Pixel Buds Review: I’ll Be Sticking With These

Google Pixel Buds Review

DROID LIFE Editor's ChoiceThis new generation of Google Pixel Buds is an attempt by Google to right a whole bunch of wrongs from the original pair that was released in 2017. For the new Pixel Buds, Google removed the wire and made them truly wireless, they made pairing even quicker, introduced a case that shouldn’t be as obnoxious to use, and put a focus on comfort. The sound should be better too, as well as the Google Assistant integration.

Did they nail all of that? I kind of think so. After spending the last week with the Google Pixel Buds (2nd Gen) in ear, these are my thoughts and this is our Pixel Buds review.

Google Pixel Buds Review

Sound

I’m admittedly no audio expert, so apologies if this section isn’t going to satisfy LG DAC Bro. Here’s what I can tell you about the Pixel Buds and their sound: they sound quite good, possibly very good for a pair of true wireless earbuds.

As someone who has used true wireless earbuds from a variety of manufacturers (Samsung, Jaybird, Mobvoi, Anker, etc.), I can tell you that most sound like trash with the exception of Samsung’s Galaxy Buds and now these, the Pixel Buds. I haven’t tried any of Jabra’s or Apple’s or Sony’s stupidly large noise cancelling things, so keep that in mind.

For the Pixel Buds, you get a sound experience that I can best describe as clean with a touch of richness. I think Google did it’s best to provide a sense of freeness when you have these Buds in, so you don’t get an in-ear seal like on the Galaxy Buds that presents a really deep and exciting audio profile. That doesn’t mean the Pixel Buds fall flat or lack oomph, it’s just that it’s a brighter sound.

Oh, you just want to know “Kellen, is there bass?!?!” Yeah, there’s some. It’s not that empty tinny or bland thud sound that cheap earbuds give you, but it’s also not going to rival a pair of over-ear cans. You shouldn’t expect any true wireless earbuds to blow your mind in this department. If you want a comparison, I’d say they fall short of the Galaxy Buds, just not by much.

So overall, my impressions of the sound you get from the new Google Pixel Buds is a satisfying return no matter the music genre you like. My playlists at the moment feature a lot of The Weeknd’s newest album, Drake’s “Dark Lane Demo Tapes,” some older Ryan Adams, and Marcus King. They all sound great whether I’m chilling in quarantine or if I’m out for a run.

One tip, should you buy a pair, be sure when you put them in your ears to give them a little twist that pushes the eartip forward into your ear. It helps get a slightly better seal, but seems to dramatically improve the overall sound.

Battery Life

Google has taken some heat over the battery life on these new Pixel Buds, mostly because Samsung went nuts with its Galaxy Buds+ and their 11 hour charges. The Pixel Buds are rated at about 5 hours continuously and I’d say they probably deliver that.

While my sessions don’t typically last for more than an hour, here are some numbers. I went on a couple of 40 minute runs with each bud at 100% to start, listened to music the entire time and fired up Google Assistant for notifications and a call or two. At the end of those runs, the left bud was between 83% and 86%, while the right was either 92% or 93%.

If you do a little math there, they should actually last longer than 5 hours and possibly come closer to 6. Since I didn’t run the buds down to 0% at any time, I can’t tell if you they’ll mysteriously die quicker than what my consistent numbers show. Sorry, I don’t live a life where I can disappear in earbuds for 3-4 hours straight.

Because I assume some of you are the types to wear earbuds all day and need battery life that lasts a long, long time, you do have fast charging to top-up in a hurry. Google says that 10 minutes in the case will get you 2 hours of use. The case holds up to 24 hours total too, so I think we’ll all be good here.

Fit and Comfort

Alright, sound and battery fun out of the way, how do the Pixel Buds fit? Oh man, they fit so nicely in my ears. These are without a doubt the best fitting true wireless earbuds I have used to date.

Straight out of the case, Google includes medium-sized tips and these are the tips I stuck with. There are smaller or larger tips too, depending on your ear, so everyone should be able to find a proper fit that is comfortable and snug.

These are the type of earbuds that you can easily forget you have in ears. In fact, I’ve forgotten and reached up to itch my ear and slammed a finger into one of the buds on multiple occasions. They are light, don’t plug you up to constantly remind you that they are there, and don’t slip around or ever try and fall out. At least, that has been my experience. From floating around the house to doing various types of workouts, these Pixel Buds haven’t budged.

