Google recently released their answer to other companies’ branded Bluetooth earbuds, such as Apple’s AirPods, in the form of Pixel Buds, named for the line of smartphones they started producing a few years ago. