After making waves in the smartphone industry, / set its eyes on grabbing a piece of the wearables market. Amongst its initial efforts were the Realme Buds, the Realme Powerbank, and the Realme Buds Wireless. But now, noticing the burgeoning bandwagon of truly wireless earbuds in the market, Realme decided to come out with its own set of truly wireless earbuds: Realme Buds Air.
Ever since the dawn of the Apple AirPods, companies have chalked down their own versions on drawing boards and have pushed them in markets around the world. But even after the market flooded with a plethora of options, none have come close to the popularity of the AirPods. The stalk design of the AirPods that was initially bashed by most went on to become an aspirational product that a lot of brands had been “inspired” from.
The Realme Buds Air is probably the closest a mainstream brand has been inspired by the design. While not identical, the Buds Air can easily be mistaken for the AirPods. But unlike the more-expensive inspiration, the Buds Air is priced at an affordable INR 3,999 and come with a bunch of features, like wireless charging and wear detection, that is quite uncommon at this price point.
But are the Realme Buds Air worth the asking price or should they be passed off as just another shanzhai? Spoiler Alert: They’re worth it. Read on to know why!
Compact Form Factor
The Realme Buds Air sit in a rounded, squarish case that is quite similar to the case of the Apple AirPods. The case itself is quite compact and one of the smallest I’ve seen accompanying a pair of truly wireless earbuds. I had no problems in slotting the case in the watch pocket of my jeans that usually sits sulkily, questioning its existence. Despite being small, it packs an additional 17 hours of battery life and has support for wireless charging.
Each earbud of the Realme Buds Air weighs only 4 grams and sits in my ears without making its presence felt. The shape of the earbud is designed to fit most ears and slot in without much ado. The fit is quite secure too and it doesn’t fall out even during jogs and workouts. But in some cases, the Realme Buds Air might not fit in as well. A couple of friends had a hard time making the buds sit still. Also, the rather sharp rims of the oblong acoustic outlet do hurt the innards of the ear when – while sleeping – the stalk is in constant touch with a surface (like a pillow).
Wireless charging is a feature, no matter which category, is only found in premium, high-end products. But surprisingly, Realme somehow managed to incorporate it in the Buds Air’s case. While I didn’t find myself using it all the time, it’s really convenient and comes in handy in certain situations. For instance, I once used the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+, that has support for reverse wireless charging, to top off the juice of the Buds Air. This is one feature that is rarely found in truly wireless earbuds in this price range.
Calls are one aspect where most truly wireless earbuds have struggled with, simply because of how far they sit from your mouth. Although just like it was the case with AirPods, the Realme Buds Air too benefit with the stalk extension that places the mic closer to the mouth. The earbuds also have support for environment noise cancellation that makes use of two mics. Weirdly, I faced an issue with calls when I used both the earbuds at the same time. Compared to using a single one, using both at once somehow picked up more background noise.
Low-Latency Gaming Mode
Another aspect where truly wireless earbuds (or even Bluetooth earphones for this matter) haven’t fared quite well is latency. The omission of wires creates a minimal lag that is noticeable while watching videos or playing fast-paced action games. To address this, Realme has baked in a gaming mode that requires a simultaneous 3-second tap on both the buds to get activated. The gaming mode, according to Realme takes the lag down to 120ms which is quite solid for a pair of affordable TWE. For comparison, the AirPods Pro has an audio latency of 144ms. Although it did a decent job, it’s still not quite there to completely replace your good ol’ reliable wireless headsets.
This is probably the deciding factor for any pair of sound equipment. If they don’t sound good, they won’t sell. So how do the Realme Buds Air Perform? Are they as good as the Apple AirPods? In a nutshell, no; they aren’t. The Realme Buds Air have support for SBC and AAC codecs but not aptX support. Driving the sound are two 12mm dynamic drivers that push a U-shaped sound signature.
