Google Assistant, if you want it
There’s something I wanted to start off with here in our Pixel Buds review, because it is a conversation I’ve had often since the Pixel Buds came out — do you actually use Google Assistant a lot? Let us know in the comments.
The reason why I wanted to ask that is because even if my usage of OK G is rather low, products like this make me do it a lot more. That’s because the Pixel Buds still stand as the template for how Google Assistant should be implemented, especially on audio products. This doesn’t discredit the new Pixel Buds’ improved ability to recognize the hotword — a feature made possible by really good microphones that do a good job for this task and voice or video calls that are so common right now. The act of holding on the area so that you can talk to Google Assistant in a controlled manner is, in my opinion, the game changing feature that it always required. That’s because normally you say OK G and just hope that there’s not too much noise around you or that the software can actually recognize when you stopped talking. Instead, you can press and hold the area, say something, let go, and it’s far more accurate than the alternative.
You can also press and hold until you hear a chime and let go so that you can hear your notifications read to you. In this new version, notifications can be set on a per-app basis which helps a lot — in my case, it’s all about Telegram. Responses are done the same way as before — when prompted, say your response and hope it picks up your voice well enough for an accurate read. While I wish that the press and hold feature was implemented all over the, let’s say, Pixel Buds interface, I still just appreciate hearing my notifications in this easy method anyway.
So let’s just talk about the earbuds for a second, because they’ve been massively improved from the last version. The case is an egg. There’s not much way to get around that obvious descriptor. It’s always going to be an egg even if you get a different color, which I do find a little peculiar. That said, the case is pretty minimal and easy to fit pretty much anywhere. One thing that I already enjoy with the Pixel Buds is third party accessory support, like with the leather Nomad case you might have already noticed. A USB-C port on the bottom is available for charging if you don’t take advantage of the wireless charging capabilities. Finally, a button on the lower back can be held to trigger a pairing mode through which you can connect these buds to just about anything as straight up Bluetooth earphones. On smartphones, the Pixel Buds app will be required to get the most out of the experience. And with that, we can get the actual buds out of the magnetic slots.
They’re pretty minimal now but yes, it looks like you’re putting a couple of Mentos in your ears. No longer are there any wires or uncomfortable earpiece s — now, they’re true wireless and the buds come with a couple of key features that make them some of the most comfortable pairs around. First off, the wingtips — these help keep the buds in one’s ear without falling out at even the slightest shakes. And secondly, a vent that helps some air get in — similar to the AirPods Pro — reduces the plugged feeling that most earbuds give off. The final result is a pair of really light earbuds that basically feel like they’re not there. There is some ear fatigue after hours of wearing, though super long wear times, I’m told, are not the norm. Well, I’m one of those people and it would take a couple of hours of straight wearing until I needed a rest.
I’m the ‘long-wear’ kind of user because I like to have something playing in the background pretty much all the time. So it’s good that the Pixel Buds allow you to use one bud at a time. And I’m appreciative that the same controls carry over no matter which bud you’re using — often you get differing controls based on which side is in. Volume controls are always available via swipes forward or backward, taps are for playlist control, and then I already talked about the Google Assistant controls.
So how do they sound? In a word, good. I’ve messed with a lot of different truly wireless earbuds and one thing I’ve learned is that every person’s ears and preferences are different, so let me just try to explain how I rank these earbuds in some of the key areas. The main frequencies that are lacking are in the low end, where bass isn’t as booming as my Jabra Elite Active 75t and fall just short of the same bass response of the Airpods Pro. That said, even if it won’t move you to the core, your ears can still satisfyingly perceive them, unlike with the Galaxy Buds+ which have worse low frequency responses in my opinion. However, voices tend to me the priority with earbuds made by phone manufacturers and that is indeed the case with the Pixel Buds, so for the mids and some highs, I think they’re on par with both the Galaxy Buds+ and the Airpods Pro.
Achievements still locked down
But you’ll notice I just featured a few different earbuds that have what you might call killer features. And it’s in those areas that the Pixel Buds just fall short — it’s up to you if you think Google Assistant is that killer feature, and I do think it comes kind of close. However, I do hope some extra features make it into version 3.
Features like active noise cancellation, which the AirPods Pro and the Sony WF1000xM3 do so well with. The AirPods Pro, in particular, manage to marry ANC and the air vent for the best of both worlds. I wish that the Pixel Buds had a passthrough function, which the Galaxy Buds+ and the Jabra Elite 75t have despite lacking ANC, so that I could more easily talk to people around me when needed. It’s debatable which one is more important to me, because I like having things like LoFi playing at a low level with passthrough on so it’s like a personal soundtrack to my productivity but, then again, getting some peace and zen with noise cancellation is very useful too.
But reports are coming out stating that the Pixel Buds are going to greatly improve on a feature that I think most users might haphazardly overlook — Adaptive Sound. Since there is no ANC, these buds don’t totally block the outside world from getting in, so if your volume is low enough, you can hear people around you even without amplified passthrough. Google is hoping to make the microphones smarter and smarter, so that it can not only lower or increase volume based on your situation like a library or a subway, but also based on recognizable cues like the sound of a baby crying or a dog barking to get your attention. That would be a great way of skirting the extra sound modes that are missing, but like with many Google products, this is a feature that is on its way and we’re all just in the beta test right now.
And finally, despite the convenient wireless charging case and the fact that I can just switch earbuds out when needed, I wish the battery life was better. It’s not bad, topping out at about 5 hours depending on usage, but it’s simply dwarfed by something like the Galaxy Buds+ which can go for like 10 hours straight. Unless you’re okay with about 45 minute charging times, the Pixel Buds won’t be the best companion for long haul flights.
Wrapping up our Pixel Buds review, what the Pixel Buds have done in this second generation is prove that Google knew what fundamentals to focus on. As with all things Google, the software gets a little more attention and I think in this case, that’s okay. ANC and passthrough audio are still considered overachieving features despite how much more common they are slowly becoming. But a great way to interact with Google Assistant is what Big G wanted and sometimes needs to achieve for their audience. But if you’re not that kind of user, that’s okay too because these are really well rounded baseline earbuds that make sure Google Assistant doesn’t equal an extraordinary price tag. At $179, you get good sound, a light fit, great controls, and Google Assistant if you want it for a price that undercuts ANC-enabled competitors that might not have similar fit, feel or convenience. If you are an Android user in particular and want a good way to get started in true wireless audio, the Pixel Buds hit a good fundamental happy medium are a worthwhile first party step in the right direction.
Source: Pocketnow on YouTube