First Looks

Hear! Hear! Let these Buds handle the translations

Pixel Buds' translation feature works with 40 languages.
Pixel Buds' translation feature works with 40 languages.PHOTO: GOOGLE

Google's Pixel Buds wireless headphones feel like something out of a science fiction flick from bygone days - a universal translator to bridge the language divide.

The Pixel Buds' microphone picks up your speech and plays the desired translation using your Pixel 2 phone's speaker. The other person's reply is then recorded by your phone, translated and played in your ear via the headphones. Currently, this real-time translation feature works with 40 languages and requires a Google Pixel 2 XL or Pixel 2 smartphone.

I did not manage to try the translation feature for myself at last week's launch event in San Francisco, but the headphones sounded clear even in a noisy environment.

The right earbud has a tiny touchpad - touch and hold it to access the Google Assistant, which can do things such as read out your notifications or send messages via a paired handset.

The earbuds are "semi-occluded", which means they rest loosely outside the ear canal, not plugged in like in-ear headphones.

A fabric cord connects the earbuds to each other, so you won't lose them easily. More importantly, it lets users hang the earbuds around their neck. They can then put on or take off the earbuds quickly, which, according to Google product manager Adam Champy, is necessary for users to make full use of the earbuds' Google Assistant feature. Having to go through the hassle of taking them out of a carrying case would discourage people from using Google Assistant.

Opening the headphones' charging case will instantly activate a pairing sequence between the earbuds inside and any nearby phones running the Android Nougat operating system or higher.

As it uses Bluetooth, these headphones will work with all phones. But its Google Assistant feature is available only for Android 6.0 devices and higher.

Google says that a single charge gives you 5hr of listening time. The case holds extra charges for up to 24hr of uptime.

Local pricing for the Pixel Buds (available here only in black) has not been announced. In the United States, they costs US$159 (S$217) and are apparently already sold out on the Google Play Store.

Vincent Chang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2017, with the headline 'Hear! Hear! Let these Buds handle the translations'. Print Edition | Subscribe