This is the rest of the review I promised in Big Guy on the Google Pixel Buds: Part 1 – Connectiongate. I took a little time to do this review for a couple reasons. One, I really only use headphones when I’m exercising, and the family has been passing around the sickness over the last few weeks so I didn’t exercise much the week that I received these headphones. Two, I wanted to make sure that the negative experience I documented in the Connectiongate post didn’t mold this review too much as it seems to have so many other reviews out there.
The Headphone Jack is still useful… Wait. No It’s Not
When Apple removed the headphone jack last year, most people didn’t seem to like the idea. Google knew that that this was such a sore spot that it even took a jab at them in the unveiling of the first Pixel and Pixel XL phones last year (see video at right). Apple at least threw in lightning to 3.5 mm dongle for anyone who didn’t want to give up their old 3.5 mm headphones as well as a pair of lighting earbuds. With this year’s versions of Google’s Pixel Phones, Google left off the headphone jack. They really didn’t even mention it in their event at all. A few days later a Google employee posted on a Pixel Phone support page saying that:
The Pixel 2 still comes with a headphone jack but we have moved to USB-C, a standard that is becoming commonplace in the best phones and laptops of today. Moving to the USB-C audio port with Pixel 2 allows us to provide a better audio and digital experience, as we move towards a bezel-less future.
Come on Google. Even with me being such a fanboy, I don’t buy that for one second. As I mentioned in my Pixel XL 2 post, however, I really don’t care either way if I have a headphone jack or not. I haven’t used one in years.
So, just as Apple released their AirPods as a high quality, Bluetooth replacement for the 3.5 mm headphone jack, Google rolled out the Pixel Buds.
The Google Pixel Buds
The Google Pixel Buds are a direct answer to the Apple AirPods and an option that you can use to fill the hole (wait… re-create the hole?) left by the missing 3.5 mm headphone jack. Packaged with a charging case and a USB-C to USB-A charging cable, the Pixel Buds come in three different colors. Google is using the same color naming scheme that they have been using for the Pixel phones, so the available colors are “Just Black”, “Clearly White”, and “Kinda Blue”.
The buds include a microphone, accelerometer, and a capacitive touchpad (on the right bud), and they come stuffed with a 120 mAh battery. And, yes, they also have a cord which connects the two Pixel Buds together (more on that later). The charging case has a USB-C port for charging, a 620maAh battery, and comes in a colored fabric that looks similar to that of the Google Home Mini’s “Charcoal” variety.
If you pair the Pixel Buds with an Android phone, you get direct access to the Google Assistant. The Google Assistant is amazing. While other voice assistants seem to be kind of stagnant (from what I read), Google is always improving this feature. It’s all part of their focus on every thing AI that started a few years ago. If you pair them with a Google Pixel device, such as the Pixel 2 XL, you also get access to a pretty neat, yet seemingly in early development, real-time translation feature using the Assistant and Google Translate. “Google, help me speak Klingon.”
Joined at the Hip
Google decided to connect the two Pixel Buds with a cord. Most reviews that I have read seem to slam this fact, pointing to the Apple AirPods which are not connected. I actually like this. At least with them being connected, if I lose one, I lose both of them, and I don’t end up with one Pixel Bud always reminding me that I paid $150 for a set of headphones that I can only use in one ear. Google also took the opportunity to add a pretty neat way to adjust these headphones to fit your ear. The cord goes through each bud and loops out the other end. This piece of the cord is how you adjust the fit to your ear. Since everyone’s ear is different, you can adjust the loop to make sure you have a snug, comfortable fit.
While wearing the Pixel Buds, I often don’t even notice the cord. I’m a Big Guy with a big ole head, and every pair of behind the head, Bluetooth headphones I’ve ever had would barely fit my head, and I would notice them if I moved my head around. This was especially frustrating while working out. There’s nothing like the back of the headphones digging into the back of your head or the earbuds finding their way deeper into your ear canal while in the middle of a set of bench presses.
Stay out of My Canals!
