Pixel Buds are Google’s next-generation wireless earbuds
- Pros: Jaw-Droppingly Fast Google Assistant, Solid Battery Life, Decent Sound Quality
- Cons: Infuriating Carry Case, Fiddly Earbud Adjustment, Google Translate Had Some Problems
Google took the decision to ditch the industry-standard 3.5mm headphone port from its latest generation of smartphones, Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL.
Yes, exactly one year after the Pixel advertising campaign mercilessly mocked Apple for dropping the headphone port, Google has followed suit.
Google isn’t the only one, with the likes of HTC and Motorola also moving away from the hundred-year-old headphone port.
To coincide with its push towards a wireless audio future, Google introduced a pair of next-generation earbuds, dubbed Pixel Buds.
On paper, these new Bluetooth headphones have a lot of in common with Apple AirPods, which were also introduced following the launch of Apple’s first handset without a 3.5mm headphone port.
Both wireless earbuds work over Bluetooth and are designed to make pairing a simple one-step process. Both rely heavily on an AI assistant, Siri in the case of the AirPods, and Google Assistant on Pixel Buds.
The Google headphones have a pleasing, circular design
Finally, both headphones ship with a small carry case capable of topping up the battery while you’re on the road.
That said, despite their similarities, there are also a number of key differences in the approaches adopted by Google and Apple.
For a start, while the AirPods have long stems to house the beam-forming microphones used for Siri and phone calls, Google Pixel Buds have a round hockey puck-style design.
Out of the box, the Pixel Buds look great, with a sleek futuristic design and matte black finish. Whereas the AirPods were initially met with mockery, the Pixel Buds avoided the same treatment thanks to its more unobtrusive design.
But while the Google Pixel Buds look undeniably sleek, the fit leaves something to be desired. The Pixel Buds have a one-size-fits-all design which uses the cord that ties the two earbuds together to secure each puck into your ear.
By dragging through the excess fabric cord to make a loop, users can adjust the fit in their ears. In theory, this is an ingenious solution and allows users to adjust their headphones on the fly. In practice, the loop slips each time you remove the earbuds from the battery case – leaving you to curse under your breath, and furiously fiddle with the fabric cord while sprinting for the tube.
Excess cord is pulled through to create a loop, which secures the bud in your ear
When they are finally comfortably in your ears, Pixel Buds offer a listening experience that is, well, fine. Sound quality is pretty solid, with the small buds offering a surprising amount of bass given their small size.
The sound quality of the Pixel Buds is better than anything you’ll find in the box with most flagship handsets, however, it’s nowhere near as good as the sound quality you’ll find with similarly-priced wired headphones.
Although, needless to say, these don’t have all the bells and whistles of the Pixel Buds.
Ultimately, it depends whether you want your £159 to go towards sound quality – or smarts. And the smarts in the Pixel Buds, albeit a little hit-and-miss at times, can be hugely impressive.
Google Assistant works a dream on the Pixel Buds.
To summon the assistant, you need only press a fingertip against the side of the earbud and start speaking – there’s no need to wait for the Google Assistant to wake-up, beep, or ask you “How Can I Help, Aaron?”.
Hold the earbud and start speaking to issue a command to the Google Assistant
The Pixel Buds aren’t as compact or easy to use as Apple’s AirPods
In fact, it’s almost eerie how fast Google Assistant responds via the Pixel Buds.
The smarts in the Pixel Buds, albeit a little hit-and-miss at times, can be hugely impressive
The system is ludicrously fast, and makes using Google Assistant a joy. After all, if there was a painful pause to sit through before you could talk to the Assistant, the voice commands would be less convenient than pulling your phone from your pocket and doing it the old fashioned way.
Google Assistant can be used to play music, send a text message, or search Google Maps for directions to a place of interest nearby.
The talkative voice assistant can also read your messages to you. Double-tapping on the right earbud after hearing the chime of a new notification and the Google Assistant will read your new message to you.
It’s a genuinely useful feature, and means you’re no longer in the dark each time the phone in your pocket dings with a notification.
Wrapping the fabric cord around the charging case is fiddly and frustrating
Pixel Buds are supposed to offer real-time translation – either translating what you’re saying into another language, or relaying what it can hear in a foreign language into your earbud in your mother tongue.
Unfortunately, our Pixel Buds were unable to perform this function. Express.co.uk has contacted Google and we’re troubleshooting the issue now.
We will update this review when we’ve had the opportunity to test the feature.
By far the most egregious problem with the Google Pixel Buds is the carry case.
The case itself is very aesthetically pleasing, thanks to the plush fabric material Google has used. However, the square shape is a little inconvenient – especially when carrying the Pixels Buds in your jeans with the Pixel 2.
Google Assistant can be used to play music, send a text message, or search Google Maps
Worse still, putting the Pixel Buds away correctly is a fiddly and patience-testing process. The earbuds themselves are secured by magnets, which works well. However the cord cable needs to be wrapped around the inside of the case before the lid is closed.
The fabric cable often slips, making it impossible to shut the lid correctly, and forcing you to re-start the process all-over again. It might sound like a minor nitpick, but when you’re taking the Pixel Buds in and out of your ears half a dozen times a day, it soon becomes a major annoyance.
Similarly annoying, the only charging light on the Pixel Buds is inside the carry case itself, so it’s impossible to tell whether the case is completely recharged without opening it up to check.
Given the amount of Research and Development that must’ve gone into a next-generation pair of wireless earbuds like this, it seems nobody at Google thought that was a pain in the neck.
Google Pixel Buds are a little disappointing.
The circular earbuds certainly look the part, but are plagued by some baffling choices – the infuriating carry case design, the mediocre sound quality, and the annoying adjusting fit.
However, there are undoubtedly moments of brilliance.
Google Assistant is scarily fast, and works like a dream on the Pixel Buds. The AI assistant brings some genuine useful functionality to the headphones. Battery life is also solid on the Bluetooth-powered earbuds.
If you own a Google Pixel 2, and have been staring longingly at fellow commuters with Apple AirPods for the last year, it’s worth giving the Google Pixel Buds a go.
But those who aren’t completely invested in the Google ecosystem – or the prospect of a completely wireless future – likely won’t get £159 worth of use from the Pixel Buds.