CMF, shorthand for Color, Materials, Finish (CMF) is a term little-known outside the world of industrial design, one that “focuses on the chromatic, tactile and decorative identity of products and environments”. That term has taken on a whole new significance with the Carl Pei-led Nothing launching ‘CMF by Nothing’, a new sub-brand that, according to Pei, aims to deliver "timeless designs" along with "quality that's very hard to find" in its price segment.
These are intentionally distinct from the main Nothing brand, both in terms of their entry-level pricing and in not sporting the transparent aesthetic. Yet, it’s not for nothing that the team at Nothing are already considered masters in whipping up pre-launch hype, but how do the debut products – a pair of earbuds, a smartwatch and a charger - for the CMF range fare in the sub- ₹5,000 segment?
Ordinarily, there isn’t much to say about the unboxing experience of most products, leave alone budget-oriented accessories in the segment that CMF has launched. These are different.
All three products ship in incredibly minimal and clean packaging, essentially two pieces of quality cardboard with cutout plastic moulds that show the shape of the box contents. It’s hard to describe how high quality it all feels, particularly at the price point at which each of these products are pegged. That it takes up less space than ordinary box packaging means it will save space during transportation and storage, which is a plus.
It’s easy to slot the new CMF Buds Pro as yet another entry-level pair of earbuds, albeit one with the active noise cancellation (ANC) feature that has made its way into the segment off late. The buds are encased in a solid plastic case that reminds one of a cosmetic compact, and they’re available in dark grey, light grey and an orange that is oh-so-very-intense orange.
The somewhat large round case isn’t as pocketable, but it is built well with a metal hinge, plus it has a smooth matte finish that doesn’t catch fingerprints (at least in the orange variant). The buds themselves are rather generic looking, save for the color, with small buds with silicone tips and touch sensitive pill-shaped stalks with the CMF logo.
The touch panels are broad enough for touch control, and the buds are IP54 rated for light exposure to sweat, rain and the like (the case is not). Interestingly, there’s an optical sensor to detect that the earbuds are being worn or taken off, which is unusual for this price segment.
Connecting to the phone happens with the same Nothing X app, which the brand uses for its Ear range of earphones. The Buds Pro integration, of course, works best with Nothing phones. You can adjust the equalizer, customize the touch gestures and adjust the ANC modes, with three levels and a transparency mode.
For a pair of buds with custom dynamic boost bass drivers and Ultra Bass tech to adjust bass frequencies based on the content that’s playing, the sound is expectedly bass-forward that quickly muddies up and sounds overpowering if you bump up the bass on the equalizer.
On the default preset, it’s reasonably restrained and allows the otherwise lively sound signature to shine. Discernibility of the mid-range, of vocals in particular in videos and in some genres of music, is an issue, but the sense of space and positioning is pretty decent. Detail levels are good, but it’s good to note that only AAC and SBC codecs are supported (no LDAC or aptX).
While the audio is about par for the segment and pricing, ANC is rather good at the highest setting, far better than anything all the way up to the next segment where the likes of the Nothing Ear (2) and the OnePlus/Oppo buds operate.
The six microphones do a good job picking up the low- and mid-frequency sounds, though switching to the lower ANC modes has the ANC going off the cliff and isn’t very effective. Just stick to the high setting, and you’ll be fine.
With 55mAh batteries in each bud, battery life is respectable as well, with around 11 hours of play time with ANC off and about 6 with it switched on. The 460mAh battery in the case promises to bump up overall usage time to 39/22 hours with the ANC off/on. No wireless charging but a splash-and-dash charge of 10 minutes yields five hours of use. Solid stuff.
For its asking price of ₹3,499 (it’s available on Flipkart for ₹2,999 at the time of writing), you get a pair of buds with decent audio quality, great ANC and battery life, and a packaging aesthetic hitherto unseen in the audio segment. Sure, there are a few rough edges, but they’re easy to overlook at this price.