Speaking of earbuds digging into your ear canals, the Google Pixel Buds don’t actually enter your ear canal like a young couple entering the Grand Canal in Italy while on a romantic date. No, these guys sit right on the banks of your canal and broadcast sweet music into your music receptacles. I HATE things going in my ear. The last set of earbuds I used at the gym were the Motorola S11 HD Bluetooth Headphones. They were a great pair of headphones, and they still are, but after an hour in the gym, it took another hour or more for my ears to recover from the experience. It’s nice being able to hear once I am done working out!
Fighting the Noise
The Google Pixel Buds are not noise canceling. I have read many reviews that say they don’t do a very good job of keeping the outside noises out of your ear while you are enjoying your favorite music or podcast. I have also read reviews saying that they are not loud enough and don’t have enough bass. In my experience, they do a pretty good decent job of keeping me entertained while the outside worlds gets noisy, and the bass is good enough.
The first day I used them, I was out for a walk in the neighborhood, and I passed a neighbor power washing his front porch. Sure I heard it, but I could still hear my music just fine, and I didn’t even have the volume turned up that far. If I did need to turn up the volume, all I’d need to do is swipe forward on the right earbud. You can also swipe backward to turn the volume down. They even help keep me from getting 80’s rock stuck in my head while I’m at the gym. There’s nothing like fighting off an internal rendition of “Cherry Pie” while trying to focus on work later on. As for the bass, no they don’t produce deep, hard hitting bass, but it’s good enough for me, especially being right in my ear.
“Hey Google, Write this Blog Post for Me”
While it doesn’t work like the sub heading suggests (yet), the Google Assistant is very handy. It does a fantastic job at understanding how I talk and opens up a vast world of voice controlled actions. The possibilities really are limitless. We could do a whole blog post (or series of posts) on the Google Assistant and what it can do, but that’s for another day.
Instead of saying “OK Google” to start off your request, all you have to do is hold your finger on the right earbud and speak your command. I realize that it’s only cutting out two words, but I get a feeling of being a secret agent or something as I put my finger to my ear and ask Google to do my bidding. While using this feature, it mostly works flawlessly, and it even hears me when I talk at a normal level. Sometimes, however, it would give me issues saying it didn’t understand the request. The assistant volume can also be a quite a bit lower than everything else for some reason. I’m sure this can be fixed in software.
You can also ask the Google Assistant to send messages via SMS or Hangouts. Google has been incredible at voice to text for some time now, and using these headphones to dictate a message is no exception. You can even have it read incoming messages and notifications to you by double tapping the right earbud.
Call Someone While on a Jog
And, yes, you can even make phone calls over your Pixel Buds by holding the right earbud and asking your assistant to call <insert name here>. I could hear everything great. My wife on the other end said that I sounded really loud, but it was clear, and she couldn’t really hear any external noise. There was one time that I tried to make a call, and the call volume through the Pixel Buds was really low. This corrected itself after I let the buds run out of battery and then charged them back up. I haven’t had the problem again since.
In the technical specs, Google claims that the Pixel Buds can get 5 hours of listening time on one charge. The charging case holds multiple charges to give you up to 24 hours of listening while on the go.
In my testing, I used the Pixel Buds constantly for almost 5 hours and 30 minutes before they finally died. I had the buds on and connected the whole time while I listened to podcasts, had music going, and made few phone calls. None of my workout sessions are going to last 5 hours, so I think this will work for me.
I’m going to go against most of the naysayers on the internet and recommend the Google Pixel Buds. Even at the steep price at $150, I would still buy them again. I have been enjoying them and have loved using them once I got past the connection issues. I am excited to see how much more useful these get with further improvements to the Google Assistant, and I am usually pretty excited to throw these on just before a walk or hitting the gym.
- They don’t go in the ear canals
- They seem to get very loud to me
- The bass is good enough
- The cord connecting them (see above for why I think this)
- The range for the connection to my phone seems to be pretty far
- Voice to text works well
- Phone calls work great
- Battery life is 5 hours
- I would like to see more media controls other than play/pause (next, previous, etc)
- Swiping the right earbud takes some getting used to and seems finicky at first (this has gotten better the more I use them)
- Phone call volume was low once (not sure why. See above.)
- Pairing… (see Connectiongate)
- Wrapping the buds into the charging case is a little cumbersome until you get used to it. Here’s something to help with that