Review: Google Pixel Buds
Sunday, November 26, 2017 at 9:39PM
Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla in Aa, Android, Bluetooth, Breaking news, Buyers Guide, Canada, Google Pixel Buds, Headphones, Lifestyle, Mobile, Peripherals, Review, Speakers, test

By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

Few gadgets have been as anticipated as Google's Pixel Buds. These are neck buds which feature Google features and services and are Google's answer to Apple's popular and iconic AirPods.

Just like the AirPods, the Google Pixel Buds are designed to work best with the latest and greatest flagship Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones, although they make pretty good Bluetooth headphones for almost any Android and iOS smartphone.

The Pixel Buds work best with Android smartphones, specifically the Pixel 2 devices, which don't just work in tandem with the headphones but also unlock all the features like the real-time language translation.

Out of the box experience


Out of the box, Pixel Buds are very much a Google product. They're ensconced in a hip-looking grey fabric case with a monogrammed G logo. This case opens like an egg crater to reveal carefully wound and lodged Pixel Buds with their cord nimbly wrapped around the case.

There's a bit of a ritual to winding and unwinding the cord as well as placing the buds in their charging pods. Whereas the Apple AirPods gingerly drop in magnetically into their charging case, you need a bit of practice to keep or deploy the Pixel Buds. 

Google says that connecting to the Pixel Buds should be straightforward thanks to a Fast Pair feature. I found this to be hit or miss. I did manage to pair it via regular Bluetooth selection on my Pixel 2 once but needed to press the small button in the case. 

The Pixel Buds case charges via a USB Type-C port, which means you can use your Pixel 2 charger or any charger from any Android device made in the past two years to juice up your buds.

Fit and comfort


The Pixel Buds themselves are one size fits all, they use part of the cord as a regulator to help fit better but getting them to fit is a bit of a chore. Since they don't plug all the way in your ear canal, they feel precariously situated. This is also the reason why they don't do a very good job of isolating ambient noise and require you to increase the volume to hear what you're listening to in public.

In my experience, Pixel Buds are not comfortable for prolonged wear. They may be fine for a 40-minute bus ride or 30 minutes in the gym, but my ears start hurting from wearing them around 20 minutes. Your results may vary, all ears are different, but ear fatigue is a factor. 

As someone who uses headphones in cramped commuting situations, I find it is best to just let the Pixel Buds hang on my neck and plug them into my ears as needed. Getting them in and out of the case isn't the best experience in a confined space.  

Sound quality and control


Audio quality for the Pixel Buds is generally good. You get ample loudness and depth, which means music from these headphones aren't tinny. For pop, hip-hop and rock music, you'll get surprising depth and bass, it’s a bit trickier if you like subtler genres like vocal, jazz, classical or instrumentals.

Since I use headphones mostly for news and podcasts as well as to listen to Audiobooks, sound quality and loudness was just fine. Pixel Buds also have a pretty good connection, even in known dead spots they maintained an acceptable condition. Being a wired set ensures that both L and R buds are in synch.

The R earbud also has a capacitive volume control and button for invoking Google Assistant. The volume control right on the bud was very accurate and intuitive and something that is missing from competing devices like AirPods and Jaybird Run.

Assistant on Tap

For me, the best feature of Google's Pixel Buds is Google Assistant on tap. More than just being able to talk to Google Assistant to run searches or take or make calls, there's an interesting proactive element at work here.

Pixel Buds will tell you the time, read out notifications as they come in as well as serve many of the functions of Google Home. This is really like having a computer in your ear and makes the idea of a personal assistant even more intimate. 

I know AirPods supposedly have 'Hey, Siri' on tap, but this never worked for me. I can't even get AirPods to start playing audio by tapping on them, much less try and Siri commands.

How valuable this is to users really depends on their familiarity and comfort level with Google Assistant as well as how wide their 'hands-free' need is. For me, this feature was the revelation that made the Pixel Buds a distinct and notable product.

One of the cool demos for Pixel Buds is Google Translate, which allows you to use the buds and a Pixel 2 to speak to and translate conversations in over 40 languages. There's a fair amount of artificial intelligence involved, so you need to have a fast Internet connection to have real-time translation. This is a cool and useful way to use the technology, however it is something you can do with most smartphones using the Google Translate app for free.

Pixel Buds do make a more natural conduit for Google Translate and likely have some technology built-in to make translations happen faster, but they're certainly not a critical piece to the experience.

Conclusion


I really wanted to like the Google Pixel Buds, I like the ideas they represent, specially having Google Assistant on hand, which, when it works, is downright cool. 

The basic requirements for any headphone are that they need to fit well and sound good. Pixel Buds sound very good for pop music but may not satisfy for more nuanced genres. As for the fit, that's going to be an issue for some users.

A pair of headphones in this price range should fit most users without issues (AirPods) or at least offer different options for ear tips and wings (most premium Bluetooth headphones). Pixel Buds may or may not fit you well. 

Battery life and quick charging via USB Type-C are a definite plus and offer a long running time and the ability to quickly add hours in minutes.

Pixel Buds are the best implementation of a smart assistant and A.I. on a device that's not a smart speaker and the potential here is tremendous. Pixel Buds still feel a little undercooked as a competitor to Apple's AirPods. The case and cord are inelegant, and some users will have an issue with fit and comfort.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Article originally appeared on Reviews, News and Opinion with a Canadian Perspective (http://www.canadianreviewer.com/).
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