Fri. May 29th, 2020

Google Pixel Buds (2020) review: Android’s AirPods

Android finally has its AirPods competitor.

Everyone deserves a second chance, even audio manufacturers, and the new Google Pixel Buds (2020) exceed our expectations. Google properly marries form and function with these true wireless earbuds; the elegant design begets an elegant user experience that’s revved and ready to rival the AirPods.

This new Google Pixel Buds review comes from the audio experts at our sister site SoundGuys. Check out their in-depth take on the Google Pixel Buds (2020).
Show More

What’s it like to use the Pixel Buds?

Google Pixel Buds 2020 true wireless earbuds case hand

The Pixel Buds charging case is Qi-compatible and has a USB-C input.

It’s great, and echoes the experience of using an Apple product. This comes as no surprise since Google is considered the Apple of Android. The earbuds are remarkably thin for how many sensors are packed into each housing. While its Mentos-reminiscent appearance may not be pleasing to everyone, it’s discreet. They sit nearly flush with the ear, which is something most of the competition has yet to achieve. Even still, the earbuds caused pain after just an hour of wear from rubbing against the outer ear.

Users are afforded three sizes of ear tips, but the wing tips can’t be replaced, which is a bummer especially for those with uniquely large or small ears. This static wing tip design isn’t great for athletes, because the earbuds may not secure as well to the outer ear as they would with something like the Jaybird Vista. Each earbud has a touch-capacitive panel which supports playback, volume, and call control, as well as Google Assistant access. The touch technology is great, and never registered accidental taps, something we’ve run into while testing other true wireless earbuds such as the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus. Automatic ear detection is also supported, so playback pauses when the earphones are removed.

Sorry, AirPods, there's a new kid on the block.

A good charging case is indicative of a good pair of true wireless earbuds; it has to be sturdy, well-engineered, but not overdone, and functional. Fortunately for us, the Google Pixel Buds (2020) case ticks all of the boxes. The soft-touch plastic feels premium and is a pocketable size and shape. It houses a single button on the back for manual pairing and a USB-C input on its underbelly. There are two LEDs on the case, an external one to notify users of the case’s remaining battery, an interior one that communicates the earbuds’ battery levels.

How good is battery life?

SoundGuys recorded 6 hours, 8 minutes of playtime from the Google Pixel Buds on a single charge, which exceeds the company’s specs by an hour. Quick charging is supported here: 10 minutes in the case yields two hours of playtime. The USB-C case supplies an additional 24 hours of listening, which means you can get a few weeks of at-home workouts in before topping it back up. Doing so takes about two hours with the included USB-C cable or via Qi wireless charging pad.

Does real-time translation work?

A major selling point of the Pixel Buds (2020) is real-time translation. In the full SoundGuys Google Pixel Buds (2020) review, Adam Molina tested its Spanish translation. It worked and accurately interpreted what was said, but the process was tedious. Users must download the Google Translate app, and have it open on their phones when using live translations. Molina felt this defeated the purpose of the earbuds’ live-translate integration; if he had to grab his phone anyway, why not just use the app?

At a mechanical level, the translator works and is a handy tool, but it isn’t much more effective than directly using a smartphone. The earbuds add an extra step to the process, making it even more cumbersome.

Do the earbuds stay connected?

Google Pixel Buds 2020 true wireless earbuds case Pixel smartphone Bluetooth

Pairing the Pixel Buds to an Android device is absolutely seamless.

Bluetooth 5.0 support combined with Google’s long-range wireless technology, allow the ‘buds to remain connected to your smartphone even if it’s three rooms away. Three rooms in my Chicago apartment is much smaller than three rooms in a suburban home, but generally speaking, a layer or two of drywall won’t interfere with connectivity. If you’re an outdoor athlete, say you run on the community track, these are the earbuds for you: they can remain connected the entire length of an American football field when outside as there are fewer physical and electrical barriers.

To our surprise, the Google Pixel Buds (2020) only support AAC and SBC. The former performs unreliably on Android devices, which is distressing. Seeing how these are intended to be used with Android phones, Google Pixel phones in particular, the lack of an Android-friendly high-quality Bluetooth codec has me, and the folks at SoundGuys, befuddled.

Pairing the Pixel Buds is effortless

Anyone with an Android phone can get straight to using the new Google Pixel Buds by simply opening the case and enabling Bluetooth on the desired smartphone. A pop-up card will ask for permission to connect with the Pixel Buds, and you’re ready to rock. Part of the process includes setting up Google Assistant support, so you can access by saying, “Hey Google,� or by a tap-and-hold of the touch panel.

Related: Best AirPods Pro alternatives

Pairing with an iOS device is simple, too, just not as seamless. To do so, open the charging case without removing the earbuds, and hold the button on the back of the case until the LED flashes white. Then, go to the Bluetooth menu of your iOS device and select the new Pixel Buds. Once they’re connected, you can remove the earbuds and go about your business as usual.

Do the new Pixel Buds sound good?

Google Pixel Buds 2020 true wireless earbuds

The concha wing tips aren’t removable, which is an aggravating oversight.

The Google Pixel Buds (2020) accurately reproduce audio with minimal emphasis to bass notes, which is more pleasing to general consumers; it adds that extra bump in music playback that we’ve grown accustomed to from brands like Beats and Jabra. Again, this low-end amplification is subtle, so bassheads be warned: these aren’t the ‘buds for you. Kick drums sound almost twice as loud as male vocals, which can make it difficult to hear your favorite singer in notably cacophonous songs.

Adaptive sound automatically adjusts volume levels to your environment.

Isolation isn’t great, meaning clarity is just ok, but this is technically a feature of the headset. Google included vents to alleviate the “plugged� feeling that earbuds can create, while also keeping you aware of your surroundings. It’s a compromise between the nozzle-less design we’ve seen from Apple and a more standard earbud build. Awareness benefits aside, audio quality immediately degrades when external noise — think subway rattles or plane engines — come into play. That’s because loud sounds make it hard to perceive relatively quiet ones, which makes music sound “off.� To get a more detailed breakdown of the frequency response and isolation performance, go to SoundGuys’ review.

Microphone quality is great

Google’s comprehensive microphone system plays nicely with all vocal registers. Speech intelligibility can also be attributed to voice-detecting accelerometer — something we’ve seen with the Apple AirPods Pro. Sure the person on the other line will likely recognize you’re speaking from a headset mic, but background noise is effectively ignored, which is a must-have feature when speaking on-the-go.

New Google Pixel Buds (2020) microphone demo:

Should you buy the new Pixel Buds?

Google Pixel Buds 2020 true wireless earbuds case

The Google Pixel Buds (2020) take a simple approach to advanced technology.

Google Pixel users looking for the path of least resistance should get the new Google Pixel Buds (2020). They may not be the best value true wireless earbuds on the market, but they’re a solid option that affords reliable hands-free Google Assistant access, a secure fit, and modern design. Although live Google Translate capabilities leave something to be desired, it’s cool to see a company pushing new, exciting features. The AirPods finally have their main Android competitor: the Google Pixel Buds (2020).