Google has been dominating the market with launches of many products in the last year. From Google Home, the smart digital assistant, to their PixelBook Chromebook laptop, and of course the Pixel2 Android smartphone, Google is trying to integrate itself into every aspect of your life.
When the Pixel2 smartphone launched it was revealed it had no aux jack for headphones, so naturally, Google needed a pair of headphones that would fill the gap. Pixel Buds are Google’s semi-wireless headphones. They are small, in-ear headphones that are connected to each other with a single small neckband wire. They connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth, providing a hassle and tangle-free wireless option. I had a chance to spend several weeks with Pixel Buds, testing them with with both Android and Apple devices.
Review of Google Pixel Buds
Pixel Buds have a unique look. For starters, their super-small, cloth covered charging case is soft, charming and very portable, fitting easily in a pocket. The buds tuck into small indentations inside the case and the cable (a durable woven cable) wraps securely around a cleat so it’s tidy and tangle-free. There’s also small ropey loops on the buds themselves that help to keep them in place in your ear. That’s a nice touch and does actually make them feel more secure – though not immoveable. The loops are adjustable to give you a better fit.
Google Pixel Buds Set up
Getting the Pixel Buds set up is dead easy. You’ll want to make sure they’re fully charged before you begin the set up and pairing process. You can assess the charging status by opening the charging case and looking for the small, nearly invisible light in the top left corner of the bottom of the case. If it’s orange, your battery is low. If it’s green, you’re good.
To pair Pixel Buds on an Android Phone:
- Turn on Bluetooth
- On your mobile device’s Home screen, tap Settings > Connected Devices > Bluetooth.
- Turn on Bluetooth.
- Pair Google Pixel Buds to your mobile device by opening the charging case next to your phone with the Google Pixel Buds still inside.
If your Pixel Buds are outside of the case, put them back in, matching the L & R indicator of the Pixel Buds to the charging pods. Once they’re in, press down to make sure the charging pins have good contact. A green LED light will appear to indicate that the Pixel Buds are charging.
If you see one white LED pulsing , your device is ready to pair.
- Look for a pop-up notification on your phone that will take you through the rest of set up.
That didn’t happen for me using the Pixel 2. I needed to push and hold the Case Button (on the top right of the inside of the base of the case. It’s tiny, almost totally flat and the same colour as the case lining.) in order for it to pop up in the Bluetooth menu. But once I did, and tapped to connect, I was paired instantly.
To pair Google Pixel Buds with Apple iPhone
- Open your charging case and look for the nearly invisible “Case Button” as mentioned above on the top right of the inside of the base of the case. Press and hold it until the lights flash white.
- Go to your phone’s Bluetooth menu, and watch for Pixel Buds to appear, then tap to connect.Somewhat annoyingly, there appears to be no way to turn the headphones off, so Google recommends disconnecting them from Bluetooth when you’re done:
How to turn off Google Pixel Buds:
- Open your mobile device’s Settings.
- Tap Connected devices > Bluetooth.
- Next, tap on your Google Pixel Buds in the paired devices list.
- When asked to disconnect your phone from your Pixel Buds, tap OK.
Pixel Buds connect fast
I have to say that the Pixel Buds connected to my phone faster than any wireless headphones I’ve tried. The second they were out of the charging case, they were reconnected to my Apple iPhone 8, and I was listening to music, radio and podcasts.
After flipping back and forth, it seems you can’t connect the Pixel Buds to both an iPhone and Android at the same time. After I connected to my Pixel 2 phone, I needed to re-pair them to the iPhone again. It took seconds, but it’s worth knowing.
Listen to music, make phone calls
With the Pixel Buds, you’ve got options; you can of course listen to music, but there’s a built in microphone so you can make calls. You can also use the mic to summon the Google Assistant on your phone, but only if you’re running an Android phone. An integrated touchpad on the right ear bud gives you control over the assistant — just push and hold to make your request.
Pixel Buds are compatible with both Apple and Android phones:
~Android 5.0 Lollipop or higher
~iOS 10.0 or higher
For phone to access the Google Assistant:
~Android 6.0 Marshmallow or higher and other requirements.
Charging & Battery life – Google Pixel Buds
The Pixel Buds charge inside their case. You need to make sure the copper contact points on the headphones connect to the ones inside the small divots of the case. You might need to give them a bit of a twist to make sure they are connected. There’s no click or anything to confirm they’re in place, but the light will start to glow once the connection is solid, but only when you close the lid and open it again.
It takes a bit of finessing to make sure they’re charging, but it’s easy once you get the hang of it.
The Pixel Buds should give you 5 hours of listening time on a charge. The case is said to hold 24 more hours of charge. During my testing, I connected the headphones and let them run for a few hours. The first test I did they ran almost exactly 4 hours. The second timed test I ran, they played online radio for just over 5 hours. Impressive.
Using the Touchpad
The touchpad is designed to summon the Google Assistant if you push and hold it, while a short tap on the right earbud allows you to play or pause. The pad, because it’s part of the entire bud, is freakishly touchy, and I find I’m turning the music on and off as I’m trying to get the buds firmly into my ears.
