Realme’s vision of becoming a tech lifestyle brand is slowly coming to fruition. Since its debut back in 2018, the technology brand has launched some great smartphones in a variety of price segments, along with TWS earphones, a fitness band, a smartwatch, and smart TVs. Realme’s foray into the TWS earbuds segment has been quite promising so far, as the Realme Buds Air from last year offered an impressive package at an affordable price point. This is why I was looking forward to getting my hands on the new Realme Buds Air Neo when they were initially announced earlier this year in May.
The Realme Buds Air Neo is a more affordable version of the Realme Buds Air, featuring an almost identical design but lacking a few features as a trade-off for the added affordability. Priced at ₹2,999, the Realme Buds Air Neo doesn’t include a couple of useful features that helped the Realme Buds Air stand out from the competition, including wireless charging support, a USB Type-C port, a proximity sensor, and a secondary microphone for environmental noise cancellation. On the plus side, the Realme Buds Air Neo does include slightly larger 13mm drivers and an IPX4 water resistance rating. With just a ₹1,000 price difference between the models, choosing between the two can prove to be a bit challenging. To help make that choice simpler, I’ve been testing the two models for the last few weeks. Here are my thoughts on Realme’s new TWS earbuds.
Note: Realme India sent us a pair of Realme Buds Air Neo for review. However, the company did not have any input on the content of this review. This review is written after nearly two weeks of use.
Much like the original Realme Buds Air, the Realme Buds Air Neo features an AirPods-like design with a pill-shaped charging case that has a single function button on the front for easy device pairing. The case also includes an indicator LED that glows white when the earbuds are in pairing mode, and it also indicates the current battery level of the charging case. The LED glows green when there’s a sufficient amount of battery in the charging case and orange when the battery is low. The case has a magnetic lid that closes with a satisfying click and keeps the earbuds secure when they’re not in use. Even when the lid is open, the earbuds are held snugly in their respective slots with the help of magnets. The case has a micro-USB port on the bottom for charging and, as mentioned earlier, it doesn’t offer wireless charging support.
As far as the earbuds are concerned, they look almost identical to the original Redmi Buds Air with a few minor differences. The Realme Buds Air Neo doesn’t feature a proximity sensor, has an additional cutout at the top (presumably for better audio tuning), doesn’t include the secondary environmental noise cancellation microphone, and doesn’t have a chrome ring at the bottom. Much like the Buds Air, the Realme Buds Air Neo also features a touch-sensitive area towards the top of the stem for playback controls.
Design-wise, the Realme Buds Air Neo look inoffensive, but they suffer from the same issues that I’ve observed with other earbuds that have a similar design. While the fit is definitely comfortable and great for long hours of use, it isn’t as reassuring as that of the Redmi Earbuds S. This is why I constantly felt the need to adjust them while working out. Additionally, due to the fact that the earbuds don’t feature a silicone tip, they offer practically no passive isolation, and you can hear almost everything going around you at low volumes. On top of that, when playing music at high volumes, the sound leaks out quite a bit, which is a gripe I had with the Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 as well.
The pairing process for the Realme Buds Air Neo is identical to that of its predecessor. To connect to a new device, you’ll need to pop open the lid while both the earbuds are in the charging case and then press on the function button for three seconds. This will enable the pairing mode, after which you’ll be able to find and pair the earbuds with your smartphone. In case you use a Realme smartphone, the pairing process is even simpler. Just opening the lid near the device brings up a pairing notification that you can tap on to get started. Once you have the earbuds paired to your devices, reconnecting is as simple as pulling out the earbuds and putting them in your ears.
The touch controls on the Realme Buds Air Neo are also the same as that of its predecessor. You can double-tap on the touch-sensitive area on either earbud to play/pause music, triple tap to skip to the next song, tap and hold for two seconds to hang up an ongoing call, or tap and hold on either earbud for one second to bring up the voice assistant of your choice.
The earbuds also feature a low-latency game mode that can be toggled by tapping and holding on both earbuds for two seconds. Realme claims that the game mode can reduce the latency to just 119.2ms and, in my testing, I did notice a considerable difference while playing games with the game mode enabled. Since the earbuds don’t include a proximity sensor, they don’t support the automatic play/pause feature found on the original Buds Air.
