Oppo Enco Free review: lightweight earbuds fails to impress
Oppo is not only conquering the German market with its range of value-for-money smartphones, but also wants to establish an entire ecosystem of hardware, including accessories. Of course, this also includes true-wireless headphones. The flagship model is known as the Enco Free and is based - like many others - on Apple's AirPods. Oppo nevertheless deviates from the standard with a hybrid approach. Question is, does this idea work?
- Adjustable volume control on earbuds
- Clear high and mid-range sound
- Solid battery life for its class
- Compact design
- No low bass
- No sound isolation
- Settings work only with Oppo ColorOS
Oppo Enco Free release date and price
The Oppo Enco Free has been available in white and black color versions in Germany since May 2020. Oppo recommends a price of around €130 ($150) for dealers. So far, practically all suppliers have followed this suggestion. Headphones on Amazon are often considerably cheaper than the recommended retail price. In August 2020, the price of both models will drop below the €100 ($120) mark.
Oppo Enco Free design and build quality
Just place it in your ear and music playback will begin - Apple has popularised the earbuds design approach of true wireless headphones with their ubiquitous AirPods. This design, however, does not shield the ear canal well against any external noise. At the very least, you can get the headphones working quickly without having to leave them in the ear for a longer than usual time.
By comparison, Oppo dares to try out a different approach with the Enco Free. It is a hybrid design of earbuds and in-ear headphones. As with the AirPods, the chassis does not come with any protruding speakers. Unlike Apple, however, the speaker opening ends in a narrow silicone cap that ensures a somewhat tighter fit in the ear. If the size S pre-installed attachment is not sufficient to keep a snug fit in your ear canal, you can replace it with up to two larger sized alternatives.
Despite the additional component, the Enco Free remains a very compact and lightweight accessory. They are hardly noticeable and tips the scales at a mere four grams per earphone. This low weight is all the more remarkable considering how Oppo has added seals that protect the Oppo Enco Free against water splashes in accordance to the IPX4 standard.
The rectangular charging case also ensures that the Oppo Enco Free remains slim. It fits perfectly into a shirt pocket and weighs just 48 grams with the earphones in place. One thing I would worry about such lightweight items like this is: I might simply misplace it without realizing so.
Oppo Enco Free: the service
Hold up the charging case next to a smartphone, open the lid - and your smartphone (with its Bluetooth connection turned on, of course) will try to locate the headphones as you pair them in the Bluetooth menu. This works with every Android smartphone and iPhone, so it does not matter which side of the mobile operating system divide you are on. If you are using an Oppo smartphone currently, you don't need to launch the system settings. Instead, a pairing menu will appear on the start screen automatically.
An Oppo smartphone is also an advantage if you want to assign other functions to the touch controls on the earphones according to your preferences. This is only possible in Oppo's user interface known as ColorOS. There is no app out there that allows this on other Android smartphones or iPhones. Which is sad, considering this blatant attempt to 'force' consumers closer to picking up an Oppo device.
Thankfully, right out of the box, the touch surface on the Oppo Enco Free's earbuds are already loaded with useful functions. Depending on the context, a double press ensures that you answer or end a call or begin playback and pause a track. Removing an earbud also pauses the music immediately. Oppo has built in sensors for wear detection that makes this possible. Touching and holding the touch-sensitive surface activates the respective voice assistant depending on your mobile operating system of choice. This worked fine in tests with Siri and Google Assistant.
The touch surface also accepts swipes. If you swipe up or down on the right earpiece, you will move to the next or previous track. This is especially cool: Swiping up or down on the left earpiece will control the volume level. It is rare to be able to do this directly on the surface of a pair of earbuds. In most cases, you will have to use a smartphone or a connected smartwatch for this purpose.
How the Oppo Enco Free sound
Oppo has built in all kinds of technology into this flagship model, which on paper, is capable of pumping out good quality audio. This includes, above all, a loudspeaker with a large diameter that measures 13.4 millimetres. It was intended to provide a particularly natural sound reproduction with a high dynamic range. In fact, the Oppo Enco Free are pleasing due to very clear and distortion-free trebles, even at high volumes. If you prefer music with vocals in the foreground, you'll be pleased with the midrange-tuned sound profile.
But the Oppo Enco Free is completely unprepared when it comes to low bass situations. Listening to bass-oriented music was anything but fun throughout the review. The Oppo Enco Free could certainly sound a bit more powerful should the silicone tips reached further into the ear canal. But Oppo decided against an in-ears construction, resulting in a slack bass.
A further disadvantage in practice is the lack of passive noise shielding. I hear a lot of ambient noise, so I have to increase the volume - which in turn annoys those around me, and they too, can hear what I am listening to somewhat.
Active noise suppression, where counter-noise ensures silence, would not be useful with such an airy construction. That is why Oppo has understandably dispensed with the idea. At this price point, it is a reasonable thing to do. Huawei and Honor can even do it for €20 ($24) to €30 ($36) less in the models Freebuds 3i and Magic Earbuds ANC.
Oppo Enco Free battery
A playback time of up to five hours on a single battery charge is adequate for such compact earphones. That's not much, but fortunately not as dramatically short as the mentioned Honor and Huawei models. Oppo, on the other hand, packs a lot of reserve juice in the compact charging case.
Its integrated 410 mAh battery is sufficient for another 20 hours of playback time. How much power that remains in the case is indicated by an LED on the outside front, following the traffic light colour code. What the 31-mAh battery of the earphones provides, however, you are unable to find out via a visual or audio cue.
The Oppo Enco Free features a compact earphone design and a respectable charging case. It works comfortably, and much of the impressive performance lies in the integrated touch-sensitive volume controls. Protection against water splashes is a further plus point.
The easy-to-fit earphones offer decent sound when you listen to music and podcasts on the side. If you want to immerse yourself in music and hide from your surroundings, you're better off with other models as settling for this will not make you happy.
Fans of bass-oriented music will definitely keep their hands away from the Oppo Enco Free. The hybrid design as a mix of earbuds and in-ears simply doesn't work. The silicone tips don't shield the ear canal well enough to eliminate outside noise, while at the same time they don't go far enough into the ear to transport low frequencies with enough punch.
Overall, the Oppo Enco Free is a decent true-wireless headphones offering at an affordable price point - if you don't mind mixing it up in the mid-range market. But given that Oppo wants to position itself as a premium manufacturer, the model is disappointing and delivers too little for the money paid.