Although Apple and Samsung were among the first big smartphone brands to enter the true wireless audio segment, a lot more manufacturers have since followed into this lucrative and fast-growing segment. Xiaomi, Oppo, Realme, and OnePlus all now offer true wireless earphones, and these are often designed to work best when used with smartphones from the same company. The latest to join this group is one of India's top smartphone brands - Vivo.
The company's first pair of earphones in India is the Vivo TWS Neo. Priced at Rs. 5,990, these new earphones were unveiled alongside the Vivo X50 series. The Vivo TWS Neo comes with support for the new aptX Adaptive Bluetooth codec and USB Type-C charging, but can it match up to some of the impressive options we've reviewed recently in the mid-range true wireless segment? Find out in our review.
Like many of the affordable options in the true wireless segment today, the Vivo TWS Neo seems to be heavily inspired by the Apple AirPods when it comes to design. The earphones have an outer-ear fit, offering a comfortable and non-intrusive wearing experience, but at the cost of passive noise isolation. The earphones are light, and I barely felt them when in use — this is among the most comfortable pairs of true wireless earphones I've used. The earphones are also IP54-rated for dust and water resistance, making them suitable for basic outdoor and fitness use.
Although the Vivo TWS Neo does look a lot like the Apple AirPods (even more so if you have the glossy white colour variant), there are some basic differences that set them apart. The TWS Neo has distinct touch sensor zones running down the stalks of the earpieces for gesture controls.
By default, swiping up and down on either side adjusts the volume, a double-tap on the left plays and pauses music, and a double-tap on the right skips to the next track. There are also sensors at the tops of both earpieces which are used for wearing detection, and this worked well.
These controls can be customised through the Vivo Earphones app. The app also lets you deactivate the wearing detection feature, update the earphones' firmware, and see the battery levels of the two earpieces (but not the charging case). The app is quite basic, but it does come in handy for the few functions it offers.
The charging case of the Vivo TWS Neo is pebble-shaped, compact, and quite nice to look at and hold. The USB Type-C port for charging is at the bottom, and a pairing button and indicator light are on the front. The earphones snap into the case magnetically, and the charging contact points being at the bottom of each stalk ensures that the earphones power on and off reliably when removed and put back into the case.
The Vivo TWS Neo has 14.2mm dynamic drivers, with stable Bluetooth 5.2 and multi-point connectivity for up to two devices. There is environmental noise cancellation to enhance sound on voice calls, and the earpieces weigh 4.7g each. There is also a dynamic low-latency mode, which promises to reduce latency to 88ms. This doesn't need to be specifically activated; the earphones are said to adjust latency based on various factors including what you're using them for — gaming, music, movies, or calls — as well as external factors.
An important specification on the Vivo TWS Neo is support for the aptX Adaptive Bluetooth codec. This is the most advanced codec in the aptX family, and has the ability to adapt its bitrate continuously to favour either sound quality or connection stability. However, aptX Adaptive support on smartphones is still not common.
I was able to use the codec with the Asus ROG Phone 3 (Review), but the OnePlus 7T Pro McLaren Edition (Review) and Google Pixel 3 XL (Review) that I also tried didn't support the codec. They didn't even drop to lower supported aptX versions, using the AAC codec instead. The Adaptive codec is said to work with the Vivo X50 series of smartphones, suggesting that it will likely only work with smartphones that run on devices powered by Qualcomm's latest processors, for now at least. This is a bit disappointing, and you'll have to consider your smartphone if you're planning to buy the Vivo TWS Neo.
The Vivo TWS Neo has ordinary battery life for a true wireless headset in its price range, with the earpieces running for a little under four hours with mixed use, largely on the aptX Adaptive and AAC Bluetooth codecs. The charging case offered almost four full additional top-ups to the earphones, for a total battery life of around 18-19 hours per charge cycle. This is considerably lower than the battery life offered by the Lyerptek Tevi and Creative Outlier Air, which are similarly priced.
Mid-range true wireless earphones have the advantage of better codec support, features and specifications than budget options, while still not forcing the user to spend too much. While the Vivo TWS Neo does check all of these boxes, sound quality is oddly disappointing on the whole. I found the sound boomy and muddy, and although the aptX Adaptive Bluetooth codec did improve things a bit, the earphones were still far from the quality I've heard using the Lypertek Tevi and Creative Outlier Air.
All of that said, it is possible to extract good sound from the Vivo TWS Neo, but it needs the input to be absolutely optimal. Listening to high-resolution audio tracks with the aptX Adaptive codec in play was the only way to bring out the right amount of detail in the sound and take some of the roughness out of the bass-heavy sonic signature. 9,000 Miles by Pendulum sounded decent at first, and there was plenty of detail on offer. However, as the strong drum-and-bass beat kicked in, the sound felt a bit too rumbly, and the bass often overpowered the faint details in the mid-range and highs.
A jazzy instrumental version of Walking On The Moon by The Police (one of the highest quality audio tracks in my collection), brought out a good amount of detail throughout the track, with the timbre and rumbling lows of the double bass and drums sounding excellent for a headset that costs just Rs. 6,000. The gentle pace of the track and measured lows kept the over-enthusiastic bass tuning under control, and showed what the Vivo TWS Neo is capable of.
Unfortunately, that's where my praise for the Vivo TWS Neo ends. Listening to typically compressed streaming music and fast-paced tracks highlighted the weaknesses of this headset; for example Baba O'Riley by The Who on Spotify often sounded too boomy and rough. Although the aptX Adaptive Bluetooth codec did help bring out some detail and take some of the aggression out of the lows, the overall experience was still a bit too muddy for my liking.
If you aren't using a source device that supports the aptX Adaptive Bluetooth codec — which seems to be most smartphones and tablets for now — things are a bit worse. Listening to Chopta by Malfnktion on a OnePlus 7T Pro using the AAC codec, some of the detail that could be heard with the aptX Adaptive codec wasn't there anymore, and the boomy aggression in the bass of this electronic track tended to take attention away from the rest of the frequency range.
It all sounded a bit too raw and forced for my liking, lacking in the detail that the Creative Outlier Air and Lypertek Tevi were able to deliver even when using the AAC codec. The soundstage was narrow and dull, and the lack of passive noise isolation only made the listening experience worse with this type of sonic signature.
Although sound quality with music left me disappointed, the Vivo TWS Neo does deliver good performance on voice calls. I could hear and be heard clearly enough on calls when using these earphones. The environmental noise cancellation did seem to work well and enhance my voice for the listener. The low-latency mode also worked well; it brought down the delay in sound while playing games to a workable level without much drop in sound quality, but there was still a bit of noticeable lag.
As a smartphone brand, Vivo has been known to do its bit to improve sound output from its smartphones, which is why I expected more from the Vivo TWS Neo earphones. However, I was left a bit disappointed with these earphones for a number of reasons. The boomy and rough nature of the sound is hard to look past, and the use of the aptX Adaptive Bluetooth codec, while admirable, doesn't bring out the best in these earphones unless used with select source devices.
If you have a smartphone that does support the codec, a good collection of high-resolution music, and like your sound bass-heavy, you might enjoy what the Vivo TWS Neo has to offer. Good performance on calls and workable latency levels do help as well. In all other cases, this headset is far from the best in its price range. For Rs. 1,000 more, the Lypertek Tevi and Creative Outlier Air are better options to consider, and might make more sense to invest in.
Price: Rs. 5,990
Ratings (out of 5)
Which is the bestselling Vivo smartphone in India? Why has Vivo not been making premium phones? We interviewed Vivo's director of brand strategy Nipun Marya to find out, and to talk about the company's strategy in India going forward. We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.