Google Pixel Buds review: Android’s AirPods

Update, December 1, 2020: This Google Pixel Buds review was updated to address the Jabra Elite 85t as an alternative.

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.

What’s it like to use the Pixel Buds?

A hand holds the Google Pixel Buds 2020 true wireless earbuds case open to reveal the earbud.

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 wingtips can’t be replaced, which is a bummer especially for those with uniquely large or small ears. This static wingtip 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 that 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 truly 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.

Does real-time translation work?

Google Pixel Buds in ear 4

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.

How good is the 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.

Do the earbuds stay connected?

The Google Pixel Buds 2020 true wireless earbuds case open and next to a Pixel smartphone with the Bluetooth dropdown menu displayed.

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.

Initially, some users reported the Google Pixel Buds (2020) audio stuttered during playback. Firmware updates should release soon to improve connection stability, though.

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 it by saying, “Hey Google,” or by a tap-and-hold of the touch panel.

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?

The Google Pixel Buds 2020 true wireless earbuds against an open book.

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 a 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 the background noise is effectively ignored, which is a must-have feature when speaking on-the-go.

New Google Pixel Buds (2020) microphone demo:

How do the Pixel Buds compare to the Apple AirPods Pro and AirPods?

A picture of the Apple AirPods Pro vs Google Pixel Buds images blended together.

While our sister site SoundGuys affords a detailed comparison between the Pixel Buds and AirPods models, we’ll do a quick breakdown. Heads up: the AirPods (2019) is the weakest headset of the bunch.

The Apple AirPods Pro, Apple AirPods, and Google Pixel Buds all support hands-free access to a virtual assistant. In Apple’s case, it’s Siri and in Google’s, it’s Google Assistant. This means you can dictate messages, have incoming texts read aloud, so on and so forth. Each headset includes excellent charging cases and software that facilitates a streamlined user experience that even the Luddite among us could operate.

How do the Pixel Buds compare to the AirPods?

Anyone even slightly concerned with durability should forgo the AirPods (2019), because they lack water-resistance. Both the AirPods Pro and Pixel Buds, however, are IPX4-rated to resist sprays of water. As far as microphone quality is concerned, the AirPods Pro edges out the Google Pixel Buds when it comes to accurate voice transmission. However, both headsets are perfectly fine for personal and professional phone calls.

The Airpods on top of an iPad and next to the Google Pixel 3.

Only the AirPods (2019) have a semi-open design, meaning the earbuds don’t seal to the ear. This fit isn’t great for sound quality or keeping the earbuds stable, but the upside is you’re constantly aware of your surroundings. Now, both the AirPods Pro and Google Pixel Buds seal to the ear canal while simultaneously alleviating pressure via spatial vent systems. For noise canceling, you’ll have to pony up for the AirPods Pro or consider something like the Sony WF-1000XM3.

All three headsets fill a different need: the standard AirPods are best for listeners who want to remain vigilant and don’t care for noise-canceling technology, while the Google Pixel Buds are the go-to choice for listeners who want a smooth user experience. The AirPods Pro? Those buds are for listeners who travel often and want an easy way to shut the world out.

Google Pixel Buds vs. Samsung Galaxy Buds Live

A woman wearing the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live noise cancelling true wireless earbuds in Mystic Bronze.

Credit: Lily Katz / Android Authority

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live is a direct AirPods competitor, which means they’re a distant Google Pixel Buds competitor. Unlike the Pixel Buds (2020), the Galaxy Buds Live feature a completely open design, akin to that of the AirPods. However, its ergonomic bean shape allows it to stay in the ear, even during vigorous movement. The fit isn’t as stable as the Pixel Buds, though, because Google’s earphones use dedicated ear tips for a stable fit.

The ear tips also allow for a more consistent blockage of noise, despite how the Galaxy Buds Live boasts noise-canceling technology. With the Google Pixel Buds, once you have a good fit, it’s in and stays put the entire time they’re worn. This differs from the Galaxy Buds Live. Though the Buds Live stays in the ear, they jostle around the outer ear quite a bit which dramatically affects noise-canceling performance.

Sound quality is better with the Google Pixel Buds (2020) compared to the Galaxy Buds Live, too, because of how outside noise is blocked out. This means external sounds like your roommate’s tower fan will be blocked out, rather than making it hard to hear your music.

$129 .99

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live

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Buy it Now

There are good reasons to get the Galaxy Buds Live over the Pixel Buds, though: some listeners just want an open-type fit. I prefer this kind of fit when I’m walking around the city because it keeps me aware of my surroundings. What’s more the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live plays extremely well with Samsung smartphones, and supports Wireless PowerShare. The jewelry box case can be charged directly on top of a compatible Samsung device. Oh, and the Galaxy Buds Live are a whopping $10 cheaper than the Pixel Buds.

Should you buy the Google Pixel Buds?

The Google Pixel Buds 2020 true wireless earbuds on top of the charging case.

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).

Google Pixel Buds (2020) Google’s first truly wireless earbuds

The Google Pixel Buds 2 cut the cord of the original Pixel Buds and go head-to-head with Apple’s AirPods. You can use them to access Google Assistant just by saying “Hey Google,” with no need to touch the buds at all. At an MSRP of $179, the Pixel Buds 2 are cheaper than AirPods Pro.

If you want a pair of earbuds that cost a bit more but afford a comprehensive feature set like active noise-canceling, a custom EQ module, and a comfortable fit, consider the Jabra Elite 85t instead.

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