New Google Pixel Buds A-Series hands-on review

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Erin Lawrence

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Google has just updated its Pixel Buds headphones, launching the Pixel Buds A-Series. What are these headphones, what can they do, and what sets them apart from the Pixel Buds 2? I received a pair of Google Pixel Buds A ahead of their public launch, so let’s dig in in this hands-on review.

 Google Pixel Buds A-Series Review

Google Pixel Buds A-Series are are truly wireless headphones that Google calls a ‘hybrid’ between in-ear and earbud styles. The come with a battery and charging case for on-the-go use.

With custom-designed 12 mm dynamic speaker drivers, Google promises Pixel Buds A-Series will deliver the same clear, fullsome and natural sound that owners have come to expect from this product.

Two important things to know

 

There are two key things I think will matter to you. One is that Google’s knocked about a hundred bucks Canadian off the price, without cutting most features. We’ll get to those trade offs in a sec. But the other key thing is what these buds are still missing and that’s Noise Cancellation.

Noise cancellation has not been available on Pixel Buds to date and you won’t see it here either. What you do get is what Google calls Adaptive Sound.

Adaptive Sound

Google says Adaptive Sound subtly and automatically optimizes volume based on the noise level of your environment.

In practice, that means if you’re going from a quiet office to the busy street, Pixel Buds A will subtly adjust your volume to compensate. The reverse holds true if you go from loud to quiet. But more than just volume up or down, the Pixel Buds A will let you set your desired volume level, then adapt based on your chosen level; it’s not just blasting more sound for the heck of it.

I’ll touch briefly on how well this feature works right here since we’re on the subject…

It does work but it’s very subtle. You’re not going to notice a giant jump or dip in volume, it’s a lot more subtle, and it adjusts as you draw near or far from outside noise.

Google, pixel, buds, a, a-series, earbuds, headphones, newNow, while this is a cool feature, it’s still not noise cancelling, which is badly needed in Pixel Buds, in my opinion. In our work from home era, being able to drown out kids and dogs has been key, so this still sticks out as a sore spot. Even so, these buds are meant to be more budget friendly, so while Google would be shedding features to trim the price, even if Pixel Buds 2 had noise cancelling, that might not have made the budget cut for the Buds A, so… maybe I’m needlessly nitpicking.

What’s different between Google Pixel Buds 2 & Pixel Buds A?

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Pixel Buds, 2nd gen on left, Pixel Buds A-Series on right.

The Pixel Buds A are designed to, much like the a-series of Google Pixel phones, to be mostly the same product, but at a more accessible price point. Pixel Buds 2 retail for $239 while Pixel Buds A sell for $139CAD. Read my review of the Pixel Buds 2nd gen here.

Since they are substantially lower in cost, they come without a couple of features:

  • Pixel Buds A do not have Wireless charging—Buds A need to be plugged in to charge.
  • They don’t have the Attention Alerts where google can chime you if your dog is barking or the baby is crying.
  • There’s no Swipe-based gestures. Buds A use tap-based gestures only.
  • Plus the colour options are more limited.
  • They *do* have an improvement in the quick charging feature: With Pixel Buds A, a 15-minute charge of earbuds in the charging case delivers up to 3 hours of listening, while on Buds 2, you got 2 hours of listening from a 10 minute charge.

So as you can see, the features and options that have been removed aren’t deal breakers in my opinion. These were ‘nice to have’ features in the Buds 2 that most users will not miss.

Sound quality: Google Pixel Buds A-Series

Let’s get to how these sound.

Google, pixel, buds, a, a-series, earbuds, headphones, newThe noise cancelling is a big miss for me. Maybe that’s because I ended up testing these on the day my neighbour was mowing his lawn and the music was definitely competing with the outside sound bleed.

The bass is outstanding though. The Pixel Buds A-Series have some serious wallop and thump. The bass is deep and full and it adds a lot top the listening experience. Plus, the optional bass boost toggle delivers even more oomph when you need it.

Overall these sound really good, and well balanced.

Fit, feel

For all intents and purposes, these are exactly the same earbuds as the Pixel Buds 2. The shape, fit, feel, and size, are all identical.

Three sets of silicone ear tips come in the box and you can get just the right fit for your ear size and shape. While I felt I had a good fit, I could still hear outside noise; the passive sound isolation just wasn’t really there for me.

Google, pixel, buds, a, a-series, earbuds, headphones, new Even so, I really love this design because it’s so comfortable and nice to touch. The earbuds have a soft and flat design that doesn’t protrude from your ear or get caught on things, and the small silicone hook helps keep them securely in place. The charging case is a trinket all its own, with its beautiful soft matte finish and pebble shape, it’s the ultimate calming fidget talisman. Wearing Pixel Buds for extended periods is easy and comfortable.

Google Pixel Buds A-Series: Battery life & charging

The battery life is exactly the same from the Pixel Buds 2 and the new Pixel Buds A: Up to 5 hours of listening time or up to 2.5 hours of talk time. The only key change here is that fast charging is more robust as I noted earlier, and there’s no wireless or Qi charging on the new Buds A.

Features you’ll still find on Buds A: Google Assistant, Real Time Translation, Sweat & water resistant

The pixel buds a retain several features found on the more expensive pixel buds. Naturally the Google assistant is built-in for hands-free help, guidance, and question answering. The real time translation feature is also back making an appearance. I previously took a look at this feature when I reviewed the previous generation buds, and it works very well to translate languages in real time. These headphones are a total game changer if you plan to start traveling again sometime soon.

Google, pixel, buds, a, a-series, earbuds, headphones, new

Worth noting you need the Google Pixel phone for the fullest experience, since if you try to use the buds with an iPhone and the Google Translate app, it seems as though the translation won’t come through the buds; just from the phone speaker.

With these newer budget buds, you can also still get notifications for messages, emails, calendar appointments, traffic updates and more. For these notifications, a chime will play and a summary of the notification will be read.
They are also sweat and IPX4 water resistant just like the previous generation. (The case is not water-rated, just the buds)

Google, pixel, buds, a, a-series, earbuds, headphones, new Do Pixel Buds A-Series work with Apple?

I know a few Apple users who much prefer the design and comfort of Google headphones to Apple’s own. Good to know, then, that Pixel Buds A will work with Apple phones too; but not quite as seamlessly.

You’ll be missing out on features like In-ear detection and Find My Earbuds if you misplace them, as well as the in-ear translation noted earlier.

Overall Review: Google Pixel Buds A-Series

Overall I have to say I’m quite impressed. Google is finding ways to bring new users into the fold, creating budget-friendly versions of their big name devices that don’t feel like cheap knockoffs. Apple by contrast just keeps bringing out more expensive toys that seem only cater to a certain kind of person with a fat wallet.

With the Pixel Buds A-Series you’re getting 95% of the best features of Pixel Buds for almost half the price. A major bargain, in my opinion, that makes Pixel Buds A worth getting, whether you’re an Android user or otherwise.

Any downsides? I’ll harp on it again… noise cancelling. But I have no doubt we’ll see that soon in a future Pixel Buds 3 release.

Even so, I can definitely recommend the new Google Pixel Buds A-Series. They sell for an astonishingly low $139CAD. Get them from Google.

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