While these controls are pretty standard for TWS earbuds in this price range, what helps set the Realme Buds Air Neo apart is that it also lets you customize the controls using the Realme Link app. To do so, you can open the Realme Link app on your phone when connected to the earbuds and then tap on the Realme Buds Air Neo option on the home screen. On the following page, you’ll see a list of all the available gestures, and you can tap on the arrow next to each gesture to customize it to your preference.
The Realme Buds Air Neo feature slightly larger 13mm dynamic drivers instead of the 12mm drivers found on the original Buds Air. While the larger size of the drivers doesn’t necessarily contribute to better audio output, Realme has tuned the new Buds Air Neo in a way that they sound slightly better than the older model. Overall, the sound signature of the Buds Air Neo is almost the same as that of the older TWS earbuds, with the only exception being that the newer pair lays more emphasis on the bass than the high and mid frequencies.
In a side-by-side comparison, I preferred the audio output of the Realme Buds Air Neo over the original. However, if you’re someone who doesn’t prefer a bass-heavy sound signature, you might be more inclined to prefer the Buds Air over the Buds Air Neo. I listened to the following playlist while testing the earbuds, and in almost all songs, the Realme Buds Air Neo performed slightly better.
- Hometown — French 79
- Teardrop — Massive Attack
- Safety — Gashi (ft. DJ Snake)
- Panda — Meute
- Time Goes By — Kupla
- Seven Nation Army — The White Stripes
- Mad World — Gary Jules (ft. Michael Andrews)
- The Blower’s Daughter — Damien Rice
- Tadow — FKJ
- Rockstar — Post Malone (ft. 21 Savage)
- Young Folks — Peter Bjorn and John
- Wasted Years — Iron Maiden
- Purusha — NVDES
- Parallel Jalebi — Four Tet
- Who We Want to Be — Tom Day
Much like the Realme Buds Air and Mi True Wireless Earphones 2, the lack of noise isolation due to the design took a toll on the overall listening experience in noisy environments, meaning the earbuds are better suited for indoor use.
As far as call quality is concerned, I faced no issues while taking calls on the Realme Buds Air Neo. However, the lack of a secondary environmental noise cancellation microphone means that the person on the other end won’t have as pleasant of an experience. Overall connectivity was pretty good and the earbuds didn’t disconnect while I was walking around my house without my phone.
Realme doesn’t explicitly mention the battery capacity of the Realme Buds Air Neo, but the fine print inside the charging case reveals that it packs in a 400mAh battery. Each of the earbuds also feature smaller batteries, but the exact rating is unknown. Realme claims that the Buds Air Neo can last 3 hours on a single charge at 50% volume and up to 17 hours with the charging case. In my testing, I found that the earbuds lasted 2 hours and 40 minutes at 50% volume, which is quite close to Realme’s claims. However, increasing the volume to 80% decreased the battery life to just 2 hours and 20 minutes, which isn’t nearly as good as other TWS earbuds in this price range.
When the battery is drained, you can use the case to charge the earbuds back up to 100% around four times over. This gave me a total battery life of just about 11 hours and 40 minutes at 80% volume and 13 hours and 20 minutes at 50% volume, both of which were significantly lower than Realme’s 17-hour claim. Charging the earbuds from 0-100$ using the case took about 30 minutes, and the case itself took just over 2 hours to get back to full. The battery life of the Realme Buds Air Neo is below average when compared to other TWS earbuds in this price range, so if you choose to buy them, you might find yourself charging them more often than you’d like.
Overall, the Realme Buds Air Neo offers better value than the original Realme Buds Air. Despite the fact that they’re missing a couple of features, the Realme Buds Air Neo more than make up for the lack of wireless charging and a secondary noise cancellation microphone by offering slightly better audio quality and IPX4 water resistance at a lower price point. If you’re in the market for a pair of TWS earbuds and you’re not sure what to pick between these two, then I can safely recommend the newer Realme Buds Air Neo.
However, if you’re open to exploring other options, then the Realme Buds Air Neo wouldn’t be my first choice for several reasons, including the unimaginative design and poor battery life. I’ve had the opportunity to test quite a few TWS earbuds over the last few weeks and, in the entry-level segment, the Redmi Earbuds S is one of the best options by far. The recently launched Realme Buds Q also looks quite promising and, if you’re not in a hurry, I’d recommend waiting for our review of the Buds Q before you make a decision.
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