Google Pixel Buds: Good idea, not so great in use

The Pixel Buds is Google's answer to Apple's wireless AirPods. PHOTO: GOOGLE
The Pixel Buds is Google's answer to Apple's wireless AirPods. PHOTO: GOOGLE

Google's answer to Apple's AirPods, the Pixel Buds, are finally available in Singapore on Wednesday (Dec 13), giving Android users a taste of intelligent earbuds.

The earphones are designed to complement Google's latest Pixel 2 smartphones, but will function as wireless Bluetooth earphones with other devices too - just with fewer functionalities.

Its key draw is its tight integration with Google's artificial intelligence Assistant software, which lets users tap on the earbuds and speak commands to create a new note or make a call, as well as perform real-time translation of foreign languages.

They aren't true wireless earphones in the strictest sense of the term, as they have a single nylon cable joining both earbuds together. It takes a bit of fiddling to get the earbuds to fit properly in the ears, which involve pulling on the cable to form a sort of hook to keep the buds in.

The Pixel Buds come in a small,felt-covered case that also doubles as a charging port. It's designed in such a way that there is only one way of keeping your buds in there: stick the earbuds into the charging port, and carefully wind the cable around a plastic divider within the case.

I can understand Google's weird insistence on keeping the earbuds in the case a certain way - probably to keep damage to a minimum - but sometimes I would like the option of putting the buds away quickly.

  • TECH SPECS

    PRICE: $238

    BATTERY CAPACITY: 120mAh

    WEIGHT: 14g

    RATING

    FEATURES: 3/5

    DESIGN: 3/5

    PERFORMANCE: 3/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    OVERALL: 3/5

The Pixel Buds do have a long battery life though, and I easily got five hours out of them.

As earbuds go, the Pixel Buds don't stand out in terms of sound quality, but produce perfectly serviceable audio.

Music and audio playback is warm with generous bass, although it's not the clearest nor the most detailed earphones out there.

Sound isolation is practically absent, because of its earbud design, which lets in outside noise such as traffic or the tapping of keyboards.

The right earbud houses the touch controls that summon up Google Assistant with a tap, or adjust volume by sliding a finger forward or backward on the earbud.

I'm puzzled as to why Google didn't include swipe controls to skip tracks. Instead, you have to tap it and say out loud "next track" to do so, which is slower than simply swiping.

The Assistant integration is cool in theory, although it takes a while to get used to speaking commands out loud.

I'm okay using it in private or in relatively public places. However, I felt a bit self-conscious tapping my earbuds and telling Google to skip track while in office, breaking the silence of people working by giving my earphones commands.

Users who own a Pixel 2 smartphone can make use of the Pixel Bud's highly-hyped real-time translation feature. The earbuds pair to the Pixel 2 and Google's Translate app, and, in theory, translate a foreign language by doing so.

In practice, though, the translation doesn't always meet the mark. When the other party talks too quickly, for example, the Translate software takes a while to register. So it's not as real-time as the future that is promised in various science-fiction books.

And since all the work is done on the Google Translate app that's on the smartphone anyway, why go through the hassle of setting up the earbuds just to realise some science-fiction fantasy?

The entire process of translation is already quite smooth, simply by talking directly into the phone. Sure, it's not as futuristic, but it works. Meanwhile, the Pixel Bud's translation feature aims to be futuristic, but falls flat in its execution.

Google still has some ways in figuring out the ergonomics, sound quality and ease of use of its wireless earbuds. The Pixel Buds aren't quite there yet, especially when compared to competitors in the market which have figured out how to make products which are simple and easy to use.

Verdict: The Pixel Buds are a good idea for earbuds, but Google still has some kinks to figure out, on tighter Assistant integration and audio quality, for it to be truly useful.