There’s a familiar sense of understated minimalism at work with CMF’s (and Nothing’s by extension) first smartwatch, but as you may have guessed already, none of the transparent aesthetic that Nothing has made its own.
The CMF Watch Pro features a large, 1.96-inch, 410x502 resolution, always-on AMOLED display with 600+ nits of outdoors-friendly peak brightness, encased within a glossy, aluminum body that, while looking rather generic, feels premium to the touch.
There’s a subtle matte grey variant with dark grey/ash grey straps, but as with the buds, if you want to flaunt the signature CMF color, the shocking orange is the way to go.
Whichever variant you choose, the 47-g watch weight and the soft silicone standard 22mm watch bands are comfortable to have on for extended durations.
To set up the Watch, you need to download the CMF Watch app from the iOS/Android app store, since Nothing has designated the X app only for its audio products. The app is very Nothing-esque with its dot matrix font and cleanly laid out to access your activities, workouts etc.
The Watch Pro has all the features you’d expect at this price point – health tracking like heart rate, blood oxygen, stress monitoring, activity and sleep tracking. Activity tracking includes tracking for 110 sports modes, and integrated GPS navigation allows for phone-free route tracking while outdoors. IP68 water resistance is a plus, however the watch is oddly not recommended to be used in swimming pools or shallow water.
There’s no auto-workout detection – you’ll have to select the activity manually. Then there’s Bluetooth calling (with AI-assisted noise reduction) along with phone notifications, and a bunch of first-party apps for weather, stopwatch/timers/alarms, phone finder, flashlight and camera/music control. The expansive screen shows off its 30+ watch faces, including many that are monochromatic (a la Nothing) or orange-themed (a la CMF).
In use, the CMF Watch Pro feels snappy and easy to operate, quickly cycling through the available widgets via the touch screen with the side button only to jump between apps and the watch face. Activity tracking like heart rate, sleep patterns, steps seem largely in line with the Apple Watch I had worn on the other wrist – yeah, I’m often that guy but all in the name of science.
The huge difference was how often (infrequently, rather) I had to take the Watch Pro off to charge - with the always-on display turned on, I got over a week of heavy use paired with my primary phone.
The Watch Pro is truly representative of the CMF ethos, marrying in an understated design with ease of use and a strong basic smartwatch experience, without all the bells and whistles that many brands fall prey to just to tick off checkboxes on the marketing spec sheets.
Sure, there are areas of improvements – no auto-brightness, limited interactions with phone notifications and a need for more interactive watch face widgets, for instance – and competition in this segment from homegrown brands is extremely fierce, but build quality, a strong display and built-in GPS are solid differentiators.
CMF chose a third, rather commoditized product category to address in its first wave of products – an affordable 65-watt GaN, or gallium-nitride, charger.
A quick primer on GaN chargers – instead of using silicon for conductivity as most phone and laptop chargers do these days, these chargers use the gallium nitride semiconductor which generates less heat. With reduced heat generation, components can be placed closer together, giving you faster charging bricks in a smaller size. If you previously used a separate charging brick for your ultraportable laptop and another charger for your phone, you could now replace them with a single, smaller, more efficient GaN charger.
CMF’s Power 65W GaN charger, as the name suggests, offers a charger with two USB-C ports and one USB type-A port. The Type A port is limited to 36W output if used exclusively, and either of the two Type C ports can go up to 65W at a time (or 45W and 20W if used simultaneously).
No bigger than most phone chargers, it weighs 150 grams and sports its 65W power rating in Nothing’s signature font on the side (in a dark grey or orange variant).
It can charge laptops, tablets, phones and audio accessories via a variety of charging protocols, such as Power Delivery 3.0, Quick Charge 3.0, PPS, AFC, among others. Works as advertised, and reasonably aggressive pricing as well – highly recommended if you’ve picked up a new Apple iPhone or Samsung device without a charger.
Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, posts @2shar.