Smartphone maker realme announced their move into smart accessories earlier this year, and one of the first devices in the line to launch is the Buds Air, a pair of Truly Wireless Stereo (TWS) earbuds. 

In Australia, realme are selling the Buds Air for $149, and for that price you get a pair of buds in either Black, Yellow or White with a matching battery case. 

The buds themselves are comfortable even for extended periods of time, they sit fairly securely in the ear even when exercising. I could exercise with the buds and feel confident they wouldn’t fly out, but there’s no IPXX rating for the realme Buds Air so if it’s a sweaty workout you should be ok, but best be careful.

The buds have no Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), instead they include Environmental Noise Cancellation (ENC) which filters out background noise using dual microphones on each bud. It works for phone calls, but it’s no ANC.

The sound quality is pretty decent on the Buds Air. realme has included 12mm drivers in the buds however I mainly listen to podcasts – which sound good. I did flick on some music which sounded pretty decent without being outstanding, which is about average for TWS buds.

The buds have a claimed 3 hours of playback, with the charging case offering an additional 14 hours. The case, which stores and charges the buds when not in use, has a USB-C port for charging, and also supports QI wireless charging which is handy.

Two notes on the battery case, firstly it snaps closed with a satisfying click, and secondly the buds are held in very securely by magnets, so don’t worry about them falling out.

In practice the buds got around about 2.5 hours, with the left somehow depleting faster than the right every time. I have the volume above 50% most of the time which is what the realme tests are based on, likely decreasing battery life a little faster. The charging case tops up the buds fairly quickly – from 0% to about 70% in just 10 minutes in my tests –  so you can be back listening to music or podcasts fairly quickly.

The buds have an LED on the outside of the case, just above the pairing button, which gives you a view of how much battery remains, but it is a bit vague. You can either get green, amber or red, but I couldn’t find any real indicator on how much power remains for each colour – but red is not ideal.

You do get a view of how much power is left on the buds under Bluetooth connection in Quick Settings, but you can also use the realme Link app to view the battery and a heap more. 

The app does require a realme account, so you’ll have to sign up for that if you want to use the app. It’s in the app that you can also do things like update firmware, and change the touch sensitive controls. Out of the box, the buds respond to touch commands:

  • Double Tap: Answer Call, Play / Pause Music
  • Triple Tap: Next Song
  • Long Press on either Bud: End / Reject Call, Google Assistant
  • Long Press on both Buds: Enter / Exit Gaming Mode

That’s the theory, but in practice the realme Buds Air are sometimes a little sluggish to respond to touches, or didn’t respond at all. It’s ok, but with a $149 price tag I was expecting something a little more responsive. 

The buds include support for Bluetooth 5.0, and use a realme produced custom ‘R1’ chip to improve latency, and there’s a gaming mode available too.

The buds use Google’s ‘Fast Pair’ tech to pair quickly with Android phones and it’s delightfully fast to pair – there’s also a delightful chime in your ear when it connects. I tried the realme Buds Air on the realme 6 and Pixel 4 and it was fast on both. Google launched the Fast Pair technology in 2017, so it’s been included in most recent versions of Android, so should be fairly widely available on most smartphones.

The connection was stable for the most part, but there was the odd drop out at the start of the review. Once I did the firmware update though the connection quality improved – so I recommend signing up for the app and hitting that update when you get the notification.

Gaming mode is an interesting inclusion, I’m not a real smartphone gamer so I haven’t noticed this problem before – but apparently it’s a thing and the realme Buds Air aim to fix that. Gaming Mode – long press both buds – reduces latency on gaming and video playback by 51%. In practice I really couldn’t discern a difference, but it’s there so it’s worth a try if you’ve run into this problem before. 

One note on gaming mode is that you get a cool engine ‘vroom’ noise when you turn it on, and then a piano riff as you turn it off, so that’s neat.

Should you buy them?

The realme Buds Air are the first generation for their nascent AIoT (Artificial Intelligence of Things) range, and it shows. There’s some rough edges to the realme Buds Air, but there’s also some interesting and innovative inclusions like the inclusion of Google Fast Pair tech, but is that enough?

The real competition to the realme Buds Air is from the plethora of options available from Australian retailers, most of which are priced a lot lower. Those buds do offer a few less features, but it comes down to whether things like Fast Pair are important to you.

All in all, I like where realme is going with the Buds Air, however they’re not quite at the point where I’d recommend them. I would love to see a second generation of Buds Air from realme though with ANC, a longer battery life and improved touch response, but until then it’s a f