Despite coming out several months after their original announcement in 2019, the new Google Pixel Buds didn't have a smooth launch — but that's par for the course for Google hardware it seems. Connection problems and quality control issues cast a bit of a shadow over to the Pixel Buds, which had heightened expectations to begin with given the Google name and a $180 price tag.
But now, with a couple of months of use and a fresh update to fix issues, it's time for another review of these true wireless earbuds I loved so much back in April.
At a glance
Google Pixel Buds
Bottom line: There's no shortage of true wireless earbud options, but the Pixel Buds are among the best. The case and earbud design are both excellent, with minimalist lines and exquisite hardware. Sound quality is good, the mics are great, and auto-adjusting volume is a game-changer. The Pixel Buds are expensive, yes, but the holistic experience of using them is top-notch and justifies the cost.
- Excellent case design and size
- Auto-adjusting volume
- Generally comfortable
- Solid sound quality
- New firmware improved connectivity
- Earbud battery life is mediocre
- Voice control can be slow and frustrating
- No touch control customization
Google Pixel Buds What's still great
In the two months since launch, there have been two big issues reported by Pixel Buds owners: intermittent static noise that was noticeable after pausing audio, and tough-to-diagnose connection issues both between the earbuds and between the phone and earbuds.
Google fixed both major issues people have complained about since launch.
Both were supposed to be addressed in firmware 296, which arrived on my Pixel Buds on June 16. That firmware definitely improved both areas. The slight static noise is gone, at least to my ears, so now when you pause audio it cuts off right away. And whereas before I would get random short cutouts in some situations, particularly when running with my phone strapped to my lower back in a waistpack, those drops are gone. To further test, I also went on a walk for over an hour on a phone call, and didn't have a single drop despite holding my phone in different ways, using various pockets, and moving around as I navigated sidewalks and street crossings.
Those are the sorts of little problems that'll drive you crazy trying to diagnose, particularly because the fix has to apparently come in the form of new firmware. This was a rather swift update, and at least in my case it fixed the issues. That's great.
I'm still in love with the Pixel Buds design, from the earbuds to the case.
With the little bugs addressed, I get to enjoy everything else about the Pixel Buds even more. I'm still in love with the overall design and hardware execution of the Pixel Buds. The earbuds themselves are minimalist and simple, and the tiny size makes you wonder what the hell Microsoft was thinking with the Surface Earbuds — but the touch controls are still easy to use with a low error rate. The case is also fantastic; I love its compact size, the feel and the satisfying "click" every time I open or close it.
Mic quality is top-notch, and auto-adjusting volume is a perfect feature.
Microphone quality is excellent, making them a great choice for phone calls, and I've never had issues hearing or being heard even as I walk around in the wind and on loud city streets. Sound quality is also solid; it's balanced, with enough bass, and works well for both music and podcasts. The auto-adjusting volume has also been an amazing feature, because it's just executed so perfectly. The volume never adjusts too frequently, and the change is always nicely gradual so you're never startled. It's particularly useful while running, when I really don't want to reach up and use touch controls with sweaty hands.
I'll speak to the general Google Assistant and voice functionality in the section below, but one part of the "smart" features I've come to appreciate over time is the spoken notifications. When I'm running, I don't have quick access to my phone — it's in a waistpack on my back — so it's a real pain to get it out. But the Pixel Buds give you a quick bloop to know that there's a notification, and you tap and hold one earbud to have it read to you. I can get the information I need, which is great; I rarely need to reply to messages that moment, but I do want to know if the message is important enough for me to pause the run. And being able to select which apps I want to be notified from is critical to this feature being useful.
Google Pixel Buds What hasn't aged well
The main complaints to be had with the Pixel Buds after over two months of use are on the fringes of the experience. They are, generally, great to use every day.
Battery life will be a weak point for some people, but it's never been an issue for me.
Battery life is also just fine, but clearly outclassed by the competition. I very rarely pushed the five-hour battery life of the earbuds, but I know some people expect to listen for longer between charges. But the case holds another 20 hours of battery, and adds a substantial amount of charge in just 10 minutes — and you want to give your ears a break for at least 10 minutes every couple hours, let alone five. Even using the earbuds for some amount every day, I never think about the battery of the case — I get a notification when it's low, and charge it for a few minutes here and there.
The only real issue with the battery situation is that my earbuds regularly drain unevenly. Now I wouldn't expect them to be perfectly in sync, but sometimes I'll see one up to 20% higher than the other, which is just weird. Now this is only an issue if you're regularly draining the Buds down to the danger zone, but it's disconcerting to have to think that when one earbud hits 25% the other could be minutes from dying.
My only other problem is really just a failure of execution: "Hey Google" commands are just slow and clunky. The earbuds do hear your commands hands-free and you can make all sorts of requests or send messages, but the process is frustrating. An audio-only interface is tough to navigate at the best of times, but when there are failures or issues with your voice-to-text transcription for messages it's exhausting to have to go back and forth over the course of minutes. In almost all situations, I'd rather wait and just pull out my phone when I can.
The true wireless earbuds competition
The true wireless earbuds market is jam-packed with options, so there's always something for everyone. The leading competitors to the Pixel Buds right now are the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ and the Jabra Elite 75t. Both compete well in terms of features and sound quality, and both retail for about $30 less than the Pixel Buds — and in the case of the Galaxy Buds+, you can regularly find them for even less.
You can get quality true wireless earbuds for less money from Samsung and Jabra.
The Elite 75ts don't have the sleek case design of the Pixel Buds, or even the Galaxy Buds+ honestly, and the case doesn't wirelessly charge. But the earbuds' battery life is longer, rated at over seven hours, and they're comfortable to make those long listening situations enjoyable.
The Galaxy Buds+ case may not be as nice looking or feeling as the Pixel Buds, thanks to its glossy plastic build, but it's small and light, and includes wireless charging. The earbuds are rated for even longer battery life, pushing up to 11 hours, which is incredible.
Neither of the competitors has the hands-free capabilities or automatic volume adjustment of the Pixel Buds, and neither is as sleek or stylish. But they're both fine options to consider when price is a factor in your true wireless earbud purchase.
Google Pixel Buds Should you buy them?
Who it's for
- If you need the smallest possible earbuds case
- If you need wireless charging in your earbuds case
- If you need true hands-free voice controls
- If you're willing to pay extra for design and style
- If you make lots of phone calls with your earbuds
Who it isn't for
- If you can't spend more than $150 for a pair of earbuds
- If you need active noise cancellation
- If you need extra-long battery life from the earbuds
I gave the Pixel Buds an incredibly strong score when I first reviewed them in April, and since then they have only improved with a bug-busting firmware update. I'm glad that the two main issues at launch have been addressed, because it lets me continue to recommend the Pixel Buds with one less caveat. These are fantastic true wireless earbuds.
$180 for a pair of true wireless earbuds is a tough sell no matter what, especially when there are several great options for less. But just as I said before, the Pixel Buds are one of those products that feels greater than the sum of its parts when using them every day. The simplicity and efficiency of the design is wonderful for your eyes, hands and ears. The little niceties of auto-adjusting volume, great touch controls, top-notch mics and good spoken notifications are useful every single day. These are costly headphones, but they're worth it.
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