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These are Google Pixel Buds. They’re kind of, sort of, Google’s answer to Apple AirPods. They’re wireless earbuds, though not truly wireless, and they cost about the same amount of money. On one hand they’re really good wireless earbuds that do a lot of the basics. Well, while also teasing that seemingly inevitable future of having super computers in our ears.
On the other hand, there are a couple of tiny nit-picky flaws that when added together, kind of marvelous experience. Up front though we have to start with one of the features that Google’s hyping the most about the Google Pixel Buds and that’s real-time translation.
The one common thread we saw across all the languages is that the translation is pretty crude so you’re probably going to come across as sounding a little bit rude or maybe even kind of like a five-year-old.
And that’s not a problem with the Google Pixel Buds themselves it’s really just a problem with where translation apps are at this point in time and that’s really all this is. It’s not like the pixel buds are doing magic to translate conversations it’s just leaning on the Google Translate app that already, probably, exists on your phone.
The weirdest thing for me is that, with Google Pixel Buds you’re adding a whole another device into what is already an awkward situation when you’re trying to speak somebody else’s language and it makes it a bit more impersonal. But I know for myself I would probably rather just use the app on the phone as opposed to adding a whole another device into the situation.
Now there may very well be a time one day where everybody is wearing the Google Pixel Buds and using them to talk to people across languages and borders but that future is not here yet. This current version of the project is only teasing and it’s not delivering on it.
Google assistant however, is much further along and here’s the best thing about it on the Pixel Buds: it is stupid fast. You just tap the right earbud and you’re already talking to the assistant.
You don’t have to wait for it to confirm that it’s heard you or anything, you just tap, talk and it’s off to the races. It’s so fast that I found myself begging for reasons to use it. We usually only use the assistant for things like weather or alarms, especially on headphones.
That said, I think Google’s assistant is the best of the ones out there, and having it less than a second away definitely feels like a genuine step forward.
So let’s set all these fantastical and futuristic features aside now, because while they might be useful in a pinch, what you’re going to be using the Google Pixel Buds for the most is listening to music that’s coming from your phone and in the right setting they do that really well.
They reproduce audio really clearly. There’s a little bit of depth to it, more than I expected to find on earbuds this size and they’ll do that for a while too. Google advertises about five hours of listening time and I found that as long as you’re not using the assistant a ton, you’ll get at least four hours of what they’re claiming.
But the open air design of these earbuds, Google calls it semi occluded, is a totally double-edged experience. On the one hand it’s good for situations like running where you want to have sound from the outside world coming in, but on the other hand it means that sound can totally drown out the music listening experience.
Especially if you’re in a big city like New York. You’ll find yourself hearing buses, trains, traffic, people walking by you instead of the music that you want to listen to. You will even experience a point where you actually heard the music from someone else’s headphones instead of your own music. That’s annoying.
That brings us to the last part of the experience with the Google Pixel Buds, which is the case. I really want to like this thing and for the most part I do. It’s got a nice soft touch finish to it. It has a couple extra charges worth of battery in it and it will even quick charge the Pixel Buds. Ten minutes will give you about an hour, which is awesome.
The problem comes from just how finicky the processes is of getting the buds back in the case. You have to put them in one by one and then you have to wrap the cord around just the right way or else the case won’t close and Google even had to put a sticker on the inside of the case to teach people how to do that.
Now the way that you get Pixel Buds to fit in your ears also has a couple issues. You have to tug on this little loop of the cable that connects the two earbuds together, which is a nice idea, but that cable tends to slip over time and so you’ll find that pulling them out of the case the cable slips or even when you have them in your ears, the cable slips and you have to constantly readjust them to keep them fitting in your ears the right way.
Now the touchpad on the right is really fast for Google assistant, which is great and you can tap to play and pause music and you can even swipe to control the volume, but it’s super sensitive and so you have to be careful.
You will find yourself getting lots of accidental taps and swipes especially when you take the earbuds out of your ears and go on to put them back in the case.
That is really frustrating because you will hear music starting to play again or you will lose your place in a podcast. It just seems like an easy problem that Google could fix if the earbuds know that they’re out of your ears.
Now these are admittedly little frustrations, but when you add them all up together it makes for a more problematic experience than you are expecting with Google Pixel Buds. There are a lot of good ideas in this product and I’m excited to see what Google does with that’s going forward. It’s just painfully obvious right now that this is their first attempt at making wireless earbuds. But I think this is still one of the best gadget for me.