OnePlus Buds Z Review

Affordable and surprisingly stellar AirPods alternatives

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4.2

OnePlus Buds Z

OnePlus Buds Z

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

What We Like
  • Fantastic value

  • Strong sound quality

  • Good battery life

  • Interchangeable tips

What We Don't Like
  • Slightly loose fit

  • Customization only on Android

  • Tenuous connection to iPhone

These are excellent, affordable wireless earbuds that are best for OnePlus and Android phone owners—and way better than you’d expect for $50.

4.2

OnePlus Buds Z

OnePlus Buds Z

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

We purchased the OnePlus Buds Z so our reviewer could put them to the test. Keep reading for our full product review.

Apple wasn’t the first company to make true wireless earbuds, but it set the standard and price point with the original $160 AirPods—and then opened up the floodgates for competitors to produce their own oft-similar renditions. Luckily, while Apple has kept its price point intact, rival makers have been able to produce strong competitors at lower price points.

OnePlus threw its hat in the ring with the $80 OnePlus Buds, but now they’ve hit an even sweeter spot with the newer OnePlus Buds Z. The Buds Z offer potentially improved comfort thanks to the addition of silicone tips, and do so at an even more palatable price point of just $50. These are shockingly good wireless earbuds, not only for that eye-popping price but also compared to the quality of pricier competitors.

OnePlus Buds Z

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Design and Comfort: A familiar form

The OnePlus Buds Z have a familiar silhouette, with the in-ear bud connected to a roughly inch-long stem that sticks out of your ear. However, thanks to the swappable silicone tips, which come in three different sizes (included), they look like a mash-up between the standard AirPods and the pricier, higher-end AirPods Pro.

OnePlus has given them more of an angular look, though, with a flattened outside surface and a silver, disc-like outer shape. The disc surface is a touch button that can be customized to handle different tasks when using Android devices.

For my ears, they don’t have the effortless fit and stability of Apple’s AirPods Pro. But it’s not far off.

Although they lack any sort of noise cancelling technology, the silicone tips do help close up your ear better than buds that are simply hard plastic at the entry point. Make sure you try the different tip sizes, however. I typically use the standard/medium size tips that usually come equipped on earbuds, but I found that the larger size helped the Buds Z fit more snugly within my ear. Even so, they felt a bit loose.

This is a highly subjective point, however, so your experience may vary. The Buds Z still felt comfortable in my ears, but I found myself adjusting them every so often. For my ears, they don’t have the effortless fit and stability of Apple’s AirPods Pro. But it’s not far off.

OnePlus Buds Z

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

The Buds Z have IP55 sweat and water resistance, so you don’t have to worry about wrecking them during workouts. I used them during a couple of exercise bike sessions and had no trouble handling them. Each earbud is also equipped with in-ear sensors, so they know when they’re in your ear and ready to play, and they also know when you take them out and stop playback accordingly. The Buds Z come in a standard white color or in the pricier Steven Harrington Edition with bold graphics atop green and purple backdrops.

The pill-shaped charging case is more bulbous than Apple’s own, but at less than 3 inches wide, it’s still pocket-friendly. The thin top flips open to reveal slots for the earbuds within, keeping them charged up and ready when not in use.

A USB-C port on the back is used to charge them, as there’s no wireless charging functionality for the case, and there is a Bluetooth setup button next to the port. A small light on the front of the case shows a red light when its charge is low, or a green light when there is at least 20 percent of a charge remaining. A short USB-C to USB-A cable is included in the box.

What’s New: An alternative approach

The Buds Z are not marketed as a replacement for the original OnePlus Buds. The OnePlus Buds are closer to Apple’s AirPods Pro in feature set, and are a bit more robust than the Buds Z. The standard OnePlus Buds offer environmental noise cancellation and provide up to 30 hours of total battery life, including about 7 hours per charge—both figures are notably higher than the Buds Z offer. The standard OnePlus Buds case also can be wirelessly charged on a charging pad.

Setup Process: They pair wirelessly

The Buds Z pair easily with smartphones, tablets, computers, and any other device that allows for Bluetooth wireless accessories. Simply open up the cover of the charging case with the earbuds within and hold the setup button for two seconds. From your device, you should see the Buds Z appear as a Bluetooth accessory to connect and can tap or click to complete the process.

OnePlus Buds Z

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Sound and Software: Quality output

Considering the price, the affordable Buds Z deliver strong audio playback thanks to their 10-millimeter dynamic drivers. I used them for at least 30 hours while listening to an array of music genres and podcasts, as well as on voice calls, and was consistently impressed by the sound quality.

