If you’re a Pixelbook or Pixel 2 user or you are interested in a pair of smart wireless earbuds, Google Pixel Buds will surely draw your attention. They are Google’s response to the wireless earbuds revolution that culminated with Apple’s release of the AirPods, and among the first gadgets in their category offering virtual assistance and instant translation, among many other valuable features.
What exactly do they promise and how much of their promises turn into reality? How do they look and how well do they work? Are they worth the price and do they make a better investment compared to their competitors? We will reveal everything in the following lines, so keep reading!
About Google Pixel Buds
When you order the earbuds, you receive them in a simple white box similar to that of the Chromecast. It shelters the paper-foam support of a stylish grey box covered in felt. Obviously, the grey box contains the earbuds. It also serves as a charging case. Underneath the paper-foam holding it, you’ll find the quick start guide and the charging cable.
The charging case is similar in size to a ring box. Opening it is quite a delicate matter, so you’ll wish you had thinner fingers if you don’t. Inside, you’ll find the two earbuds, looking like bulbous disks, resting on magnetic cradles. A protective film acts as a separator between them and the case.
You would expect the earbuds to be incredibly small and totally wireless, unlike everything you’ve ever seen. Well, you may be surprised to discover that, although they do not require plugging, they have a thin wire tethering them together. The thin wire connecting them forms adjustable ear loops to fixate the buds in place.
Their size is average if you compare them with fully wireless earbuds, which they’re not, and quite big if you compare them with tethered earbuds. It is, therefore, safe to assume that Google has yet to find a reliable solution to connect the two gadgets through thin air.
The Google Pixel Buds are available in blue, white, and black. Both the earbuds and the charging case bear the maker’s signature “G”. The interior of the case reveals three LEDs displaying battery life and pairing status. One dot lighting up green means the earbuds are charged and ready to use. When the same dot flashes white, it means the buds are pairing with the case. All three lights flashing white warn that the case is fully charged.
Just like the AirPods, the Pixel Buds have a battery life of 5 hours by themselves. Their battery life can be extended up to 24 hours with the case. Considering that most competing tethered earbuds have a battery life of up to 10 hours, the case is not so much an added bonus as a necessity. Ten minutes of fast charging with it will get you 1 hour of playback time.
Setting up Google Pixel Buds
In order to start using your earbuds, you will need a compatible, Bluetooth-enabled device. If you want to be able to use Google Assistant, the respective device should run on Android and be connected to the internet. You will also need a Google account in order to make the most out of your acquisition.
The steps to follow in order to start using the Pixel Buds seem simple:
- You remove the protective film separating the earbuds from the case.
- You charge the earbuds
- You turn on the Bluetooth connection on the mobile device you wish to pair with the buds
- You pair your Google Pixel Buds with the respective device.
In theory, the earbuds should automatically pair with any compatible device in their range. In practice, you may have to restart the device you’re trying to pair them with and play with their pairing button for a while until your device finds the earbuds. The quick start guide will teach you how to pair devices manually if the automatic alternative fails.
Perhaps not all ears are alike, and you’ll have a better experience, but these earbuds, although built to sit inside the ear canal, according to Google, feel a little loose. We have both good and bad news regarding the way they fit and how their fit impacts performance.
The good news is that you get used to the feeling of loose fit over time, and the tethering wire is so thin and lightweight that you stop feeling it over a while. Also, contrary to what the loose fit feeling suggests, the earbuds won’t fall off.
The bad news is that, due to the loose fit, the earbuds fail to block ambient noise, so you may still hear chatter, engines, and other surrounding noises. Moreover, the loose fit feelings will return every time you take them off and put them back on.
Once you have the earbuds on, the following operations and controls will help you make the most of them:
- Play or pause tracks by tapping your right earbud once
- Control volume by swiping forward and backward
- Tap twice to hear the notifications your receive or skip songs once you enable the feature from the paired device
- Start using Google Assistant by tapping and holding the right earbud
- Power down the Pixel Buds by tapping three times, and more
It is important to note that Google releases updates regularly, adding new control options not only to the buds but to the app controlling them as well. We expect them to make pairing devices easier very soon.
What to Expect from Google Assistant and the Instant Translations It Offers
Perhaps the most attractive feature of the Google Pixel Buds is the fact that they provide users with access to Google Assistant.
Once activated, the virtual assistant can help you:
- Search for information
- Find out more on the weather forecast
- Obtain walking or driving directions
- Make calls
- Send text messages
- Skip songs
- Control video and audio streaming
- Obtain instant translations through Google Translate
Although many competing devices offer virtual assistance, they are still a long way from matching the responsiveness and efficiency of Google Assistant. The instant translation is a function competing devices have yet to acquire.
In order to use it, you need a Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL. All you have to do is activate Google Assistant and ask it to help you speak your language of choice. You can watch on your device how the Assistant opens the Google Translate app in a unique interface, only available to Pixel 2 and Pixel 2XL devices paired with the Google Pixel Buds.
