Google Pixel Buds review: Is it any good or should you wait for the A-series

After getting the Google Pixel 4a, Eva wants some true wireless earbuds to complement the set-up. I don’t blame her, I have been going on about how convenient my AirPods are. So with that, Google pixel buds are naturally the first ones that we look at. I am a true believer of the tech ecosystem, products made within the same ecosystem are optimised for native support and thus better user experience. Initially, we were patiently waiting for the Pixel Buds A-Series to come out given the £100 discount for minimal compromise. Then we stumble across Argos doing a deal on Pixel Buds for £109. The price difference suddenly is not that bad anymore, and with  Pixel Buds A-series still yet to come out in the UK, I pulled the trigger for the Pixel Buds. 早買早享受,遲買平幾舊 (a phrase where Hong Kong people love to use to justify their spending “You can enjoy it earlier if you get it early, but could save a few bucks if you wait for the price drop” so either way, we winning)

Appearance

First off, it feels very well built. The oval-shaped charging case is very lovely to hold. The size and matt finish is just right that makes me want to pick it up all the time. It gives me this odd satisfaction of holding a very smooth egg without having to worry I may crush it. It is so smooth that I sometimes find myself rubbing it on my face… wait what.

The magnetic lid gives a very satisfying click. I noticed the lid is slightly heavier than one of the AirPods’ charging cases. Depends on your personal choice, I prefer the flick and click I get from my AirPods… I can’t see why it would matter in your purchasing decision though, I just want to mention it for fun.

Unlike the A-series that are coming, there is only the black and white version. I enjoy the contrast and the resemblance of a panda, making the pixel buds that much more likeable.

Now, you do have to get over the fact that they look like a pair of Mentos sweet in your ears, but guess it is still better than the AirPods which looks like 2 hanging electric toothbrush heads. 

Battery life & Fit

You will get about 5 hours of continuous listening time and about 24 hours more with the charging case. Those numbers are pretty standard, on par with the AirPods from Apple. 

The integrated soft silicone wing tips slot perfectly in Eva’s ears and give her a comfortable and secure fit. But for me, it can create this odd feeling in my concha during a long period of listening, which is not sore but just a bit uncomfortable.

The Pixel Buds comes with interchangeable silicone ear tips to give a better seal for sound isolation. Like the AirPods Pro, they have integrated the venting system to prevent the eardrum sucking feeling but that also let in quite a bit of ambient noise. I mean you can argue both ways, to give you a better spatial awareness and open up the sound stage or ruin your peaceful lo-fi vibe in the coffee shop. It is actually not that bad compared to my AirPods where there is no seal at all, but worth keeping in mind as they don’t have active noise cancelling in case you might want a pair that has better passive noise-cancelling capability.

Sound quality

Google is very proud of their customised 12mm speaker drivers. And to be fair, the sound quality of the Pixel Buds is actually pretty respectable. One thing I notice straight away is the clarity. The layers are nicely separated and not muffled into a big mess. The vocal performance is crisp and clear. But the bass is rather disappointing. I am not a Beats by Dre kind of guy, but the lack of bass is a bit abrupt in the Pixel Buds. It is like looking at a painting only half-finished. But luckily, since its release, Google has updated the software and included the “Bass Boost” feature in the EQ setting. Properly utilising their big driver to push those low frequencies, now the Pixel Buds sound so much better. Not only does it add in that little oomph that it was desperately lacking, but it also makes the whole sound more complete, smoother and more syrupy to listen to.

Touch functionality

I find the control is quite intuitive. One tap to play/pause, two taps to skip, three taps to go back, long press to activate Google Assistant. Pixel Buds also have swipe for volume control which A-series lacks. What I find a bit annoying though is how sensitive it is. Unlike my AirPods that the touch area is quite small and you have to be quite purposeful to control it, the Mentos size earbuds give a massive target for any unwanted touch input. For example, a hug from Eva usually pause or skip my song or trigger Google Assistant. Or adjusting the earbud position, Google Assistant will almost certainly creep in for some action.

Nice touches

Details are important! Google has put in some nice touches on software support. Like the hands-free “Hey Google” to activate Google Assistant, Fast Pair on Android to mimic the experience of seamless pairing with AirPods on iPhones and the Attention Alerts that automatically lower the volume if it detects emergency sirens or baby cries.

Pixel Buds vs Pixel Buds A-Series

Pixel Buds A-Series were set to be released in June. But till today, you can only join the waiting list on the Google store in the UK. It is set to be released at £99 compared to the full price Pixel Buds of £179. A-series actually have very minimal compromise compared to the regular Pixel Buds. No wireless charging care, no swipe for volume control and no attention alerts and no wind reduction on call clarity. If you are getting them at full price, those are not really a compromise for a price difference of £80. But if you are quick, you might still be able to grab yourself the regular Pixel Buds of £109, only £10 difference for a few extra convenient features.

Verdict

Same as the Google Pixel 4a, on paper, it might not be the most impressive wireless earbuds out on the market but I really enjoy the sound quality produced by these little things and the satisfying case completes the whole experience. 

Although truth be told, I don’t think it is a straightforward recommendation unless you are like me and have some kind of ecosystem issue. Sitting at £109, what Pixel Buds have to offer are certainly a very good value for money if not the best at the moment. However, some issues might be a deal-breaker for some. For example, I find the fit differs from person to person and only lucky in my case that the earbuds are for Eva and they fit her very well. I personally have not experienced the connection issue described by so many yet, but it is certainly something to keep in mind. I would give it a 7/10 on the recommendation scale with the discount and a 5.5/10 at the full price of £179.

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