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.

Fujifilm X-Pro 1 review: How is the 10 years old camera still getting so much attention in 2021?

If you have read the previous blog or seen some of the Instagram photos, you might have seen the new addition to my Fujifilm family, the Fujifilm X-Pro 1. But why go after a camera that was released back in March 2012, almost 10 years ago? It’s all rooted in my exploration of film photography. Films have this unique, nostalgic aesthetic that provokes the feeling of “the good old days”. I enjoy the colour rendering of the film but film photography is a dangerous game. We are talking about £10 a roll, with developing and scanning costs on top, let alone the price of a film camera these days. It adds up quickly. So I was intrigued when people are raving about the first-gen X-Trans sensor renders colours like film. For £200, I did not regret pulling the trigger.

Spec

Sensor23.6 x 15.6mm; 16.3MP (1.5x crop factor) APS-C X-Trans 1st Gen CMOS
Resolution4896 x 3264
ISO (extended)200 – 6400 (100 – 25,600)
Lens MountFujifilm x mount
Weather SealingNo
Shutter1/4000 to 30 second
Storage1x SD slot (SD/SDHC/SDXC)
ViewfinderHybrid multi-viewfinder (100% coverage in EVF)
Continuous shooting6 FPS
LCD screen3”
VideoFull 1080p HD @ 24fps
BatteryNP-W126
Weight400g (exclude battery)
Price at launch£1429
Price @ 2021£200-350 (depending on conditions) mpb.com / eBay

Construction, style and handle

Fujifilm X-Pro1 was the first of the “pro” line aimed at the high-end photography market. It is very well built with a full magnesium alloy frame. The magnesium alloy allows the camera to be extremely lightweight. It was a bit of an odd feeling when I pick up the X-Pro 1 for the first time and felt how light it was compared to my X-T3. It was not weather-proofed but they handle Ireland’s condition just fine with me.

One thing I am a bit puzzled though is the tripod mount location. It is right next to the battery compartment which is also where your SD card lives. With the mount being so close to the battery flap, if you have installed a tripod plate, you won’t be able to open the battery compartment to change the battery or SD card without taking the plate off first. That’s just unnecessary faff…

Style

One thing that the X-Pro line attracts me is its rangefinder-style design. The rectangular shape without the viewfinder hump makes the silhouette cleaner. The “showing your face while shooting” style do slowly grows on you. Something about showing your face makes you a bit more approachable and less intrusive as a photographer. One thing to remember though, it is a rangefinder STYLE camera, NOT a rangefinder camera. There is no rangefinder coupling to the viewfinder so you can’t manual focus with the OVF, you will have to switch to EVF to check if you are in focus. Although Fujifilm has made it relatively easy to do, just something to keep in mind.

Handling

Also, there are a lot of buttons at the back which made changing settings very easy. Although I am not sure about some of their placement. Such as the AF button for changing the AF point, is placed at the left bottom corner of the screen far away from somewhere you can reach with your right thumb for a quick selection change. Fujifilm also limits the customisation of the buttons. The up button is permanently set for “macro” mode and the left and right buttons are for shutter speed despite already having a dedicated shutter selection at the top. The only buttons you can customise is the Fn button and the down button which I have set ISO and WB selections.

As with all rangefinder camera, what you are seeing through the OVF is not exactly what your lens see because it’s off to the side. It creates something called the parallax effect. The effects are stronger when the subjects are closer to your camera. It ultimately affects your composition, therefore rangefinder is not for everyone.

This camera is created with photographer in mind. More specifically, street photographer. All of the features are photography focus. Even though it is capable of take video, it feels like more of an after thought.

X-Trans CMOS 1

One that has been regarded as “legendary” and “most film-like sensor”, the X-Pro 1 has the first generation X-Trans CMOS sensor. Compared to the “traditional” Bayer sensor, X-Trans doesn’t need the extra anti-aliasing filter which supposedly means it renders a sharper image. However, I am not after the “supposedly sharper” images because truth be told, I am not 100% convinced. If anything, possibly because of the low megapixel sensor, I feel the X-Pro 1 render images with this distinctive “softness” that I really like, more natural and less digital. 

Another thing that people rave about is the “film-like” rendering. I have to say, I am very impressed, so much so that I only shoot JPEG with the X-Pro 1. The colour, highlight from this sensor has this unique, natural roll off that reminds me of film. High ISO performance is of course not as good as the newer model, but that’s what I was looking for as well. Because of the X-Trans having a more random colour filter array pattern, the grain it produces has a more organic look to it and more comparative to film than the digital noise.

Focus

Autofocus

It is slow. We have come to expect split-second AF, eye tracking and all these advances over the years. So deprived of all the technological advancement, X-Pro 1 AF system is of course expected to be slow. Even with my XF 35mm F2, the X-Pro 1 takes time to focus and have to hunt a bit before deciding on the subject. When I had the 7Artisans 25mm F1.8 lens on, I sometimes find manual focus can be faster than the autofocus.

It is a bad point if you are after a “modern” camera that has all the fancy AF system, you shouldn’t be looking for a 10-year-old camera anyway. But because the AF is slow, it forces you to be slow and more intentional. It actually compliments the “film camera experience” even better.

Manual focus

As I said above, it is a rangefinder-style camera, not a rangefinder. Therefore you cannot manually focus with the OVF and have to rely on the EVF. The focus peaking feature is certainly welcomed, but unlike the newer camera that you can choose focus peaking colour, X-Pro 1 comes with the white line. It is very difficult to see especially in broad daylight. It is only helpful if you are shooting black and white or nighttime photography. Other times, the 3x or 10x focus magnifier which you can bring up by pressing the thumbwheel is much better to help with focus check.

XF lens mount

Fuji X mount is such a versatile mount. Fujifilm has already had decent selections of native Fujinon lenses. And with the popularity of Fujifilm grows and X-Mount opening up to 3rd party lenses for AF, there will only be more and more reasonably priced lenses that produce a tremendously amazing image. Apart from the AF lenses, MF prime lenses also complement the small camera body very well. In fact, you can adapt the vintage lenses from your film camera on the X-Pro 1, get the best of both film and the digital world. A slow film-like shooting experience, but don’t have to sell your kidney for film stocks.

Verdict

ProsCons
Rangefinder-styleNo weather seal
Hybrid EVFMinimal customisation on buttons
Legendary X-Trans 1 – a film-like colour and grainParallax effect from rangefinder style
Slow and intentional like a film cameraIn the digital world, it’s ancient
<£300 Video feature feels like an afterthought

In the digital camera world, 9 years is a very long time. The technology advancement can be light-years apart. Despite that, Fujifilm X-Pro1 stands in a unique position that we are seeing prices go up rather than down in recent years. With film photography being more popular again, X-Pro 1 has been identified to be the most “film-like” digital camera. From the image it renders with its X-Trans 1 sensor to the whole shooting experience with its rangefinder styling and tactile buttons and dials, it has the same attraction as film photography attracts the newer generation photographer. It slows us down in the manic world. Obviously, the film-like colour and grain rendering also appeal to the trend. To complete the feel, you can even find a 1GB SD card and limit yourself to 36 exposure. I find myself recently picking up the X-Pro1 more than my X-T3. It’s not because the X-T3 can’t do what the X-Pro1 can, it’s quite the opposite. I don’t always need the extra power from the X-T3, on my day-to-day life documentary work, I want to strip it back down to the bare minimum, enjoy the process and be more intentional.