best to keep your expectations low. For good sound, I would recommend the Realme Buds Wireless over the Buds Air, if you don’t mind the neck band design. 

Editor’s rating: 3.5/5

Pros

  • AirPods-like convenient design
  • R1 chip brings seamless connectivity
  • Wireless charging
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • Average sound quality
  • Iffy touch controls
  • Build quality is cheap
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