I know that others who have tested the Pixel Buds have complained about the little stabilizer arc providing discomfort, but I haven’t noticed that yet.

Again, these are the most comfortable true wireless buds I’ve used. They are an absolute joy to wear.

Software

On a software front, there is a dedicated Pixel Buds app that you will install to check battery life (on the case too), set Google Assistant settings, view touch controls, toggle settings for Adaptive Sound or in-ear detection, and update firmware. There’s not a lot to do in this app, but it’s easy to navigate and find settings that are available.

The app lacks an equalizer, which has ruffled some reviewer feathers. What I can tell you is that this is really only a big deal on Pixel phones, which lack a system-built equalizer. But for phones like the OnePlus 8 Pro or Galaxy S20, you can adjust sound settings at the system level that will transfer through whatever headphones you are using. Both the 8 Pro and S20 have equalizers built into settings. I’m sure a native equalizer to the Pixel Buds app would probably be a better solution, but again, most phones can work around this, just not Google’s own Pixel phones.

Assuming Google continues to update the software with improvements and new features, the Pixel Buds should only get better. For those of you buying Buds going forward, you should see an update out of the box that I feel improves the sound.

Updates are kind of confusing to install, though. When one is available, you have to be sure “Automatic updates” is turned on. Your Pixel Buds may then prompt you if there is an update, which you can then only install by putting them back in their case. There’s no installation progress bar or any way to know when the update is finished. It took me a good couple of hours to get that first out-of-box update to install and I’m still not really sure how I got it to work. Google needs to make this process clearer.

Google Assistant

With the Google Assistant onboard, the Pixel Buds are more than just music and call buddies. They are an assistant during those times when you don’t have easy access to your phone and I love it.

I hate to keep bringing up workouts, but with most buds, getting notifications while working out is annoying because they typically just beep and force you to then grab your phone. With Pixel Buds, you don’t have to stop what you are doing, because you can long-press one of the buds and it’ll then fully read out your notifications, let you respond to conversations, that sort of thing.

Honestly, I’m not sure I can tell you how convenient the Assistant in these buds has been. I am constantly tapping on them to hear what notifications have come in, and in most cases, never need to reach for my phone.

Other notes:

  • Fast Pair is great: Google has introduced a faster version of Fast Pair with the Pixel Buds and devices running Android 10 or higher. All you need to do is open your Pixel Buds case for the first time and your nearby Android 10 phone will recognize it with a prompt to connect. Tapping that gets you paired up and listening in under a minute. Google also included a pairing button on the back of the case that will let you easily pair to additional devices too.
  • It’s a nice case: The Pixel Buds case is a well built, hefty little bugger. There is nice weight to it, the top satisfyingly opens and shuts, the Buds snap easily into place without fuss, and it has two lights to indicate battery status or pairing mode. It’ll wireless charge or you can fuel it up with its USB-C port. This is probably the nicest earbuds case I have lying on my desk.
  • They look decent in-ear: I haven’t talked much about how the Pixel Buds look, but they are one of the more minimal pairs you’ll find, right along with the Galaxy Buds. They aren’t ever going to be confused for AirPods and I like to think they stand out on their own as a unique pair of buds. The circular design is refreshing and clean, and I can’t wait to see other colors arrive.
  • Call quality: I took a couple of calls and thought audio quality during them was fine. I wasn’t blown away by the clarity, but they worked and the other parties didn’t have trouble hearing me.
  • Touch pads: These are the best touchpads on any earbuds ever. They recognize taps like you want them to, the swipes for volume up or down work every single time, and I’ve found less fumbling over single, double, and triple taps than I have on other buds. Again, I think that’s because the touchpads are so good at recognizing your fingers.
  • Price: At $179, these are not cheap earbuds.

In the End

For me, this is the pair of wireless buds I’ll stick with going forward. As much as I like the sound and price point of Samsung’s Galaxy Buds, these sound almost as good, fit better in my ears, and give me that lovely Google Assistant action. I know that some of you will want active noise cancellation or a couple of more hours of battery life, but I really think for most people these Pixel Buds will sound excellent and get you through your long music sessions. The fit and comfort level are also on another level.

You did it, Google.

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