Google Pixel Buds review: Android’s more affordable AirPods Pro

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Over the past couple of years I have tested many wireless earbuds as the earbud form factor is my preference for smartphone, tablet, and watch audio. We had a glimpse of Google’s Pixel Buds 2 at the Made by Google event last fall, but they were just made available last week.

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After testing them out for several days, I can say that the wait was worth it. The new Google Pixel Buds are outstanding wireless earbuds and finally offer an Apple AirPods alternative for Android users that Google can be proud of. The fit is superb, the design is attractive, battery life is reasonable, and the usability makes these an excellent Google product to add to your arsenal.

In late 2017, Google released the original Pixel Buds, but they were a wireless headset where the earbuds were connected by a wire and their performance was pretty terrible. The new Pixel Buds are true wireless earbuds and are ready to challenge the best wireless earbuds currently on the market, with a heavy focus on Google Assistant and Google functionality.

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The new Google Pixel Buds are currently only available in Clearly White with Oh So Orange, Quite Mint, and Almost Black launching at a future date. They Pixel Buds are priced at $179. I tested a Clearly White version, but may return it and hold out for Oh So Orange or Quite Mint.

Specifications

  • Microphones: Dual beamforming mics in each earbud
  • Speakers: 12mm dynamic driver with passive noise reduction
  • Sweat and water resistance: IPX4 rating
  • Sensors: Capacitive touch on each earbud, accelerometer, gyroscope, dual IR proximity in-ear detection
  • Battery life: Up to five hours of play with charging case providing another 19 hours of music playback. Ten minutes of charging provides up to two hours of listening time. Talk time is half of audio listening time.
  • Wireless connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
  • Earbud weight: 5.3 grams each
  • Wireless charging case dimensions: 63 X 47 X 25mm and 56.1 grams

Hardware

The retail package includes the two wireless Pixel Buds, a charging case with integrated battery, small and large silicone eartips, and a short USB-A to USB-C cable. The medium size silicone eartips are attached to the Google Pixel Buds.

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The charging case is has a soft matte finish and looks a bit like a flat egg. There is a USB-C port on the bottom, an LED indicator light on the front, and small pairing button on the lower back.

The lid of the carrying case has a positive spring so when you lift it about 45 degrees it flip all the way open to the 90-degree position. Each Pixel Bud is secured in place with magnets, but is also easy to remove from the case when you grab each bud.

The battery charging case supports Qi wireless charging and I confirmed it works well on smartphones that support reverse wireless charging. One odd thing is that you sometimes have to put the charging case on the wireless dock, including Google’s official wireless charging stand, upside down to get the charging to top up the case and Pixel Buds.

The colored portion of the Pixel Bud is the outer part of the main bud with the Google G logo embedded in this part. This is also the part that supports capacitive touch gestures. Touch controls include:

  • Swipe forward to increase the volume
  • Swipe backward to lower the volume
  • Single tap to play or pause when listening to music or to answer a call
  • Double tap to skip to the next track or to end/reject a call
  • Trip tap to play the previous track or repeat
  • Press and hold to launch Google Assistant or hear your notifications

There is a rubber piece embedded in the Pixel Bud that is curved and serves as a fin piece (called a stabilizer arc) that helps keep the Pixel Bud securely embedded in your ear. There are three gold contacts to support charging the Pixel Bud with another area below this that houses the IR proximity sensor. Another IR sensor is down on the small arm towards the end of the earbud (area known as the retention curve).

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The end of the Pixel Bud has a stainless steel piece for the audio housing. The silicone tips fit over this metal end to help the Pixel Buds fit comfortably into your ear. There are mic openings at either side of the large piece of the Pixel Bud with a spatial vent near the retention curve that is designed to reduced the plugged-ear feeling you may get from other earbuds that fit like this into your ear.

Once you insert the Pixel Buds into your ear, simply rotate it into position until you are comfortable with it. It felt a bit like screwing the Pixel Bud deeper into your ear canal, but the result is one of the most secure earbuds I have ever tested. Sound around you is definitely blocked out by the deep mounting of the earbud, but after hours of wear I never felt any discomfort.

Smartphone software

iOS users will only see the Pixel Buds appear in Bluetooth settings and have no advanced control or options available. You can still use the Pixel Buds as a basic Bluetooth headset and even launch Google Assistant, if you have the Google Assistant app installed on your iOS device and it is running.

The real magic here is present with Android phones. I tried the Pixel Buds on multiple Android phones, and my iPad, to test out the experiences. The Pixel Buds app is embedded into Google Pixel phones, but other Android devices get nearly the same experience by simply downloading and installing the Pixel Buds app from the Play Store.

The Pixel Buds app includes the ability to find each earbud, view a list and visual of the gesture touch controls, toggle adaptive sound, toggle in-ear detection, manage firmware updates, and view other settings of the Pixel Buds.

If you connect the Pixel Buds to a Pixel phone, then you will see additional toggles for HD audio, phone calls, media audio, and contact sharing.

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Adaptive sound automatically optimizes the volume of the Pixel Buds based on your surroundings. I understand the changes are subtle and nothing like active noise cancellation, it has been tough to test this out with the current coronavirus situation and physical distancing. When you manually adjust the volume then adaptive sound is temporarily disabled. When you enter an environment with vastly different sound levels than where you departed then adaptive sound will kick in again.

One aspect I was particularly interested in was the live translation functionality. Simply press and hold on the Pixel Bud to launch Google Assistant and speak, “Help my speak [state the language you want help with]”. The Google Translate app will then open on your phone, assuming you already installed it. Tap on the appropriate language button and hold your phone up to the person speaking a foreign language. Google will translate it and then speak it through the Pixel Buds. It wasn’t a 100% perfect experience and there is a bit of lag in the speaking of the language, but it is pretty amazing that I can now travel to another country and get help from Google.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

A ring will sound when you activate find your device with slowly increasing volume emanating from the missing Pixel Bud. The Pixel Bud has to be within Bluetooth range of your connected phone to fine the earbud, but it works well in my testing. The in-ear detection enables the ability to play audio when the earbud is inserted and to pause it when it is removed. I personally appreciate that the Google Assistant will answer on the Pixel Buds when inserted rather than having multiple devices fight for dominance of my spoken word.

I was very pleased to see that either Pixel Bud can be used at one time with no lost functionality. With this capability, you can wear one Pixel Bud until it dies and then put in the other one while you charge up the dead one. With this method you can use the Pixel Buds for up to 24 hours for music or 12 hours for talking. Many wireless earbuds do not support such independent use.

Google doesn’t post any of the supported Bluetooth codecs on its website so I doubt that aptX is supported, but very few truly wireless earbuds support aptX. However, I’ve been satisfied with the audio quality and the additional Google Assistant functionality makes these compelling for business use. The Jabra Elite 75t earbuds sound better and have much longer battery life so may be better for those using earbuds for exercise, but if you want a focused Google Assistant experience then the Pixel Buds are a great option.

While it might look like I have a white Mento stuck in my ear, the Google Pixel Buds have passed my tests of great fit, long wear comfort, water resistance for running, and easy reliable controls. I have not been disappointed at all with their performance and the $179 is $70 less than the Apple AirPods Pro. Those AirPods fell out of my ears every 100 feet and had limited onboard controls so were returned within a week. The only reason I might return these white Pixel Buds is to pick out a color I really want mounted in my ears.

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