Although it has doubtless shipped billions of sets of earbuds over the years, Nokia isn’t exactly renowned for audio equipment. So when its PR company offered me the Nokia Essential Wireless Headphones (E1200) for review, I was intrigued to see how good they would be. Not least because they’re on sale for an introductory price of £59.99.
The good news: this sixty quid pair of cans is none too shabby.
Although the ‘Essential’ product name carries the whiff of supermarket own-brand, there’s nothing cheap-looking about these cans. True, I haven’t yet been mugged by a pack of trinket-seeking teenagers as I walked the mean streets of Sussex in these things, but I’ve not been embarrassed to wear them on my dog walks either. The all-black design I was sent (there’s also a two-tone black/grey) is nether showy nor utilitarian.
The earcups and headband padding are made from a soft faux leather. If that makes them sound like a Poundshop sofa then fear not: I’ve worn them on long dog walks and the earcups haven’t got the least bit sweaty. Then again, we’re in the midst of winter. I can’t guarantee summer wearing will remain entirely perspiration-free.
The headset is reasonably light and it doesn’t clamp to your head too tightly, and that’s despite my sizeable noggin. My mother couldn’t walk for weeks after I arrived.
My one quibble with the build quality is the extendable headband, which jerks open with an unsatisfying clunk. If you try and adjust the headband while wearing the things, it feels like you’re trapped inside a dustbin that’s being clattered by a cricket bat.
The headphones fold in neatly on themselves, making them more compact to pack for journeys. Nokia even supplies a drawstring velvet bag as a protective pouch.
You’re probably not expecting much in the way of features from a sixty quid pair of cans, but there’s one or two surprises here.
The first and most important is battery life: Nokia claims 40 hours. I’ve been using them all week on my dog walks and around the house (1-2 hours per day), and the battery indicator on my phone claims they still have 80% left, which suggests Nokia isn’t over-egging the battery-life claims. Don’t expect quick recharges, Nokia using an old-style micro-USB connector rather than USB-C – a real surprise in 2021.
The headphones also offer support for your smartphone’s voice assistant, be that Google Assistant (Android) or Siri (iPhones). This is a tad rough around the edges. You hold down the bass boost button on the side of the left cup for a couple of seconds to activate the assistant, after which the headphones beep – but you have to wait for a secondary beep from Google Assistant before you can speak, which catches you out the first few times you use it. For some reason, the audio replies from Google Assistant on my phone were distorted too, as if you’re listening to an AM radio.
As you’d expect from a company that made its name in mobile phone, hands-free calling is another feature. Alas, the people I called using the Nokia Essential Wireless Headphones complained they could barely hear me (some might regard this as a valuable feature). That’s not uncommon with Bluetooth headphones – even the premium Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones suffers – but you’d hope a phone company could get this right. I suspect with the mic being so far from you mouth, it needs a super-sensitive mic and active background noise cancellation to make that work effectively, both of which are beyond the scope of budget headphones.
Full disclosure: I was expecting ropey sound quality from these cheap cans, but the more than respectable output came as a welcome surprise. Like finding a joke in Mrs Brown’s Boys that actually makes you laugh.
Let’s set expectations here: you’re not going to put these on, reach for a fine whiskey and spend the evening revisiting your favourite albums, but they don’t make your ears bleed either.
By far the biggest dilemma with these cans is choosing whether to use the bass boost mode or not. With it on, music sounds muddy, with the bass tending to overwhelm the sound stage. Without it, music can sound thin and reedy. The perfect balance would be somewhere in between, but you don’t have that option. Still, there’s enough detail and volume here to forgive the all-or-nothing bass, especially with thumping soundtracks.
The headphones really come into their own for spoken-word content, such as podcasts. Here the bass boost gives male speakers a sonorous, almost Brian Blessed quality. I’ve spent many a happy hour wandering the fields and pathways of Sussex, listening to podcasts in these.
Nokia Essential Wireless Headphones verdict
There is a lot of nit-picking in this review, so let me make my feelings on these headphones clear. With superb battery life, no-nonsense set-up, the surprise of voice assistant support and above average sound quality, I’d say the Nokia Essential Wireless Headphones are worth every penny of the £60 asking price.
Nokia might not be the first company you think of when you’re looking for headphones, but if you’re on a limited budget, they should be.
Value for money
Nokia Essential Wireless Headphones verdict
At their £60 introductory price, you’d be very hard pressed to find a better set of Bluetooth headphones
- Tremendous battery life
- Comfortable to wear
- Decent sound quality
- Callers struggle to hear you when making phone calls
- Bass boost can be overwhelming