Google Pixel Buds Review Roundup: Forward-Thinking Features with a Few Quirks

Google Pixel Buds in the Mint colorwayJustin Duino

In the tired world of true wireless earbuds, Google’s new mint-shaped Pixel Buds stand out as something new and unique. They emphasize usability and hands-free control, with full Google Assistant integration and the best automatic Android pairing to date. Among reviewers, the consensus is clear: Google Pixel Buds are a groundbreaking product.

But the Pixel Buds aren’t perfect. As Becca Farsace at The Verge mentions in her video review, they feel “like a 1st gen product.” For the price, they lack common features like ANC and custom EQ options, and some reviewers complain that there isn’t enough bass—a consequence of Pixel Buds’ impressively compact, comfortable size.

Throughout this article, we’re going to look at what early reviewers have to say about the Pixel Buds. But first, let’s take a quick look at the Pixel Buds’ raw specs:

  • Small vented design with in-ear hooks
  • IPX4 water-resistance rating
  • 12-millimeter speaker drivers
  • Hands-free Google Assistant controls
  • Adaptive Sound to automatically adjust volume
  • 4 or 5-hour earbud battery, 24-hour charging case battery
  • 10-minute fast charge for 2 hours of listening
  • USB-C charging, Qi wireless charging
  • Ear-detection pauses music when you pull out the buds

Alright, let’s get into the weeds. Here’s what early reviewers have to say about the new Pixel Buds.

The Best Hands-Free and Touch Controls

Google is the king of smart speakers, and the company’s experience with products like the Google Nest Mini has clearly influenced its approach to the Pixel Buds. In a way, the Pixel Buds are like a portable version of the Google Nest Mini, with hands-free Google Assistant and intuitive touch controls. They also have automatic pairing and Adaptive Sound features, which reduce the time that you spend fidgeting with your phone.

Full hands-free Google Assistant integration is the prominent feature here, and I think that Becca Farsace details it best in her video for The Verge:

Coming from the Google-connected world that I already live in, I’m just so used to shouting commands to the Assistant without having to touch anything. So on the go I was setting alarms, answering text messages, changing the song, changing the playlist, and even turning on the lights while I was on my bike rolling up to my house, all without touching a single thing.

Even if you aren’t a big Google Assistant fan with a decked-out smart home, hands-free Assistant is groundbreaking. You don’t have to scramble for your phone or hold down the side of your earbuds just to write out a quick reminder or send a quick text. Additionally, hands-free controls can keep you from touching your face or phone while in public—a feature that seems invaluable during a global pandemic.

Google’s robust touch and gesture controls also pretty impressive, especially for people who don’t want to use Assistant for every volume adjustment or track skip. These touch controls are similar to what you’ll find in a Google Nest Hub, and they translate well to the Pixel Buds. Sherri L. Smith at LaptopMag says that the Pixel Buds’ touch controls are “the best take on wireless earbuds touch controls I’ve had the pleasure of using,” and most reviewers agree with her sentiment.

Here’s a quick paragraph from Todd Haselton at CNBC that explains how the touch controls work:

I like that I can easily control the volume by sliding my finger forward or backward across either the left or right pod. If I tap it once, I get notifications. Those touch controls extend into calls and music controls, too. A single tap answers or ends a call. A double-tap skips songs forward, and a triple tap skips songs back.

And of course, the Pixel Buds have automatic pairing and Adaptive Sound features. According to reviewers, the automatic pairing works as expected—just open the Pixel Buds case next to an Android 6.0 phone, press a notification, and you’re good to go. But Adaptive Sound is, in Sherri L. Smith’s words, “rather subtle.” As your environment gets louder, the Pixel Buds turn up the volume “just enough to gently shut out the noise.” Most reviewers note that Adaptive Sound is a weak stand-in for ANC—a feature that isn’t available on the Pixel Buds.