Music playback sounds robust and balanced with solid bass and pleasing treble. Truth be told, I found the soundscape crisper than on my old first-generation AirPods, but it’s not quite as broad and clean as that of the $250, noise-cancelling AirPods Pro.

The affordable OnePlus Buds Z deliver strong audio playback thanks to their 10-millimeter dynamic drivers.

If you’re using a OnePlus phone from the last few years (OnePlus 6 or newer), then you’ll be able to tweak some basic settings within the operating system, including the functionality of the touch buttons. For example, you can use the buttons to play/pause, skip tracks, bring up your phone’s voice assistant, or answer/hang up/reject calls. On the OnePlus 9, I was also able to view the individual battery levels of each bud, as well as the case.

For customization and firmware updates on other Android devices, you’ll need to download the free HeyMelody app from the Play Store. Unfortunately, while you can use the Buds Z with an iPhone or iPad, there is currently no iOS app for customizing or updating the earbuds. You’ll be stuck with the default settings unless you have access to an Android device.

When walking outdoors listening to music on the iPhone 12 Pro Max, I ran into connectivity drops on multiple occasions.

The Bluetooth 5.0 connection held tight to the device across multiple gadgets when stationary, including the OnePlus 9, iPhone 12 Pro Max, and a 2019 MacBook Pro. When paired to the MacBook Pro, I found I could pop them in my ears and immediately begin listening to music with no fuss. OnePlus suggests a connectivity range of up to 10 meters from your device.

However, when walking outdoors listening to music on the iPhone 12 Pro Max, I ran into connectivity drops on multiple occasions. The signal would drop out and automatically resume within a couple of seconds, and it proved distracting. That said, I’ve experienced similar drops when using AirPods with Android phones, essentially the reverse configuration, so it’s not completely shocking.

Battery Life: Plenty to play with

The Buds Z are rated to last five hours per charge, with another 15 hours of battery life contained within the charging case. That’s a total of 20 hours per full charge. The official estimate consistently held true in my own testing when paired to the OnePlus 9, where I could easily monitor the battery level of each individual bud. For example, after a two-hour listening session, both buds sat right around 60 percent of a remaining charge.

There are a lot of wireless earbuds out there that promise longer-lasting play sessions and even more robust backup charges within the case, but I think the Buds Z offer plenty of power at this price. Personally, I rarely go more than two hours without taking my earbuds out for at least a few minutes, and they’ll top up when sitting in the case.

OnePlus Buds Z

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Also, if your battery case runs dry and you need a quick charge, OnePlus says that 10 minutes of the buds charging in the case with a USB-C cable connected will provide three hours of total music playback.

Price: It’s a great value

Amazingly, the Buds Z aren’t the cheapest wireless earbuds on the market: You can routinely find pairs for $20 to $30 on Amazon, and customers seem pleased with the value. What surprised me about the Buds Z is that they don’t feel or perform like cheap earbuds; they could command double the price and still seem reasonable. These are high-quality wireless earbuds at a fantastic price. But if you’re using an iPhone, you might want to go with Apple’s own buds to ensure the steadiest connection.

These are shockingly good wireless earbuds, not only for that eye-popping price but also compared to the quality of pricier competitors.

OnePlus Buds Z vs. Apple AirPods (2nd Gen)

If you’re a big Apple fan and wield an iPhone, iPad, and Mac, then AirPods or AirPods Pro are typically your best option. They effortlessly pair with Apple devices, deliver strong playback quality, and offer easy customization. And perhaps most importantly, they do an excellent job of maintaining a connection with iOS devices.

But if you’re not fully entrenched in that ecosystem, then the OnePlus Buds Z are a strong alternative, especially for Android users. They’re strong all-around earbuds that you can use with any Bluetooth-compatible device.

Final Verdict

Well-balanced buds on a budget.

Aside from a bit of looseness to the fit—which may or may not be a problem for you—and a less-than-perfect connection to iPhones, I am really impressed with the OnePlus Buds Z. The company’s smartphones are built on the premise that it can match pricier rivals at a lower price, and they’ve done the same here with wireless earbuds.

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Specs

  • Product Name Buds Z
  • Product Brand OnePlus
  • MPN 5481100053
  • Price $50
  • Release Date October 2020
  • Weight 6.4 oz.
  • Product Dimensions 2.95 x 1.41 x 1.14 in.
  • Color White, Steven Harrington Edition
  • Warranty 1 year
  • Battery 20 hours with case
  • Connectivity Bluetooth
  • Waterproof IP55
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