Best answer: Google's $30 Pixel USB-C earbuds are an affordable gateway into the world of USB-C audio. The earbuds deliver great sound with an emphasis on bass, come with Google Assistant integration, and are easily adjustable. With more and more manufacturers getting rid of the 3.5mm jack, you'll want a pair of these in your bag.
Google: Pixel USB-C earbuds (opens in new tab) ($30)
A quick look at how we got here
The iPhone 7 was the first phone to shift away from the century-old 3.5mm jack, and over the last two years several Android manufacturers followed suit. Samsung, LG, and Vivo thankfully continue to offer flagships with a headphone jack, but a majority of phone makers — including OnePlus — have abandoned the analog connector.
To its credit, the audio industry has made tremendous strides when it comes to Bluetooth audio in the last two years. High-fidelity codecs like AptX and AptX HD are available on a plethora of mainstream headphones, and products like the $349 Sony WH1000XM3 (opens in new tab) make a fantastic case for wireless audio.
That said, having a pair of wired headphones makes a lot of sense — if nothing else, you don't have to worry about the headphones running out of juice in the middle of a lengthy commute. The problem with initial USB-C offerings was compatibility issues: the USonic earbuds that were included with the HTC U12+ only worked with a select few HTC devices.
Couple that with the steep cost and sub-par audio and it's safe to say the first wave of USB-C wired options were thoroughly underwhelming.
Making USB-C audio great
With the Pixel USB-C earbuds, Google is looking to make USB-C audio accessible. The earbuds are included in the box with every Pixel 3 and 3 XL purchase, and you'll be able to pick up a pair from the Google Store for just $30. The affordable pricing lowers the barrier to entry for USB-C audio, and the earbuds are also compatible with most Android phones in the market today.
The earbuds come with a loop design that allows you to get a comfortable fit, and the minimal design aesthetic meshes perfectly with the Pixel phones.
The most surprising thing about the Pixel USB-C earbuds is the sound quality. They manage to deliver a vibrant sound with a clear emphasis on bass, with little to no distortion even at high volume. Overall, the audio quality that you get from the Pixel USB-C earbuds belies the price tag.
There's also a button on the inline mic that can be used for controlling music playback or invoking Google Assistant via a long press. On phones running Pie, you'll be able to interact with Assistant for everything from basic queries to directions, weather information, and access to notifications. If you're using the earbuds with a Pixel, you'll also be able to leverage real-time translation, but you'll end up using your phone more often than not.
The Pixel USB-C earbuds don't really have a major drawback: they're comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, the sound quality is decent, and at $30 they're affordable enough that you're not going to worry if they get damaged. Not that they will anytime soon as the build quality is fantastic, but the low price tag alleviates that particular worry. Overall, you're getting a great bargain.
Lowering the barrier to entry for USB-C.
A solid budget option with decent sound quality, lengthy list of features, and wide compatibility with most Android phones. The Pixel USB-C earbuds are ideal if you're looking for an affordable USB-C wired option or are in need of a backup for when your Bluetooth headphones run out of juice.
Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.
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