Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Vivo TWS Neo

Two-minute review

Vivo is one of the biggest smartphone companies in the world; you probably haven’t heard of it though, and that’s because it only made its way to the west towards the end of 2020. As well as a few affordable smartphones and one mid-range model, its initial product offering included the Vivo TWS Neo wireless earbuds.

It's become trendy for smartphone makers to offer true wireless earbuds as well as phones; Realme, OnePlus, Honor and more all have their own iterations on the formula, to varying successes.

The Vivo TWS Neo sit at the top end of that spectrum, though they don't always compare favorably to buds from heritage audio companies, or smartphone makers with specific audio lines like Sony or Samsung.

The audio quality here is fairly good, and it did excel in a few areas compared to competitors we've tested – though in others it didn't fare as well.

We also found ourselves very fond of the bud gesture controls, which let you swipe up or down to change volume, or double-tap for a range of options. Not all true wireless buds do these well, but the Neo are certainly capable in this regard.

The design is also something worth highlighting, as the buds (and the case) are so light you can easily forget you're wearing them.

As the image at the top of our Vivo TWS Neo review shows, these true wireless earbuds aren’t shying away from their status as AirPods competitors, which may put some off. They share a similar design, both for the earbuds and the charging case, retail for roughly the same price, and have a comparable audio performance, too.

That price is a bit of an issue – at least in the smartphone market, Vivo is getting a name for affordable and mid-priced products, but we feel the TWS Neo are priced a little higher than they should be. If they came down in price, even just by 20% or so, they'd be much more recommendable. 

Our biggest problem with the Vivo TWS Neo came in the software department – we encountered a rather significant pairing issue that's described in detail in the 'Wireless connectivity' section below. The smartphone app is rather barebones too, so you don't get loads of extra controls unlike some competitors.

If you're looking for some new true wireless earbuds you should definitely check out the Vivo TWS Neo, even if you don't have a Vivo phone, as while they're certainly not perfect they're generally recommendable at the price. If you see them discounted, though, we're more emphatic in our recommendation.

Vivo TWS Neo

(Image credit: Future)

Vivo TWS Neo price and availability

  • Available in UK, Europe, and Asia
  • £129 (around $170 / AU$230)

The Vivo TWS cost £129 (around $170 / AU$230)… officially. However a quick search shows they’re available for half that price all over the internet. We found them most reliably listed for around half the ‘official’ price, so if you shop around you could get them for much cheaper. We’ve reviewed them with this official figure in mind though.

Right now, they're available to buy in the UK and select regions in Europe and Asia, with US and Australian availability yet to be confirmed.

Design

  • Lightweight
  • AirPods-style design
  • Good touch controls

The Vivo TWS Neo bundle consists of two earbuds and a charging case, in either White or Starry Blue.

The plastic case weighs 45.7g – that’s a touch heavier than the AirPods case, but still fairly light – with dimensions of 58.1 x 51.6 x 24mm. It’s easily totable, and its curved-edge pebble-like form factor makes it comfortable to bury in a pocket. Some might object to the cheap feel of this plastic case, but it felt fairly durable to us.

There’s a physical button on the case – used for pairing – as well as a USB-C port for charging and a light that lets you know if the case, or buds, are powering up. Once you open the cover you’ll see the earbuds poking out - this cover closes magnetically, to keep the buds protected. The hinge on the case sounded a little creaky, though not enough to give serious cause for concern.

Vivo TWS Neo

(Image credit: Future)

The Vivo TWS Neo buds themselves weigh 4.7g each, which is roughly the weight of an individual AirPod, and in terms of design the Vivo buds are very comparable to their Apple competitors, from the slender stalk to the rounded in-ear top. The dimensions are 33.9 x 18.6 x 16.5mm.

We found the TWS Neo comfortable to wear, mainly because we kept forgetting we were wearing them. They fit snugly in the ears and don’t weigh much, and also never felt at risk of falling out. When we shook our heads vigorously or went on brisk walks they didn’t feel overly precarious, though we’re not sure they’d stay in during exercises.

You can control several aspects of the audio playback from the earbuds themselves – swipe up or down on the stem to change volume, double tap to change songs, and so on. We found these a lot more intuitive than on competing devices like the Samsung Galaxy Buds – you can swipe or tap lightly and your gesture will still be registered, so you don’t have to hammer at your ear to get tracks to skip.

Apparently the Vivo Neo TWS have IP54 certification which means they have moderate dust protection and are splash resistant, however it’s not clear if that relates to the earbuds, the case, or both.

Vivo TWS Neo

Biscuit for scale (Image credit: Future)

Audio performance

  • aptX Adaptive / SBC / AAC
  • Fairly balanced sound
  • Treble feels too relaxed

From a specs perspective, the Vivo TWS Neo tick many of the boxes you’d expect. They have a 20Hz – 20,000Hz frequency range, the codecs are aptX Adaptive / AAC / SBC which gives fair coverage, and there's a 14.2mm moving coil driver. So how does that all translate into a listening experience?