Google Pixel Buds – Fit & feel
The design of these earbuds is not for a perfect fit or a tight seal. Instead the Pixel Buds sit in the ear concha (I learned some new anatomy words today). They’re a medium size and comfortably smooth and seam-free. The tether that connects the two buds is covered in a ropey cloth wrap.
While it’s possible to get a more secure fit with the adjustable loops (the loops tuck into the folds of your ear to help hold them in place), you’ll never get a noise isolating seal with these (again, that’s not really the objective of these), and I found they did pop out rather easily because the loops aren’t as stiff as they probably should be. Maybe the ear loops could be rubberized? Some folks may like that loose and open style of earbud, but it’s not my personal preference.
Google says Pixel Buds are designed for high-quality audio and fit comfortably in your ear. They are definitely comfortable; they’re smooth, appropriately sized so they don’t feel tight and don’t feel like they’re sticking out of my ears inordinately.
Sound quality of Google Pixel Buds
I tested the Pixel Buds out over several weeks, listening to music, podcasts and more at home, while travelling, and at work.
- No Roots – Alice Merton
- Digging a Hole – Big Sugar
- Beautiful – Pharell
- Poets – Tragically Hip
- High – Sir Sly
- Long Train Running – Doobie Brothers
The first thing I noticed was the bass; BOOM. There is some serious punch in these. The bassline in No Roots was clear and deeply resonant while the vocals carried over it with no distortion. It was great.
I noticed the tambourine for the first time ever in Long Train Running and the guitar really sounded clear and realistic; like I was in the room with it.
Overall I found the Pixel Buds gave a clear, well balanced sound, and I didn’t lose as much quality to the fit as I feared. There was also no high end tinniness, and no bone rattling with the bass. It was a pleasant, all around great listening experience that covered all the bases for me.
I was a bit surprised at how good these sounded and how much I liked them.
Call quality of Google Pixel Buds
When testing the Pixel Buds out on phone calls, my callers said my voice was clear, and to me they sounded good too. Where things didn’t perform well was when background noise factored in. A TV running in the background was very noticeable to my callers, as was music, which was labelled “a bit distracting”.
Google Translation feature
A fascinating feature of the Pixel Buds is the real time translation function. To use it you must have a Pixel or a Pixel 2 phone. You also need the most up-to-date version of the Google Translate app.
Here’s how to make it work… Essentially you use the app to talk and the Assistant translates the words spoken instantly.
Translate using the translate app
Open the Translate app.
Step 1: Select your languages: (In the top left corner, choose which language will be spoken into the Pixel Buds. In the top right corner, choose the language that will be spoken into the phone as a reply.)
Step 2: Tap the microphone in the center of the card to begin conversation mode. Begin your conversation
Your phone will then translate what you said in your selected language, so the other person can understand it.
To translate using the earbuds:
While you are wearing Google Pixel Buds, touch & hold the right earbud to invoke your Google Assistant.
Tell you Google Assistant to help you interpret a language. For example, say “Help me interpret Spanish.”
This will launch Google Translate in conversation mode with the pair of your default language and the language that you request. (You will likely be prompted to download and install Google Translate if this is your first time)
Note that the words you use make a difference. “Help me understand Spanish” doesn’t work (you get a google search result for Spanish tips) so be sure to issue the command correctly, “Help me interpret Spanish.”
You use the app and the headphones to ask a question in your language. Google will translate it, then play the audio version back over the Pixel 2’s speaker. You can see the written translation on your phone. The voice over the speaker even has a perfect accent.
Translation works very well
I’m fluent in Spanish and tried it out in both Spanish and English and it was really, really good, fast and very freakishly accurate. I’m definitely bringing this device to Morocco when I visit. It will likley also come in handy in Portugal.
Overall review of Google Pixel Buds
Overall, I think these headphones are pretty good. The sound quality is outstanding, and a lot better than I would have given them credit for before the test.
The charging case is nice and the long battery life is impressive for sure. It’s also a plus that you can use these with Apple phones too. I didn’t care for the loose, floating fit and felt that the loops, while they helped keep them in place, didn’t do enough to hold them in my ear.
There’s also their price. The PixelBuds sell for $219 CAD/$159US. That’s more than the Rockstone Audio Rockpods I reviewed recently (about $120 CAD) and the Jabra Elite Sport ($200 CAD), both of which in my opinion provide a superior fit and comparable audio quality. They are, however, they same price as Apple AirPods which provide a similarly open fit.
Overall, if you’re hip to the Google ecosystem and want to stay in it, you’ll probably be pretty happy with these. If you’re looking to drown out the world around you, you’ll likely be disappointed in the fit. While I didn’t mind my experience with the Pixel Buds, and indeed grew to like them I think I’d recommend one of the other options above for a superior fit and feel, and a lower price.
Google Pixel Buds Pros & Cons
- Amazing battery life
- Nice compact charging case
- Fast & easy connection, even to Apple
- Translation feature
- Surprisingly great sound quality
- Comfortable fit
- Loose fit (no noise isolation)
- High price
- Touchy touch pad
Google Pixel Buds are available from Google and stores like Best Buy.