High Quality Sound, But Nothing Groundbreaking

Google Pixel Buds in every colorway and caseJustin Duino

Reviewers seem split on the Pixel Buds’ sound quality. Most agree that the sound is clear and crisp, with good separation of high and lows and none of the pesky muddiness that you find in cheaper earbuds. But because of the Pixel Buds’ small form factor and lack of ANC, they don’t reach the audiophile-level of units like the Sony WF-1000XM3 or the Jabra Elite 75t.

I think MrMobile says everything you need to know in his video review:

I’m like most people with my audio. I know what sounds good, and I know what sounds thin. [The Pixel Buds] are the former. They get rich, and they get loud.

The only serious complaint about sound quality that I’ve seen comes from Chris Welch at The Verge, who notes that the “bass is the weakness of these earbuds,” and that “low end isn’t going to thrill if you mainly listen to EDM, funk, metal, or other genres that are heavy on low tones.” Billy Steele from Engadget echos this claim, stating that “low-end gets slightly lost in some genres like metal, electronic and hip-hop.” Of course, if you prefer a clear sound over the bass-heavy tone of some modern speakers, then this may be more of a feature than a flaw.

Google could add EQ controls to the Pixel Buds with a future software update, which might resolve some complaints about bass. But as of right now, the company hasn’t published plans to do so.

One last note—reviewers spend a lot of effort talking about the Pixel Bud’s beam-forming mics and accelerators. This fancy tech helps the earbuds retain a consistent call quality, and you can see it in action during Becca Farsace’s video review. From what I’ve seen, the mic quality of these earbuds isn’t that special, but it’s acceptable for voice or video calls.

A Small Form-Factor, Acceptable Battery Life

The Pixel Buds have an incredibly small form factor that’s comparable to the AirPods. But unlike most earbuds, they actually look kinda cool. They come in a variety of colors, they don’t stick too far out of your ear, and their charging case is fairly discreet. Most reviewers note that the Pixel Buds stay in your ear while exercising or changing clothes, which is a rare thing to hear during an earbud review.

Here’s a line from MrMobile’s review that stuck out to me:

[The Pixel Buds case] takes the matte finish of the Pixel 4 a step further into eggshell territory—in fact it really feels like an egg. Of course, it’s much thinner than egg, you can even slot it into a coin pocket, and despite that small footprint it packs a battery that can recharge the buds more than four times.

Surprisingly, MrMobile is one of the few reviewers who says something nice about the Pixel Buds’ battery life. With a 4 to 5-hour bud life and 24 hours of additional power from the charging case, the Pixel Buds are technically out of date. Similarly priced products, like the Jabra Elite 7t, have 7 or 8-hour bud life, with an additional 28 to 30-hours from the case. Heck, even cheaper earbuds, like the $80 Creative Outlier Air, have a bigger battery than the Pixel Buds.

But to be perfectly honest, a 4 to 5-hour bud life is fine for a lot of people. Even if you drain the Pixel Buds during a Netflix binge or exceptionally long workout, a quick 10-minute charge will grant you an extra 2-hours of playtime, so it isn’t as big a deal as some people make it out to be.

The Gist: Premium Earbuds for the Masses

Google Pixel Bugs in the Orange, Mint, and Black colorwaysJustin Duino

I think that the Pixel Buds will appeal to a wide array of people, as they address the common issues that people experience while using wireless earbuds. They can operate hands-free, so you don’t need to pull out your phone. They’re small and stylish, and they won’t fall out of your ear or make you look like an idiot. And with full Google Assistant integration, they’re the only serious pair of earbuds for crazed smart home fans.

The issues that reviewers have with the Pixel Buds, like the limited bass response or the 4 to 5-hour battery life, are usually mentioned as a footnote to some form of praise. So if you’re just an average person who wants a good pair of earbuds, I wouldn’t take these complaints to heart.

But if you’re an audiophile or someone who listens to music for 6 hours straight, then you should seriously consider these complaints before buying the Pixel Buds. Similarly priced earbuds, like the Jabra Elite 75, might offer the sound and battery life that you’re looking for. But of course, you’ll miss out on the Pixel Buds’ form-factor and hands-free controls.

Reviews Cited: CNBCEngadget, LaptopMag, MrMobile (YouTube)The Verge, The Verge (YouTube)

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