I’ve reviewed several audio products in my day and still have more to come. The next two products that you’ll read from me are Google Assistant focused products. So, while audio is the main reason you’ll be buying them, noting that they have been built around Google Assistant will factor into your choice. The first product I have is Google’s Pixel Buds, in-ear buds that are heavily integrated with Assistant.
First up, let’s start with the packaging. You get the small 3-inch cube with pictures of the pixel buds all over. A quick tape cut and top lift, and you’re looking at the Pixel Buds’ clamshell case in all its fabric glory. Lifting that case reveals the instruction booklets and the USB-C charging cable.
Going back to the Pixel Buds, they are just like their outer packaging in which they are smaller than you’d think. The case is nearly the length of two quarters. Opening the case presents you with the Pixel Buds and under the lid are stickers that show you how to wrap the cord in the case (once around with the excess in the middle). There are also LED status lights embedded in the case to show you the battery life of the case itself.
The Pixel Buds themselves are hard plastic in build with a nylon wrapped cable. The buds are a dual-section system with the internal part that sits in your ear and then the external section that handles the touch controls. You will see white stoppers on each side of the cord to for fitting. After lifting the Pixel Buds out of their case, you’ll also notice the charging pins that are on the bottom of the case to recharge the buds. One very important thing to note is to remove the stickers on the Buds themselves before connecting — they won’t charge until you’ve done this. After getting everything ready, connecting the Pixel Buds to the Pixel 2 XL (which is the device I used with my buds) is super easy. All you need to do is open the case, and then you should see a notification of your phone to connect. Other phones and devices require a long press on the almost indiscernible button in the bottom of the case. Any device should work nearly the same with Pixel Buds.
A lot of people complained about the fit of the Pixel Buds. Citing not entirely being in your ear and also having to use the adjustable cable loop for perfecting the fit as the main problems. I don’t find these being any issues with my pair and ears. Think of the Pixel Buds not being totally in ear akin to the way Apple’s Ear and Airpods fit. The loop can be annoying to have to fix somewhat often, but I tended to make it wide as possible then just make small when inserting them in my ear. The main issue I found was that the Buds after several hours (4ish) were uncomfortable in my ear, likely due to the hard plastic.
Google didn’t include many specs about their Pixel Buds except for weight and battery life. They are light, so weight isn’t that much of a concern, but battery life is the main issue with wireless earbuds. According to Google, “a single charge of Google Pixel Buds gives you up to 5 hours of listening time”. The case also can charge the Buds about five times.
Now on to, potentially the second most important feature of the Pixel Buds, the audio. Google does a lot of managing here to get the Pixel Buds to sound the way they want to. Their equalization attempts aren’t particularly bad, but it can affect the music you listen to — mainly newly produced stuff. I would go so far to say that anything produced after the Millenium sounds full, while pre-2000 sounds a bit muted.
In specifics, there are a couple of traits of audio we can discuss here. First off, let’s go ahead and say that bass is non-existent, but it was a cute attempt. Next, for a lot of modern music, the soundstage is decently spacious, which was very enjoyable. For highs and mids, Google’s equalization will make a lot of songs sound very good. With all that said, nothing seemed particular clearer or fuller or better, but at least audio had a considerable amount of work done to it. Google doesn’t offer any specs concerning audio though – unfortunately.
My favorite audio feature of the Pixel Buds deals with the fact that these aren’t ear-canal sealing earbuds. Similar to open-back headphones, you’ll be able to hear your environment around you. This is particularly helpful if you’re a city-dweller or are around others a lot. I did a majority of my review testing during CES, so having the Pixel Buds added a background soundtrack to my world. I could have a one-on-one conversation with someone, all the while hearing music lowly but distinctly.
The real reason someone is looking to buy Pixel Buds over the numerous other wireless in-ear buds available is its brains. They were one of the first earphones built with Google Assistant inside. You can access Google Assistant by holding down on the right earbud and talking; you don’t even have to say “Ok, Google.” With that set, you can ask the Pixel Buds anything you would typically ask your phone. Weather information, movie times, setting a timer, anything. You can also double tap the right earbud to have the Buds read out the time and any new notifications –which is quite handy. The only issue here is that sometimes the Pixel Buds randomly hang up on commands, but they work far more than they don’t.
I didn’t test out one of the highlight features of the Pixel Buds too much, that is the real-time translation. The one time I did try it out, it merely brought up the Google Translate app on my phone to work. Using the Buds may help the listener but won’t do anything for the foreign speaker.
I don’t think there’s much wrong with the Pixel Buds, but there are a few changes that Google can make to the second generation to significantly improve them. First off, change the loop fit to a more traditional and consistent wing-tip style fit. Next, definitely enhance audio quality especially in the low-end space. Lastly, make the right earbud not as accidentally sensitive if possible — I end up pausing or playing my music all the time just by adjusting the fit.
With all that said, the Pixel Buds still come in at $160. They are available from Verizon, Best Buy, and the Google Store. They also come in 3 trendy Pixel-y colors: Kinda Blue, Clearly White, and Just Black. Somewhat expensive for what they are if you don’t include the Google Assistant connectivity.
All in all, I genuinely do enjoy the Pixel Buds, possibly because I know they are a first-gen product. They won’t replace any buds I use for merely audio listening, but to have a wearable that is potentially better than a smartwatch, the Buds are a go. Hopefully, some of the small annoyances will be fixed with the second generation, Yet, with all that said I couldn’t recommend the Pixel Buds to just everyone…Buy from VerizonBuy on Amazon
Thanks to Verizon for allowing us to review this product!