Monday, January 24

Pixel Buds A-Series Review: Google’s Cheapest But Good Headphones | Google


Google’s latest AirPods competitors, the Pixel Buds A-Series, get a big price cut and a slightly more comfortable design.

The new Bluetooth headsets follow suit with Google’s cheaper but excellent A-series phones, which slash some features to cost £ 100 (US $ 99), a total of £ 80 cheaper than their predecessors.

Not that you knew that Serie A is cheaper. The headphones have the same design as the 2020 Pixel Buds, with an understated fit and a subtle ‘G’ marking.

Google Pixel Buds A Series
The flexible silicone stabilizer wing presses against the inside of the ear to keep the buttons in place, even when running. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

The headphones are a bit smaller and the stabilizer wing is a bit smoother, making them a bit more comfortable to use than their predecessors. Three sizes of silicone tips are supplied to ensure a good seal in the ears, but the earbuds also have small pressure-releasing vents that prevent the “plugged-in” feeling that some don’t like with regular earbuds.

Case and battery

Google Pixel Buds A Series
The compact case has an LED that shows the charging of the headphones and charges via USB-C. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

As with all true wireless earbuds, the case is just as important as the earbuds, offering secure storage so you don’t lose them while charging. The Series A case is excellent. Small, soft and easy to store, it holds the headphones in place with powerful magnets and a lid that closes with a reassuring click.

You get up to five hours of playtime or 2.5 hours of headphone talk time per charge. The case can charge the headphones up to 3.8 times for a total of 24 hours of music.

specs

  • Waterproof: IPX4 (sweat)

  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, SBC, AAC

  • Battery duration: 5 hours of listening / 2.5 hours of talk, up to 24 hours with case

  • Headphone Dimensions: 20.7 x 29.3 x 17.5 mm

  • Headphone Weight: 5.1 g

  • Controller size: 12 mm

  • Charging case dimensions: 47 x 63 x 25 mm

  • Charging case weight: 52.9 g

  • Loading the box: USB-C

Sustainability

Google Pixel Buds Series A Review
The Series A comes in white or an attractive dark olive green color as tested, but while the ear tips are replaceable, the battery is not. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

Google does not provide an expected life for the batteries in the headphones or the case. Similar product batteries typically last at least 500 full charge cycles while maintaining at least 80% of their original capacity. Like most true wireless earbuds, the Pixel Buds are non-serviceable, making them ultimately disposable.

The case is made with some post-consumer recycled plastic, part of Google commitment to include recycled materials in all its products launched from 2022. The company publishes environmental impact reports for some of their products, but not for Pixel Buds, and recycle all Pixel devices free.

Connectivity, controls and Google Assistant

Google Pixel Buds Series A Review
If you hold your finger on the “G” logo on the surface of the headset, the Google Assistant is invoked for commands and questions when connected to an Android phone. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

The Series A bracket Google Quick Pair with Android devices, but can also be paired with Apple devices and Windows PC. They support Bluetooth 5 with the universal SBC and AAC audio standards used by most devices. They only connect to one device at a time, but each earbud can be used on its own. The Bluetooth connection to a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and an iPhone 12 Pro was solid at home and on a fairly quiet street. However, testing in congested areas was not possible due to the Covid-19 situation in the UK.

The outer surface of the headphones is touch sensitive for gesture controls. Tap once to pause / play, twice and three times to skip a track. When used with an Android phone, touching and holding activates the Google Assistant, allowing you to issue commands and ask questions that are answered when you remove your finger.

There is no gesture to control the volume. Used with an Android phone, the headphones automatically raise and lower the volume by a small amount based on background noise, but otherwise you have to reach for your phone or ask the Assistant.

With an Android phone, the Google Assistant can also be activated with the wake word “Hey Google” and can read messages and notifications, send responses, perform translations in real time with Google Translate and all the other things that the voice assistant can do on a phone.

Sound and isolation

Google Pixel Buds Series A Review
The vents on the side of the headphones release pressure when the tips are inserted into the ear canal for a more comfortable fit. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

They may be cheaper, but the Serie A ones sound just as good as their more expensive predecessors. The clear, balanced and full sound with excellent separation of tones and details makes them ideal for most musical genres. They have a “bass boost” setting but lack really deep low notes, so bass lovers may want to look elsewhere.

Due to its ventilated design, the Series A lacks any real sound insulation. That’s good for street awareness, but terrible for blocking out distractions. They provide a bit more insulation than Apple’s AirPods or Microsoft’s Surface Earbuds, but not much.

Call quality was good at both ends of the call, but it leaked some background noise into the call, while the lack of isolation made it more difficult to hear the caller on the street.

Price

The cost of Google Pixel Buds A-series £ 99.99/US $ 99 in white or dark olive and are available in the US and will go on sale in the UK in the near future.

For comparison, Pixel Buds cost £ 179, Apple AirPods cost £ 159, AirPods Pro cost £ 249, Samsung Galaxy Buds + cost £ 99, the cost of Galaxy Buds Pro £ 219, Microsoft’s Surface Earbuds are £ 199.99, the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro is £ 129.99 and the price of Jabra Elite 85t £ 219.99.

Verdict

The Pixel Buds A-series offers everything good about Google’s previous headphones for just over half the price.

That makes them some of the best-sounding true wireless earbuds you can get for under £ 100. The case is good, the battery life is decent, they don’t stick much out of your ears and they have some fancy features with Android phones, but they also work well with Windows PCs and Apple devices.

The lack of a volume control gesture is a bit annoying, and some may not find the stabilizer glider comfortable for extended periods. You can’t replace the battery either, making them ultimately disposable and losing a star.

Pros: small, stable, open fit with earphone, good sound, good case, solid battery life, good gestures, Fast Pair, Google Assistant, USB-C, AAC.

Cons: not much sound isolation, no noise cancellation, no volume control gestures, can not connect to two devices at the same time, non-adjustable stabilizer wing, non-replaceable battery.

Google Pixel Buds A Series
The Series A does not have dangling stems like many AirPods competitors, preventing them from colliding with earrings or hats. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

Other criticisms


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