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.

Google Pixel 4a review: The most under-rated mid-tier phone

Recently found myself looking for a new smartphone although not for myself but for my partner. Her Samsung Galaxy S7 edge finally gave up on her. Got it back in 2016, survived a million drops with only a small crack to the front screen, it decided one day to over-heat and stop working completely. Probably consider herself lucky that it didn’t explode consider Samsung’s reputation around the time when S7 is released (RIP Note 7). Given my favourite spent time is browsing the web to find tech gadgets, I was tasked to find her a new phone with fairly simple criteria: less than £400, reasonable size as girls have no pockets, take good photos and fast enough for her smartphone usage which is Pinterest and Whatsapp. So I got to work and decided on the most unassuming smartphone on the market – Google’s pixel 4a. Here is why…

Mid-tier phone

The mid-tier phone market, phones that are £300-500 mark, is arguably the most competitive and therefore the most colourful. Each phone sacrifice different functionality to compete in this field, creating a more dynamic and interesting range. Unlike the flagship phone market where they just put everything in: the latest chip, more camera lens and bigger and brighter screen. 4 phones caught my eyes: Xiaomi Poco F3, iPhone SE, Samsung A52 5G and of course the Google Pixel 4a.

Spec

 Poco F3Pixel 4aiPhone SEA52 5G
Price£289£299£399£399
ProcessorSD 870SD 730GA13SD 750G
Battery (mAh)45203140No mention4500
DisplayRefresh rate6.67” AMOLED120Hz5.8” FHD+ OLED60Hz4.7” Retina HD60Hz6.5” AMOLED120Hz
Release dateMar ‘21Aug ‘20Apr ‘20Mar ‘21

Why Google Pixel 4a

From the get-go, Pixel 4a does not stand out at all on paper. Not the fastest chip, not the best display, pretty small battery and not the latest phone available either. Xiaomi Poco F3 wins in literally every category, from the price to the hardware. They offer the fastest processor SnapDragon 8 series, the largest battery and an amazing display. But what pushes me to Pixel is the stock Android, amazing camera and the perfect screen size in a sub £300 package.

Review – what’s good

1.    Plastic build means light and no worry for cracked glass

The phone has a matt finished plastic back. It makes the phone very light. It also means there is no need for a phone case as you don’t have to worry about dropping and cracking the glass. I wish I am brave enough to use my iPhone without a case, but the thought of dropping it and having to pay the premium, I will just have to accept the inferior hand feel.

2.    Full-screen OLED

There are a lot of android phones that have a full-screen display with a punch-hole front-facing camera. It just makes the phone nicer to look at. Especially she is coming from the Galaxy S7 edge which had a big forehead and a big chin. Even I am super happy with my iPhone X, I can’t help but still feel jealous of the quality of the OLED display.

3.    Snappy UI

Stock Android is the best Android. It doesn’t have any junk 3rd party app dragging it down. It is smooth and intuitive. They also come with 3 years guarantee of Android updates.

I have not recently used a Xiaomi device, but I had a tablet from Xiaomi previously. Their UI is just too clunky with tonnes of unwanted apps installed on them. On top of that, the fact that Xiaomi is a Chinese company and having witnessed what the Chinese government is capable of doing, I am just not that comfortable with that idea. Hardware in all those 4 phones are more than enough for my partner, it is therefore down to the software experience. Samsung’s One UI is pretty minimal as well but there is no need for the extra spec that comes with that extra £100. She doesn’t want an iPhone as the forehead and chin are off-putting for 2021.

4.    Good looking

I don’t know what it is, but I like the square bump at the back of Pixel 4a better than the straight line camera module from the other phones. I have an iPhone X with has 2 lenses in the top-down configuration, but nowadays phones that have 3 or 4 lenses that also go top-down configuration just looks terrible in my opinion. Pixel 4a has only one camera so it shouldn’t need the square bump but I kind of dig the look. Minimal logo with a stealthy “G” that goes nicely with the matt black finish but have a hint of colour with their contrasty minty green/blue button, all very minimalistic.

Not a huge fan

1.    The fingerprint sensor at the back

It is at a good place when you pick up the phone as your index finger are just there. But it also means you have to pick up your phone. You can’t do the lazy just glancing your phone on the table thing. Well, you can, just have to type in the bloody pin.

2.    Mat finish is slippery

My partner just doesn’t care about tech gear. Little attention is paid to where the phone is placed so the phone is on the floor more than in her pocket. With the matt plastic finish, it is even more likely for it to slide out of her pocket or drop from her hands. The back is plastic but the screen is still glass, so it is just a matter of time.

Verdict

Overall, I think Google’s Pixel 4a is highly under-rated. Because on paper they are not the most impressive one and in the sea of mid-tier phone, it is easy to forget. But for my partner it is the best phone – good price, good size, more than enough power and have an amazing camera that does wonderful things with just software.

Who I would recommend it to: if you want a smartphone that has a good balance of price and quality. Takes good photos without the gimmick fuss, good user experience, only need the phone for basic things like texting, phone calls and media consumption and a reasonable size phone that still fits in your jean pocket.

Who I would say look elsewhere: If you game intensely on your phone. You want the absolute best hardware for the money or you don’t like Android.