January 28, 2020

The Pixel Buds come with some ambitious features that make it an advanced device but it lags behind in some departments in terms of the device’s practicality.

The sound quality is good and the battery performance is impressive.

The device does a good job of bringing together the Google Assistant and language translation app that definitely makes it a technologically advanced product.

What it lacks is some more attention to the details which were required to make it a truly appealing product.

This unit is Google’s response to Apple’s Airpods but how do they compare?

If you want to look into more details the following review provides a detailed look into what the Pixel Buds can offer and what they do not.

googe pixel buds 3

Upsides of Using Google Pixel Buds

  • A low profile design allows it to be carried easily
  • The overall build quality is very good making it a durable device.
  • The overall design is comfortable.
  • A charging case that offers a quick-charge feature.
  • The fitting of the buds can be customized as per the ear anatomy.
  • The translation app is a helpful addition.
  • The battery life is good.

Drawbacks of Using Google Pixel Buds

  • The audio quality is good but not great.
  • The open design comes without any noise cancellation.
  • The sensitive touchpad makes it vulnerable to accidental or errant touches.
  • The fit requires constant adjustment which is bothersome.
  • Pairing with multiple devices can be time taking.
  • The gesture controls cannot be customized.

Detailed look

The 3.5 mm audio jacks were a part of headphones at one period of time making it easy to connect with any device at will. But with Apple and the other brands eliminating the audio jack from their phones, wireless headphones are now the popular choice.

When Google launched the Pixel buds back in 2017, many were surprised by its design as it was not a truly wireless headphone.  This was Google’s first attempt at wireless earbuds and though it shines in a few aspects, it fails to leave a mark on the whole.

The unorthodox design may not be to the liking of everyone but with this unit, Google has clearly prioritized functionality over style. So apart from listening to music, users can also sift through notifications and translate languages through the Google translate app with ease.

Video: Introducing Google Pixel Buds

On the other hand, the best features are reserved only for those who are owners of Google’s expensive smartphones.

A common problem with earbuds of this design is that since not all ears are shaped the same, finding the right fit is a difficult task for most users. The falling-out problem is also very common in which another major disadvantage of these units is. At the same time, they do not come with sound isolation.

Isolation leads to better sound quality and even with lower volumes, you can enjoy the richness of the music that you are listening to.

While many people turn up the volume to cut out the ambient noise, this can lead to hearing damage from the noise. So while these buds keep you aware of the ambient noises, making it a better option for overall outdoor safety, the sound quality is not good enough like the sealed units.

This headphone from Google does a good job at the sound department but serious music lovers will steer clear from these buds.

Initial impressions

The pixel buds come with a minimalistic design and carry case acts as the charging unit too.

Designed like a clamshell and covered with soft fabric, the unit feels good and it can easily fit inside your pockets.

The case connects to power via a USB-C connection and there are also multiple LED indicators and a button. 

One press on the button will let you know about the charge left in the buds and also about their pairing status. 

One frustrating point is that there is no indicator to indicate that the buds are charging. The battery life is five hours from a full charge, which is good but not the best when compared with the market standards. 

The charging feature via USB-C is also a good addition but with the movement of the case, the buds can get dislodged from their magnetic holders and the charging process can get disconnected.

The moment the case is opened, the buds start searching for a compatible device within range. They will also automatically disconnect when you put them back inside the case. The Bluetooth pairing can take multiple attempts with some phones and this method only works with the first phone you pair with.

For pairing with other phones, you will need to press a button inside the case to initiate the pairing mode and do it the old-fashioned way.

So a seamless transition between phones or between the phone and a laptop is not the strength of this device. Putting back the buds inside the case needs some correct wire handling which is a reminder of the fact that this is not a truly wireless headphone.

If you get the angle wrong, either the case will not shut down or the buds will not get charged.

The design

While fitting the buds in the ear, you will notice that these units rest gently on specific points of the ear, without putting too much pressure on the outer ear. Finding the right spot that results in a perfect fit might take some time. The plastic quality is smooth and it does not attract fingerprints.

The connecting cables are also of high quality and they do not tend to tangle up. The nylon cord is kept dangling around your neck and Google has not added a clip it fixes with your shirt. But once you get used to it, chances are that you will not notice is much and the cord also makes it hard for you to lose the unit.

The bud has a circular part that sticks outside the ear and looks like two buttons.

These buttons serve the purpose of a touch-sensitive control in the right ear and you can adjust the volume, skip tracks or turn the unit off through this. In addition, you can also receive and end calls. Voice command functionality to use with the Google Assistant is also available through the mic that is inside the headphones.

google pixel buds 2

Volume is controlled by a forward or backward slide and a double-tap will open up the notifications on the phone. While there is no mute option through the swipe controls but you can tap to pause or play the music. The gesture control is effective and once you get used to it, it makes the controls very smooth.

On the whole, the buds offer a comfortable fit that can be customized by the users. The lack of silicone tips is a positive thing that helps them to remain compatible with various ear shapes. One disadvantage of the touch surface that it can get accidentally activated while dangling around your neck.

This is something that is hard to notice and will burn up the batteries without anything to control it. The unit comes in three colors, which are black, white and a particular shade of blue. It is also very well-made and durability should not be an issue with the users.

The design is not for sports and while the unit tends to remain secure, they can come loose during some sports activities. The unit is not waterproof and neither sweat-proof and hence is not the right choice for workout sessions.

