Sometimes doing just enough still isn’t enough.
Such is the case with Google’s new Pixel Buds Pro, a much-needed update to Google’s recent line of wireless earbuds. After last year’s budget Pixel Buds A, the Pixel Buds Pro promise something more: premium wireless earbuds with active noise cancellation (ANC), excellent battery life, and improved comfort.
And generally speaking, Google has pulled that off. These are very good wireless earbuds that work seamlessly with Google’s Pixel phones, giving Android fans something akin to the frictionless experience iPhone users get with AirPods. The only problem is that, at $200, they’re the exact same price as Beats Fit Pro, my personal golden standard for earbuds.
Is there any reason to go with Google instead of Beats, or has Apple won the earbuds battle yet again?
Credit: Mashable Composite
Apologies for that terrible wordplay, but as soon as you see a photo of the Pixel Buds Pro, you’ll get it. Google redesigned these new Pixel Buds from previous incarnations, adopting an egg-shaped body with silicone ear tips and no stabilizing arc. There’s still a circular outer panel with basic touch-based playback controls (one tap for pause, two to skip ahead, so on and so forth) and a Google “G” logo prominently displayed so everybody knows which tech company you rock with.
Real quick: I’d like to give props to the Pixel Buds Pro for offering a way to adjust volume by default without touching your phone. You can swipe forward or backward on the touch panel to raise and lower volume, respectively. This is super useful and is shockingly not common on wireless earbuds.
Google also did a great job with comfort on the Pixel Buds Pro. I was initially a little worried about the lack of an in-ear stabilizer because I typically find that earbuds with those do a much better job of…staying in the ear. But so far, I haven’t had any slippage with the Pixel Buds Pro. The ear tip sits fairly deep in the ear canal and forms a tight seal, keeping outside noise out (though not on its own, as we’ll discuss later) and the earbuds stable.
Seriously, I just furiously shook my head left and right to test it out and there was no movement at all. (No, there is no video of this and there never will be. Sorry.)
The ear tips also come in three different sizes, though the default medium size was adequate for me. I wish I had more to say about the charging case, but it’s almost exactly the same little, oval-shaped fella that came with previous Pixel Buds. There’s a Bluetooth pairing button for non-Pixel devices and a USB-C charging port, and it supports wireless charging, but it’s otherwise self-explanatory.
Pixel perfect setup
The Pixel Buds Pro setup is simple as can be. Just open the case next to a Pixel phone and you’ll be greeted with a quick pair notification. The Pixel’s Bluetooth menu has a settings page for Pixel Buds with the ability to check battery life, change sound modes, remap touch commands, and install software updates. On non-Pixel Android phones, this is instead part of the Pixel Buds app on the Play Store. And on iPhones, well, you’re SOL. The Pixel Buds Pro work fine with an iPhone via Bluetooth, but you can’t adjust any settings or download updates at all.
Still, one nice thing is that Pixel Buds Pro can quickly switch between Android and non-Android devices by just tapping them in your device’s respective Bluetooth menus.
Overall, Google’s packed a robust feature set into Pixel Buds Pro. For Android users, they can do all the stuff you want from a modern pair of earbuds. For iOS users, well, they technically work. However, none of that matters without great sound quality.
Oh my god they finally have ANC
Credit: Mashable Composite
I’ll get this out of the way now: The Pixel Buds Pro have pretty excellent sound quality. The whole range of high, medium, and low notes in any given song comes through clearly, with special attention given to bass this time around. Google said the emphasis for the Buds Pro was on making everything on the low register come through nicely, and in my testing, that seems to have been pulled off.
Our testing material this time is OutKast because I can’t stop listening to OutKast lately. They might be the best American musical act ever. More importantly, they understood the value of strong bass during their heyday in the ’90s. Tracks like “Players Ball” sound great on the Pixel Buds Pro, with bass hitting the eardrum with an appropriate, satisfying thump when you expect it the most. I have no complaints about the native sound quality on the Pixel Buds Pro, and it only gets better when you factor in the part where Google finally added active noise cancellation.
Music simply sounding nice isn’t a big revelation with the Pixel Buds Pro, as that was true of previous models, too. It’s the fact that you can now listen to music in a crowd, or on a train platform, or maybe even next to a jet engine (I didn’t try this) without pausing or turning the volume up to dangerous levels. The Pixel Buds Pro’s ANC is fantastic, drowning out pretty much all ambient noise unless you turn the volume way down.
There’s also a useful transparency mode for when you want to talk to someone but don’t feel like pulling an earbud out. Just do a long press on the touch panel and you’ll be able to hear the world around you, at least enough to order food or something. You probably wouldn’t want to have a full conversation that way, but no one likes the guy who talks to others with earbuds in, anyway.
Last but certainly not least, the battery life is excellent. Google rates these for seven hours of playtime with ANC turned on and I came in at almost exactly six hours in my testing. Not quite what Google said, but almost enough for a full day of work.
Keeping up isn’t enough
It should be clear by now that I think the Pixel Buds Pro are very good wireless earbuds. Between hard-hitting bass, fabulous comfort, and the long-awaited inclusion of (extremely effective) ANC, Pixel devotees can pick these up without a worry in the world. That said, I have serious questions about their value to most customers.
Namely, why would someone want these over the Beats Fit Pro? I can understand desiring an Android-specific pair of earbuds over AirPods, but despite Apple’s funding going to Beats, those particular earbuds are platform-agnostic thanks to an app you use for settings and updates. I still think they have the best sound quality for the price, to go along with slightly preferable comfort thanks to an in-ear stabilizer. Excellent battery life also makes the Beats Fit Pro an enticing choice.
Google has certainly done enough to keep up with the competition here. I’d easily recommend the Pixel Buds Pro over the $250 AirPods Pro or even Samsung’s more Android-friendly $150 Galaxy Buds 2. But when such an incredible pair of earbuds like the Beats Fit Pro already exists and can play nice with either of the two big mobile operating systems, it’s just a little tough to figure out the best audience for the Pixel Buds Pro.
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