We found the TWS Neo gives a pretty good audio performance – the balance is fair, though the mids are a little more prominent than we'd like. The soundstage was commendable, as the field was wider than we’re used to in earbuds, though obviously this comparison is mainly aimed at other similar-priced products rather than the very best models like the Sony WF-1000XM3.

Compared to other earbuds made from smartphone companies like Samsung and OnePlus offerings, we found the audio slightly better here.

That’s not to say audio is perfect, and the more we used the buds, the more we noticed some issues, especially at the lower end of the frequency range. Basslines felt inconsistent – in Bon Jovi’s ‘99 In The Shade’ it sounded almost like the bass guitar only played in the chorus. There’s likely some bleed issues here.

Bass wasn’t the only area we had issues in – hi-hats in many songs, like in Counting Crows’ ‘Rain King’, felt a bit too boxy, and in general treble felt a touch too relaxed, which is likely why we felt the mid was overemphasized. Still, most of our issues with audio are nitpicks, and for their price, the Vivo TWS Neo are worthy buds.

Vivo TWS Neo

(Image credit: Future)

There’s no noise cancellation here, which won’t be great for people who like the feature, but is to be expected for the price. There is apparently noise cancellation for voice calls, but we didn't notice a huge difference in the quality of our calls.

Some outlets have reported finding extra audio features available if the TWS Neo are paired to a Vivo smartphone; for the majority of our testing time we used the buds with a different phone, but when we paired them to a Vivo smartphone we couldn’t find any extra features.

Battery life

  • Three hours onboard battery life
  • 22.5 hours from the charging case

Vivo estimates the earbuds have battery lives of four-and-a-half hours each, but we can’t say we concur with this. From our testing, the battery life seemed to be almost exactly three hours, though the buds constantly alert you from when they’re at about 20% power, pressuring you through annoyance to charge way before you’re at 0%.

This battery life is quite a bit below other earbuds on the market, many of which last 5-8 hours between charges, so we’d recommend keeping your charging case with you. This case apparently stores 22.5 hours of charge, and that figure did feel fairly accurate.

Vivo TWS Neo

(Image credit: Future)

You can power up the case via USB-C, which is the fast-charging standard many gadgets use, and it takes about an hour-and-a-half to power it up fully with this. Unlike many other true wireless earbuds there’s no wireless charging, but Vivo hasn’t really embraced that technology yet.

Wireless connectivity

  • Pairing issues with multiple devices
  • Wear Detection
  • Bluetooth 5.2 support

Our biggest issue with the Vivo TWS Neo came with pairing them to other phones. 

Over the course of our review, we paired them with several different smartphones, and while the buds did successfully connect to them all, lots of the time, we couldn’t get audio to play. The smartphones seemed to 'think 'audio was playing, yet nothing came out the earbuds. We replicated this issue many times, and only found one smartphone with which the buds would work reliably every time we paired (ironically it wasn’t a Vivo one). 

Vivo TWS Neo

(Image credit: Future)

The pairing did work the first time we tried it, so it's possible the buds get confused when you disconnect them to one device and then pair to another. It's also an issue not everyone will face, but if you like pairing your buds to multiple phones, or a phone and a tablet, you'll find this annoying.

Fortunately, as a software issue, this pairing problem could get fixed if Vivo pushes a patch via the app, and it doesn’t seem this issue is too widespread – still, we feel obliged to note this problem.

The Vivo TWS Neo support Bluetooth 5.2 with dual-channel transmission, and when the buds were successfully paired and playing music, we never had issue with connection dropping or earbuds getting out of sync.

One other feature we should point out is Wear Detection, so the buds will automatically connect to your phone when you put them in your ears, and disconnect when you put them away in the case. Also, if you simply take one earbud out your ear, music will pause, then resume when you re-insert the bud. This is useful, but the music stops when you only take one of the earbuds out, which will be a nuisance for people who want to listen on just one side.

Should I buy the Vivo TWS Neo?

Vivo TWS Neo

(Image credit: Future)

Buy them if...

You need comfortable earbuds
Even during extended listening periods or long walks we found it easy to forget the TWS Neo were in our ears, so they won’t be a burden to wear.

You like gesture controls
We found the Vivo TWS Neo bud controls super easy to use, especially the slide-up or slide-down volume controls, and this could be one of the best implementations of the concept so far.

You find them discounted
While the Vivo TWS Neo were pretty good, if you can find them for about 20% or more off, they'd be great – if you're reading this review after seeing the buds on offer, go for it.

Don't buy them if...

You want noise cancellation
You won’t get noise cancellation in the Vivo TWS Neo, so if you live somewhere noisy or like blocking out the world, these might not quite do that for you.

You need long bud battery life
While the Vivo TWS Neo buds last about three hours of use, many competitors last at least twice that, so if you want to keep your buds from the charging case for long periods of time, the Neo might not work for you.

You love your bass
The Vivo TWS Neo certainly don't emphasize bass, so they aren’t for people who love thumping music.

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