When you say a phrase, tap and hold your right earbud, and your smartphone will translate the phrase to your language of choice. If you’re talking to someone who speaks a different language, you can simply hold the phone in front of them, say what you want, and your phone will play the translation almost instantly.
The feature will surely help you get along with anyone, but, as you may have noticed while using Google Translate, small errors will still occur, especially when translating to or from less popular languages. What matters is that app failures are rare, and results are usually fluid and accurate, so you should be able to make yourself understood in a language you know nothing about without too much trouble.
The Assistant is only available on devices using Android 6.0 Marshmallow or higher. You can pair the Google Pixel Buds with any smartphone using Android 5.0 Lollipop or higher, or iOS 10 or higher. The range of devices you can pair with the Pixel Buds to listen to audio content is much wider, the most important condition being the devices’ Bluetooth connection capabilities.
Audio Performance Overview
To say that the Pixel Buds are the best wireless headphones on the market would be an exaggeration. However, they provide satisfactory sound, quite loud and accurate. You can use them to listen to your favorite music, watch movies, and make phone calls.
Their performance is comparable with that of the AirPods, except that, with Google’s earbuds, the sound takes a lower, bass-like turn. It is up to every user to test both alternative and choose their favorite. The decision, however, will have more to do with personal taste than with technical details or capabilities.
If you want to feel the rhythm of the music you listen to, you’ll love the Pixel Buds. If you are more interested in hearing and feeling the finest vibes and living every note to the fullest, you may want to consider other options. Take a look at their features and technical specifications before you do.
Google Pixel Buds Features and Specs
- Earbuds dimensions: 8 x 0.8 x 0.8 inches, 0.49 oz weight
- Charging case dimensions: 2.6 x 2.6 x 1.1 inches, weighs 2.0 oz with the buds in and 1.5 oz empty
- Wireless model with Bluetooth connectivity
- USB-C™ port and cable for charging
- Available in Black, Clear White, and Kinda Blue
- Earbuds battery: 120mAh / 5 hours listening time
- Charging case battery: 620mAh / 24 hours of listening time
- Sensors: accelerometer, microphone, capacitive touchpad
- Operating system requirements: minimum Android 5.0 Lollipop / iOS 10.0 for use as a headset and minimum Android 6.0 Marshmallow for accessing Google Assistant.
Google Pixel Buds Pricing and Warranty Information
At the time of this review, the earbuds were available in Google Store at a price of $159, similar to the AirPods. If you compare this price with that of other wireless earbuds, you may find it quite high, especially since the earbuds are not flawless and do not deliver the best sound available.
However, if you keep in mind that the price covers access to Google Assistant and the Instant Translator, you’ll probably agree that it is worth paying. The final decision is yours, and will probably depend on what you plan to use the earbuds for, what you expect from them, and how much you can afford to pay.
If you decide to buy them, remember that the Pixel Buds come with a warranty of one year, and is only valid if you purchase them from the Google Store or authorized retailers. The good news is that Google seems determined to improve them and release new updates regularly.
Before you make your final decision, you may want to check out the slightly cheaper SE215 from Shure or the Sport Pulse Wireless Special Edition from Jabra, the latter being perfect for workouts due to their sweatproof features and built-in heart-rate monitor.
Google Pixel Buds Strengths
- Wireless, Bluetooth enabled, so no worries about cable connections
- Easy access to Google Assistant and the ability to perform various actions with voice commands
- The Instant Translator provides fast and quite accurate translations, so it may come in handy during trips abroad
- The sound is pretty loud and clear
- The earbuds do not fall out with ease and the tapping and swiping controls work quite well
- Google releases periodical updates, adding new features and eliminating flaws
Google Pixel Buds Weaknesses
- Pairing is sometimes difficult and requires resetting the headsets and/or the device
- The Instant Translator only works with Android 6.0 Marshmallow or more recent versions of the operating system
- Sound fidelity could use some improvements
- The earbuds are not completely wireless but tethered through a thin wire
Are Google Pixel Buds a Worthwhile Investment?
All in all, the Pixel Buds seem well built and durable. However, the lid of the charging case seems rather flimsy, which raises worries about a possible early breakdown. The virtual assistant and the instant translation feature can be valuable for someone traveling abroad regularly.
However, they are not a huge necessity, considering that they are readily available on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2XL, the devices required for accessing them through the Pixel Buds. Similarly, the charging case brings about additional battery life, but the earbuds themselves have a lower battery life than many other options currently available on the market.
We wish we could say the Google Pixel Buds are a wonderful option and you should go ahead and buy them. Instead, our research shows they are a promising but still average option, with a far from negligible price.
If you already have a Pixel 2, Pixel 2XL, or Pixelbook, they could make a useful addition and help you take your experience with Google devices to a new level. If you are simply looking for a pair of wireless headphones, you should check out other models before spending any money, to make sure the Google Pixel Buds are the right solution for your needs.
I am a simple, optimistic, and straightforward wife and mother, lucky enough to be making a living doing what I love – reading and writing.
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