Tech review: Google Pixel Buds (2020) offer decent sound and battery life

Available in white, the Pixel Buds (2020) looks similar to its predecessor.
Available in white, the Pixel Buds (2020) looks similar to its predecessor.PHOTO: GOOGLE

Launched in the US in April, the second-generation Google Pixel Buds true wireless in-ear headphones landed in Singapore last month.

Available in white, the Pixel Buds (2020) looks similar to its predecessor. However, the nylon cable that joins the original's earbuds is gone.

A pebble-shaped charging case is also now included. It has a pairing button on its back and a USB-C port at its bottom. Two charging indicator lights - one external and one internal - let you see the charging status. The charging case supports wireless charging.

The earbuds feature a 12mm dynamic driver each and are integrated with Google Assistant. They have adaptive sound technology that optimises volume based on environmental noise, automatically reducing the volume when you are in a quiet room and increasing it when you are in the bus, for instance.

The earbuds have a round touch-sensitive exterior with a Google logo, joined to a short stem with a tiny stabiliser ear wing and a silicone ear tip. The ear wing "anchors" and secures the earbud to your ear.

Three different-sized pairs of ear tips are included, though no any additional ear wings are provided.

Its IPX4 rating means it can withstand water splashes and sweat. Just don't wear it for runs in heavy rain.

As you might expect, pairing the Pixel Buds (2020) with a Google Pixel smartphone or any Android smartphone (running Android 6.0 and later) is a cinch. Flip up the lid of the charging case with the earbuds inside and a window will appear on the smartphone for you to tap and connect.

Pairing it with an iPhone is easy too but not as seamless. After flipping up the lid, you have to hold the button on its back until the internal indicator light flashes white, then go to the iPhone's Bluetooth menu and select Pixel Buds (2020) to complete the pairing.

For non-Pixel Android (6.0 and later) smartphones, you have to download the Pixel Buds app (available for Android only), which allows you to update firmware, activate adaptive sound and customise the touch controls.

Not that the default touch control scheme needs any changes, as it is intuitive and easy to remember. You tap once to play or pause a track, tap twice to skip a track and tap thrice to go to the previous track. And you swipe forward to increase the volume and swipe backwards to decrease the volume.

I like that the controls are identical for each earbud, unlike some of its competitors which have different functions assigned to the same controls on the left and right earbud, making them hard to remember.

One downer with the Pixel Buds (2020) is that not only does it lack active noise cancellation technology, its passive noise cancellation is not impressive too, as its spatial vents that reduce the "plugged-ear" feeling allow much noise to pass through.

The audio quality is nice in itself, but mediocre when compared to the competition. While the mids and highs are clear, the bass lacks oomph. Furthermore, there is no equaliser setting in the Pixel Buds app for you to customise the sound.

The biggest party trick of the Pixel Buds (2020) is its real-time translation feature (it works only with Android smartphones), which allows two person to use one earbud each to carry out a conversation in different languages.

However, this requires you to use the Google Translate app on your smartphone. But if you have the app on your smartphone, why would you need the earbuds? The app itself can read out the translated words and the earbuds are merely conduits for the audio. Not to mention, you have to speak slowly for the translation to work. It is not a Doctor Who-kind of real-time translation.

Battery life is pretty good at five hours of music playback on a full charge. The charging case adds 19 more hours.

FOR

- Easy auto-pairing on Android smartphones

- Easy-to-remember default touch controls

- Wireless charging case

AGAINST

- Audio quality mediocre when compared to its competition

- Lacks active noise cancelling technology

- Promise of real-time translation a letdown

TECH SPECS

PRICE: $269

DRIVERS: 12mm

CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth 5.0

WEIGHT: 5.3g (each earbud), 56.1g (charging case)

RATING

FEATURES: 3.5/5

DESIGN: 4/5

PERFORMANCE: 3/5

BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

VALUE FOR MONEY: 3.5/5

OVERALL: 3.5/5

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