In my search for cheap wireless earbuds that don’t sound cheap, my column last week explored two models that list for over $100. This week, I continue my quest with a pair that sells for well under $50 – and the smartphone it’s designed to work best with.

So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised. One set of earbuds I reviewed last week (see, the Soundcore by Anker Liberty Pro 3, blew me away with its audio quality and versatility. The brand I’m reviewing today sounds very good as well, but for that price there are some sacrifices.

Nord Buds


OnePlus is based in Shenzhen, China, and is best know for its Android smartphones; I’ll talk about the 10 Pro, the latest flagship, later. The Nord Buds are the company’s low-end wireless earbuds, and while they’ll pair with any Bluetooth-enabled sound source, they are designed to complement OnePlus’ smartphones. They come in one color – black – and at $40, they’re not often discounted … so far.

Sound quality: I didn’t have high hopes for the audio performance of the Nord Buds when I initially fired them up and stuck ‘em in my ears. But boy, was I wrong. While they’re not as spectacular as the Liberty Pro 3, for this price they’re impressive. The sound is big and full, with solid bass, rich mid-tones and bright highs. In some instances, I caught a little fuzziness in the upper middle, but not enough to be annoying. An equalizer available in the OnePlus 10 Pro phone lets you fine-tune the audio, but it sounded great even when paired with my iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Phone calls, however, weren’t as impressive. I sounded muffled to those I called – my daughter said I sounded like I was standing next to a speakerphone.

Comfort: The Nord Buds are extremely lightweight, despite having a thick stem, and are easily the most comfortable of the three earbuds I tried. The pair comes with small, medium and large silicone tips, and once you get the right fit, they feel great in your ears. I used the Nord Buds to watch a couple of hours worth of TV and listen to a solid hour of music and they never made my ears feel fatigued. They did not fall out during a light workout.

Noise cancellation: This category is easy to write about, because there is none. Active Noise Cancellation is not included with the Nord Buds. However, if one of the three silicone tips fit you well enough, external sound is well-muffled. There is artificial intelligence-based noise cancellation for outgoing background noise phone calls, but it certainly didn’t help the microphone quality.

Features: Here’s why the Nord Buds don’t cost much – they’re fairly bare-bones. As mentioned, there’s no ANC. Unlike pricier earbuds, they don’t halt the audio or video when you remove them from your ears. The pill-shaped charging case is larger than most; it won’t be a slim fit in your pocket. Its app, which installs automatically when you pair with an OnePlus smartphone, is really just a plug-in for the phone’s settings. However, it does provide sound customization features, including support for Dolby Atmos audio, as well as the aforementioned equalizer.

If you’re looking for a combination of exceptional audio quality, high comfortability and a very good price, the Nord Buds are worth considering – even if you don’t own a OnePlus smartphone.

OnePlus Pro 10 5G smartphone


When I asked for a review pair of the Nord Buds, the OnePlus representative offered the OnePlus Pro 10 5G so I could see the earbuds’ extended features. But since I had reviewed the phone’s predecessor, the Pro 9, last year and liked that phone, I decided to see how it had evolved.

As was the case with the Pro 9, its successor remains one of the best Android phones you can buy – and it’s an even better bargain. At $899 for 8 gigabytes of RAM and 128 GB of storage, it competes well with the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra (though it lacks the latter’s S-Pen stylus), which starts at $1,300. In the United States, it’s available only through T-Mobile or from the OnePlus website. An unlocked version works on Verizon and AT&T, but the latter only offers 4G LTE service, not 5G.

The 10 Pro comes with a 6.7-inch AMOLED display with variable refresh rates from 1-120 Hz, with a resolution of 3,216-by-1,440 pixels. I praised last year’s display as one of the best I’ve seen on a smartphone, and the same is true this year. While it’s not quite as bright as the Galaxy S22 Ultra, the colors are still rich and scrolling is fluid. Watching high-resolution video on it is a joy.

The shape of the 10 Pro follows the design of most other high-end Android phones, with a tall, narrow body that feels great in the hand. While the 9 Pro’s back was a real fingerprint magnet, the 10’s material has a matte finish, and the Emerald Green model I was sent has stayed pristine.

As with last year’s 9 Pro, OnePlus worked with venerable camera maker Hasselblad on the optics, which are built around Sony camera systems. The main camera packs 48 megapixels; the ultra-wide is 50 megapixels; but the telephoto lens is only 8 megapixels, with an optical magnification of 3.6X. The selfie camera is 32 megapixels.

Standard daylight and well-lit indoor photos are sharp and crisp, but tend to have a saturated, reddish tint to them that’s noticeable when compared to the more natural colors from my iPhone 13 Pro Max’s camera. While the color emphasis isn’t as strong as the over-saturated look Samsung smartphones, it’s noticeable.

The model I tried was tied to T-Mobile’s 5G network and speed tests gave results very similar to that of my 5G iPhone. It works with both T-Mobile’s lower-frequency 5G, but really shines on the mid-band service, with download speeds as high as 592 megabits down and 73 Mbps up. It also supports WiFi 6, but not the super-fast 6E.

One of its biggest downsides when compared the latest Samsung devices is that it will only receive three years of Android updates, compared to the Galaxy S22 lines’ five years. Nevertheless, this is an excellent smartphone, worth considering if you want flagship features but don’t want to pay a flagship price.

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