The sound quality

If you get the fit right, the earbuds are extremely comfortable for long listening sessions and once you get used to the cord running behind your head between the two earpieces, you can start enjoying the sound. The unit is classified as “semi-occluded” which means that it does not block the ear canal but seats around it.

The overall sound quality is precise and clear though you cannot expect a boomy bass through the unit. The lower ranges can sound muddy depending on the track which will disappoint audiophiles. While audio fidelity is not its strength, the unit is capable of satisfying the everyday user with its sound quality.

Ambient sound leaking into the ears is definitely a problem and depending on where and what you are listening to, this might be an advantage or a disadvantage. If you are navigating through busy streets, this will allow you to hear oncoming traffic, which is a good thing.

But in a noisy office environment, you cannot expect the buds to filter out the conversations. In a noisy environment, you will find yourself pushing the buds deeper into the ears for better sound quality. The unit handles loud volumes well without any amount of distortion but there is no granular volume control.

Seven swipes take you to the highest level of volume. Adjusting the loops on the buds to their correct position can deliver better sound quality on the whole.

The advanced features

Google translate

The use of the Pixel Buds as in-ear translators is a much-highlighted feature and you can launch the Google Translate app with a voice command. The speaker’s native language is supposed to get translated into the desired language and come out of the Pixel phone’s speaker.

Any foreign language spoken into the phone will also be translated through the buds. The translation process depends on the network strength and to have an actual conversation, you need to hand over your phone so that the other can speak into it while responding.

Handing your costly phone to a stranger might not be a convenient way to communicate as a tourist in all places.

The range of the app extends to over 100 different languages which are quite effective. The translation is not exactly tuned to the local tones and idioms, so it is not expected to be totally accurate. At the same time, you may need to download some of the language dictionaries to allow effective translation of all the languages.

On the whole, this is a very handy addition and with the app undergoing continuous development and upgrading its range, it is bound to get better. For travelers, the translation app is definitely a lifesaver.

Google assistant

The Google assistant is another convenient feature that the Pixel Buds offer and touching and holding the right earbud activates it.

It can also be activated by the standard methods from the phone. From the weather updates to the listing of all the appointments for the day, the voice of the assistant in your ears can be quite convenient. The city-dwellers can also get traffic updates directly in the ears, which is definitely a great advantage. 

You can also enquire about the notifications that have arrived on your phone and get an update. The experience is also super-fast and there is no lag from the response. This makes the overall experience more effective and fun to use.

There is definitely a chance that these buds will increase your overall dependence on the Google assistant.

The battery life

The battery life of the device is listed as five hours on a full charge which is the same as that offered by the Apple AirPods. The tests have indicated that the unit lives up to that promise and streaming music and using the other apps simultaneously will not drain the battery faster than you expect.

There are other wireless earbuds in the market which deliver better battery life but in this case, the case is equipped with a quick charging feature and ten minutes in the case will allow you to use the buds for one hour.

The case is also designed for 24 hours of recharging and any time you place the buds back in the case, they will start charging up.

Summary

The Pixel Buds come with some really good features that will someday offer the right level of experience that Google intends to provide.

This unit does not deliver the overall smooth experience that a wireless headphone needs to provide. Balancing the interesting features with the right level of user experience is something that the Pixel Bud does not get right.

Not all products hit the right marks at the first stage and the next generations of the model will surely offer something better for the users. Those who are looking for something better can look into the more updated Pixel Buds 2 for enhanced user experience.

Looking back at the overall features, the Pixel Buds are not as bad as some reviewers are pointing out.

But if you are expecting something exceptional from the unit, you might be disappointed. One major downside to the unit is its price. In this highly competitive segment, there are brands that are offering much better sound quality and user-friendly features at this price range.

At present, there are quite a few more advanced wireless headphones in the market and this makes the Pixel Buds a hard to recommend the unit.

Google assistant and translation are good features but for regular users with music as a priority, these features may not swing the decision in favor of the Pixel Buds.

Another downside of the Buds is that the touchpad is extremely sensitive and hence accidental taps and swipes can be a regular occurrence.

Whether the buds are in your ears or out, the touchpad remains activated and can cause some problems.

Why Google released the product at this stage is an enigma as it might seem somewhat unfinished to many users

The sound quality is acceptable in non-noisy environments but nothing as fancy as some of the top models in the market. 

google pixel buds

If you are looking to enjoy the music on the streets or in an open-air setting, you might be disappointed as there is no noise cancellation feature added. The hook design that keeps the buds in place and offers a customizable fit, can also be awkward for some users.

The cord position changes while storing the unit and every time you take it out, you need to adjust the length of the loop for the right fit in the ears. On the other hand, the small case makes carrying this unit around quite easy.

While Google Assistant is a great feature, it cannot be used for iOS or other operating systems. Switching between the remembered devices is another area where the unit fails to shine. The entire process is cumbersome and Apple’s Airpod with its superiors chip does a much better job in this aspect.

The overall operational smoothness is lacking in many aspects, unlike Apple’s device. The device leans of the superior software capabilities that Google has to offer but while doing that it lacks the right edge which the correct hardware would have provided it.

So the Pixel Buds are a good choice when you are using a Google phone and a big admirer of their software. For the others, it can be an unsatisfying experience, especially when you take the price into account.

This being a first-generation product, we can definitely hope that Google will do much better with subsequent versions of the Pixel Bud.

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