Nothing’s ecosystem play with CMF needs a vision of patience and innovation
With wireless earbuds, smartwatch and a GaN fast charger, Nothing’s letting a sub-brand tackle hotly contested ecosystem categories
For the London based tech start-up Nothing, it is clearly time to broaden their horizons. Take a look at a world beyond smartphones and true wireless earbuds, two product lines that have proved to be success stories, over the past two years. From the outset, Carl Pei, co-founder and CEO of Nothing, laid emphasis on differentiation, ergonomics and value. The transparency in design of the Nothing Ear wireless earbuds, as well as an LED array on the back of the Nothing Phone (1) and Nothing Phone (2), the most visible indictors of that approach. Pei simply calls it “good design”.
Now, focus shifts to a wider ecosystem play. The name CMF, in industry parlance, refers to colour, material and finish. For Nothing, CMF by Nothing is a sub-brand.
“Different consumers want different things. Currently, when you look at the value segment within the technology sector, there just isn’t a lot to get excited about, Pei said, while announcing the CMF portfolio, a few weeks ago. Now, the initial portfolio is emerging. Our first experience indicates the brand has done enough to deliver a mix decidedly premium materials and ease of use.
There is a smartwatch called CMF Watch Pro, the CMF Buds Pro true wireless earbuds and a CMF Power 65W GaN charger. The colour theme, across the board, generates options in orange and different hues of grey. But for CMF by Nothing to succeed in the truest sense, this has to be just the start. Of a journey that will be arduous at even the best of times, considering an expansive accessory ecosystem they’ll be competing with. And one that’ll require persistence, when keeping price tags in check will be tough(er) and responding to market demand, even more so.
CMF Watch Pro: Design finesse needs better software
Unlike many smartwatches lately that only seem to work well with Android phones, the CMF Watch Pro is equally compatible with an Apple iPhone. There’s a different app (CMF Watch; for Android and iOS) to get this up and running, and it is clear Nothing X will remain focused on audio products only. The 1.96-inch AMOLED display feels comfortably large and can go fairly bright too though some reflections do tend to get in the way. No auto-brightness either.
Yet, that may a compromise you’ll be able to live with, because of the slick software. The CMF Watch Pro powers on in mere seconds, and the interface is nicely laid out. No shortage of health and wellness tracking features either, including walks and runs, cycling, strength training, treadmill sessions, even certain dance workouts (might be relevant for some users). There’s the heart rate sensor, readings for which remain within 2 points of an Apple Watch Series 9 (testament to CMF’s algorithm optimisation) and a sleep monitor. If you are comfortable wearing a smartwatch to bed, that is.
There’s a stress monitor, which never seems to detect anything amiss, in our experience. Claims of up to 13-day battery life (we haven’t had the time to test that claim in its entirety), but your mileage will vary depending on activity tracking, use of location and quantity of notifications from the paired phone.
In our tests, CMF Watch Pro drains about 7% each day, with screen brightness at level 2 and notifications for messages (they tend to be an endless annoyance) turned off. Still, a work week on a single charge, would be creditable. However, there is considerable inconsistency. We have also witnessed the watch charge levels drop from 90% to a mere 18% in just the first half the day (no activity tracking and notifications from phone turned off). This is likely a software issue which needs fixing, quickly.
The metal chassis and silicon bands collectively feel from a segment above. That neatly leads us to the price – you’ll be parting with ₹4,499 for the Dark Grey colourway and ₹4,999 if you choose Metallic Grey. Its competition will include a plethora of smartwatches from brands including Noise, Boat, Fire-Boltt, Fastrack and Crossbeats. CMF by Nothing must get the software act together. A smartwatch gasping for breath, amidst a hectic work day, is purely an annoyance.
CMF Buds Pro: No compromise on hardware, and tuning
Much like the smartwatch ecosystem the CMF Watch Pro is squaring up to, the CMF Buds Pro will have similar challenges in the wireless earbuds space. Including its sibling, the Nothing Ear (Stick). The biggest attraction here, at the ₹3,499 price point, is the active noise cancellation, something the Nothing Ear (Stick) doesn’t offer. Signs of market forces, making a definite impact?
Unlike it’s Nothing branded siblings, there’s no material transparency here. Instead, two options of grey and a really chirpy orange colours, to choose from. It is a circular charging case, not exactly the thinnest, but well built. Each bud rests on its side and charging connector placement means there’s little chance of them losing contact even if the case falls accidentally. Just the USB-C for charging the case (and buds, if they’re placed inside), no wireless option for now.
The highlight is active noise cancellation. In our experience, you’ll need to get some used to – there’s the feeling of a tad more pressure in the ears initially, than most other TWS’ implementation of ANC. Once past that, you’ll realise the CMF Buds Pro do block out ambient din rather well. The annoying soundtrack of traffic outside the window or even a noisy ceiling air-conditioning unit, get nicely blocked.
You must do the first firmware update, for important audio improvements. It’s a neutral sound signature from the outset, but there are the pre-sets for increased bass or treble emphasis (and they return an adequate boost). Custom equaliser too, but no matter what we tried, enabling this weighed down the soundstage detailing. At this price, it is not very different from the Google Pixel Buds A-Series (around ₹5,999), which decisively declares the well-tuned LCP (Liquid Crystal Polymer) and PU (Polyurethane) audio drivers.
More than 10 hours of tested battery life from the earbuds (case can add up to 39 hours more) at differing volume levels and with a variety of audio content, adds convenience and versatility.
CMF Power 65W GaN charger: Adding colour to utility
Chargers aren’t something we often detail regularly. But CMF by Nothing’s attempts achieve something that’ll be good news for most of us – 65-watt GaN, or gallium-nitride, chargers becoming more affordable. Here is an illustration – Belkin’s dual USB-C port GaN charger costs ₹3,999. There are lesser-known brands that cost around the ₹2,999 CMF by Nothing wants for its GaN charger, but longevity can be suspect.
The advantage of using nitrogen and gallium, instead of silicon for conductivity, is significant reduction in heat generation. That has a dual benefit – chargers can hold efficiency during continuous use, and smaller sized chargers can deliver higher wattage (such as this one, at 65-watts). Nothing has, unlike its immediate rivals, configured two USB-C ports and one USB type-A port (useful for older cables).
The USB-A port is limited to a maximum of 36-watts in CMF Power 65W GaN chargers sold in India, while either Type-C ports can go up to 65-watts, one at a time. If you’re using both USB-C ports, the restriction is 45-watts and 20-watts. Yet, if you don’t really need a USB-A port in your charger, and two “C” ports are adequate, you may still be able to get good value for a Spigen PE2007 70-watt charger (around ₹2,500), though it isn’t exactly new.