Early Verdict

The new true wireless Google Pixel Buds are a major upgrade on their predecessors. The always-listening Google Assistant is great, but the lack of active noise cancellation at this price is a disappointment and we’re not impressed with their sound quality based on what we’ve heard so far, either.

For

  • Always-on Google Assistant
  • Live language translation
  • Auto-play/pause
  • Decent fit and sleek design

Against

  • Aggressive, fatiguing sound
  • Little bass response
  • No noise reduction
  • Mediocre battery life

The new Google Pixel Buds might feel like a zeitgeisty knock-off of the work Samsung and Apple are doing, but they do in fact bring something new to the table: an always-listening Google Assistant.

That may seem like a small feature, but up until now Android devices haven’t exactly had a complete Apple AirPods-like solution. Sure, there have been some absolutely incredible true wireless earbuds like the Sony WF-1000XM3 that cater to that crowd, but they still weren’t perfectly and entirely in sync with your Android device. 

But the Google Pixel Buds are.

For one, they’ll sync up to your Pixel phone the second you open the case near them, the same way AirPods sync up to iOS devices. For another, if you enable Google Assistant, you’ll be able to talk to it at any point by saying the wake words – again, just like AirPods.

Google Pixel Buds

(Image credit: Future)

But unlike their Cupertino-contrived competition, but Google’s Buds offer a live language translation as long as you have connection to the Internet, which is a game-changer for all of us monolinguists out there. 

That said, while the Google Pixel Buds seem to offer the best compatibility with Android devices, they don’t offer any form of active noise cancellation, middling on-board battery life of about three hours and cost more than other comparable earbuds from Sony and Samsung. 

Worse, from the few hours we spent listening to them, they also have some of the weakest sound quality of any true wireless earbud we’ve tested so far in 2020… though we’ll need to listen for a bit longer before we make any final judgments. 

All and all, the new Google Pixel Buds could end up being a bit of a mixed bag – but hey, even if they don’t wind up being the best true wireless earbuds on the planet, they’re a huge upgrade compared to the 2017 Google Pixel Buds and a decent companion for your Google Pixel 3, Pixel 3a or Google Pixel 4.

Google Pixel Buds

(Image credit: Future)

Price and release date 

The Google Pixel Buds dropped on Monday, April 27 2020 and comes in four colors – Oh So Orange, Clearly White, Quite Mint, and Almost Black.

The Google Pixel Buds cost $179 (for reference that works out at about £140 / AU$270). We’re still waiting for official global pricing. That means that (in the US at least), the Pixel Buds are more expensive than the Apple AirPods with the standard charging case. However, they’re still $20 cheaper than the more-comparable AirPods with Apple’s Wireless Charging Case.

How does that $179 price tag fare against other true wireless earbuds? Not great, unfortunately. 

For $50 less you can get either the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus that have a 12-hour on-board battery and 12-hour charging case or the Sony WF-XB700 that have a huge, beefy bass response. If you’re willing to spend $50 more, you can pick up the Sony WF-1000XM3 that has active noise cancellation – a supremely helpful feature for commuters and frequent travelers that you won’t find on the Pixel Buds.

Google Pixel Buds

(Image credit: Future)

Design

The most prominent feature of the Google Pixel Buds – and the thing that separates them from the original Pixel Buds that it will likely replace in the future – is that they’re completely wireless. There’s no cord running in between the buds this time, and that’s truly liberating.

Because of that, the case has also been fully redesigned, too, and now fits better in both your hand and your pocket. The lid this new egg-shaped case can be flicked up and down with a satisfying click and the entire case only sports a single USB Type-C port for charging. 

Inside the box Google includes multiple sets of eartips and a decently long charging cord – both of which are appreciated – and the former of which you might need to get a better fit, as these are some of the smallest earbuds we’ve yet to own and can only stay in your ears with the help of a little nub-like protrusion that rests inside the outer ear. How uncomfortable you find the nub will likely be a point of debate, but so far our experience with the earbud’s fit has largely been a positive one.

The only outright missing feature in terms of design is active noise cancellation. A number of other headphones around the $200 mark have it and it’s sorely missing from the Google Pixel Buds. In fact, due to their design, there’s not even a lot of passive noise reduction here, either. 

To compensate for their lack of noise reduction skills, though, the Pixel Buds are able to automatically adjust their volume based on the amount of noise the microphones pick up – which, although not quite noise cancellation or anything close, is better than nothing – and automatically pause when you take them out of your ear.

Google Pixel Buds

(Image credit: Future)

Performance

So how do they sound? We don’t want to say too much without listening to them for a longer stretch, but already we can tell there’s something that isn’t right here. Without any music playing you might hear the slightest bit of hissing and some songs have an anemic weak bass response. 

Rap and EDM sound rather reserved on the Buds because of the huge dearth of bass, and while that’s better than the music sounding muddy, obviously, it’s still a huge issue.

Instead, what you’ll notice is that Google’s Buds really focus on the mids and treble. They make hard rock songs like The Best from Awolnation course with energy and sublime left-right separation – which is great – but the music never sounds like it’s supposed to. (At least, it hasn’t yet in our testing.)

Similarly, video audio quality is a bit of a mixed bag. We had no problem listening to videos on YouTube with the Pixel Buds, but turn to an action-heavy movie on Netflix and suddenly you’re missing the lower half of the audio track. 

We also had an issue while using them on a Facebook Messenger call where the microphone crackled with every single word as did simply re-adjusting them in our ear. Again, potentially these were just one-off issues that could be fixed with firmware updates or flukes caused by connection quality, but right now we’re simply not confident enough to say that these are strong contenders in the audio department.

Where the Pixel Buds works as advertised, for better or worse, is with battery life. Officially, Google touts three hours per charge with a total of 24 extra hours when deposited back inside the charge case between charges.

The built-in battery life on the Buds is slightly lower than what you’d find elsewhere – using these on a long-haul flight will be complicated. But the amount of battery life inside the case is comparable to its Sony, Samsung and Apple equivalents and they can be charged wirelessly, which is a nice touch.

Last but not least, it’s at least worth mentioning that the Pixel Buds come with a stalwart IPX4 water-resistance rating. That makes them capable of withstanding a sweat-filled trip to the gym and a few minutes out in the rain, but probably not a trip to the beach. So tread carefully.

Google Pixel Buds

(Image credit: Future)

Early verdict

There’s no debating that these are a huge improvement on the original Pixel Buds. The feature-set alone is a marked improvement and Google has clearly paid attention to what customers are looking for in terms of ease-of-use and sleek design. 

Where the Pixel Buds could still improve is in their sound quality and lack of active noise cancellation tech – at $179 these things are table stakes and shouldn’t be absent. To that end, there are a number of other earbuds out there that sound better and cost less, or cost more and include more features, all of which could keep the Google Pixel Buds from reaching mainstream appeal and our unbridled recommendation.

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews’ are a journalist’s first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it’s like to use, even if it’s only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar’s Reviews Guarantee.

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