The bass performance was quite good and is something that’s certainly appreciated in a track like Moments by OVERWERK. The treble too is elevated and offers good clarity. But pushing it beyond 80% of the volume level lets distortion creep in. As mentioned before, the Buds Air features a U-shaped sound signature that puts more weight on the lows and the highs, making them suitable for the masses that like “brighter, more vibrant” audio
The Realme Buds Air also features wear detection, thanks to optical sensors on the inner side of each earbud. This makes it easier to engage in small talks where you can just simply pull out an earbud, pause the music, talk, pop the earbud back in and get to listening to music again, without having to pause/play the music manually. Although, the earbuds take about 3 seconds to pause music when pulled out.
But all’s not well with the sound performance of the Realme Buds Air. Head over to the What’s Not Smashable section to know why they wouldn’t be my go-to earbuds for hearing music.
Realme claims that the Realme Buds Air features 3 hours of battery life with an additional 17 hours packed in the wireless charging case. In my usage, I found this to be more-or-less true. While 20 hours of total usage is not bonkers, it’s certainly acceptable for such a compact package. The breathing LED on the front of the case indicates the amount of charge left in the case. Green indicates the battery level is above 75%, yellow indicates the battery level is above 50%, and red indicates that it’s time for the case to be charged. Unfortunately, there’s no fast charging support for the buds and they take about 2 hours to juice up to the brim via the USB Type-C port.
What’s Not Smashable
Noise Isolation/ Noise Cancellation (Passive)
The Realme Buds Air, along with goodness that it borrows from the AirPods, also borrows one of its biggest qualms; noise cancellation. The Buds Air don’t have silicone ear tips, that would’ve allowed them to create a good seal. Resultant, sound travels on a two-way highway to and from your ears; sound leaks and sound floods in from the environment too.
For someone who travels through the length and breadth of the city using local transport, the listening experience is pretty poor. So, even though the Realme Buds Air sounds good, I didn’t find myself using it in noisy environments. If you really want to drown out ambient noise, you can try cranking volume levels to the hilt. Although it does get loud, it’s not ideal and quite uncomfortable.
SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy Buds+ Renders Show No Design Change; Might Feature Active Noise Cancellation
The Realme Buds Air features touch controls that sit on the outer neck of the buds. Firstly, volume levels can’t be controlled with these touch controls. Hence, for every tiny volume tweak I had to reach out to my phone. Secondly, the Realme Buds Air doesn’t support single taps (probably to avoid accidental touches).
So, you need to double-tap to play/pause music or answer a call, triple tap to skip a song, and long-press to end a call or summon the voice assistant. This touch control menu is rather confusing and can take a while to get used to. To top it all off, the touch controls are not always responsive. Quite often the earbuds wouldn’t register a tap during my attempt to skip a track with a triple-tap gesture.
The Realme Buds Air features a plasticky build with a gloss finish. While the hinge snaps really well, it uses plastic instead of metal that we’ve seen on the Apple AirPods. While it shouldn’t be a problem in the short run, it might be a problem in the long run. Additionally, the case of the Realme Buds Air has taken quite a beating and now shows scuffs and scratches after only a week’s use. While it’s more difficult to spot them on the white colourway, it might be more visible on the black or the yellow colour variant.
So, where does this leave us with the Realme Buds Air? For what is the first attempt, Realme has done a really fine job in delivering a pair of truly wireless earbuds. Sharing the blood of other products in the Realme family, the Buds Air offer incredible value-for-money with features that are not commonly seen in its price range.
The Realme Buds Air offers good sound, have a bunch of useful features like wear detection and wireless charging and retail for a price that is quite competitive for all that it brings to the table. Although, they aren’t unparalleled in terms of sound performance, mainly due to the lack of sound isolation. So, if music is your top priority and you’re used to the comfort of having silicon tips, the JBL C100TWS or the 1MORE Stylish TWE are alternatives you should definitely consider.
Having learnt from Christopher McCandless to call each thing by its right name, the Realme Buds Air is the best Apple AirPods knockoff that is currently available in the market. They don’t falter spectacularly in any department, apart from sound isolation. With good and sound output, touch controls, wireless charging, and instantaneous connection times, the Realme Buds Air make a good case for themselves.
If you’re not an audiophile, don’t listen to music in loud environments, and don’t mind the inspired design, the Realme Buds Air will prove to be a good pick for you.