There is something about Google Pixel products that makes them unique. Google never pursued to put together the best tech-spec smartphones, but appears to put experience before everything else. For years, they have been successful in designing iconic products that are unmistakably recognisable, and their Pixel smartphones have offered experiences that one cannot find in other brands.
The same can be said of the new Google Pixel Buds launched this year in 2020, which looks iconic and unique. The case is finished with matt white that feels very dense and heavy like a smooth pebble. The earbuds plates are perfectly round with an accented colour while the rest of the earbuds are visually black, so that when worn in ears, it resembles Mentos candy. The low-profile design means the earbuds sit almost flush with the ears so they are not easily knocked out when putting on or removing face masks.
The earbuds are IPX4 water resistant, delivers 5 hours of listening time or 2.5 hours talk time. Combined with the charging case, you get 24 hours in total. Wireless charging is supported.
Pairing with any other Android device is done by pressing the function button at the back of the case until the earbuds LED starts pulsing. To enjoy the full suite of functions, install the Pixel Buds app from the Play Store. On Pixel smartphones, the Pixel Buds settings are accessible from the Bluetooth device.
The Pixel Buds come with several unique features which rely on some form of A.I. and environmental awareness. Here’s a breakdown:
Adaptive Sound. Pixel Buds automatically optimizes volume based on environmental noise. The volume change is rather subtle.
Sharing Detection. A unique feature just introduced after 21 Aug via firmware update, Pixel Buds can detect that the earbuds are being shared with another person, and allows volume on each earbud to be controlled individually.
Attention Alerts. Apparently, when the earbuds detect certain sounds, it will lower the volume and chime for your attention. This is an experimental feature and only sounds like baby crying, dog barking, and siren are detected. This feature requires firmware update after 21 Aug.
Assistant Hot-word. The earbuds can listen to your “OK Google” and assist you in your query. But I prefer to press-hold the earbud to give my commands. By the way, being earbuds designed by Google, you get chimed notifications which you can tap to listen the message without reaching for your phone. This feature is available in many third party headphones, but I usually disable them because it disrupts my listening enjoyment.
Google Translate. Pixel Buds support 2-way translation via the earbuds and the phone. Simply talk from your earbuds and the translated message will be played on the phone. Similarly, the person can speak their language on the phone and the translated version will be played on the earbuds.
Google Transcribe. Another updated feature after 21 Aug, Pixel Buds can help you hear spoken language continuously translated into your ear accompanied with a transcript on your phone to provide the gist of what’s being said.
Bass Boost. A new feature after 21 Aug, you can improve bass level. More on sound quality later.
I did not get to try any of the new features as the firmware did not push to me before I returned the review unit back to Google Singapore.
The Pixel Buds fit comfortably in my ears, and there is no plugged-in seal with the ear tips. Hence, noise isolation is poor but not as bad as open fit earbuds. This is the intended design of Pixel Buds which they call “hybrid acoustic’ so that even when there is no audio, you can continue to wear them and stay aware. Personally, I like the experience, and that the Pixel Buds sound staging is out of the ears and positioned in front of me. I feel like as if I am wearing a pair of open-back headphones. Listening to loud musical passages do not feel too pushy and fatiguing. In this day and age when TWS makers work so hard to achieve noise isolation, Google goes the other way, demonstrating their courage to create products that deliver a more unique experience.
Treble is crisp and vocals sounds life-like with depth while not too forward. Midrange is clear yet not too bloated, as the earbuds achieve good instrumental separation. Bass is lacking in intensity but clean and natural. This is where the new “Bass Boost” feature comes in. Since I did not get the firmware update during my review, I applied my own EQ using PowerAmp and it delivers better oomph. It’s good to know that the 12mm dynamic drivers did not crack with the increased level.
For call quality, the Pixel Buds capture my voice with great clarity at the upper frequency, one of the few earbuds I tested to achieve that. Under windy conditions, the earbud mic also successfully picks up my voice sharply.
The Google Pixel Buds is one of the few uniquely designed earbuds in the market today, garnished with experiential features that Google is known for. But like the Pixel smartphones, they may not be appreciated en masse, but nevertheless staying faithful to the Pixel ethos. If you love the Pixel experience, you might also like the Pixel Buds, as I have.
As a true wireless earbuds, the sound quality is above average, though noise isolation may not be adequate for listeners who needed the shut-out. But safety above everything, the Pixel Buds let me feel safer wearing them yet it delivers audiophile-like open sound.
Notice I did not share any issue with the connectivity problems raised by many users online, and that’s because I did not encounter any disruptive issues. Perhaps the regular firmware updates have resolved many of the initial issues. Retails in Singapore at S$269, available from Google Store.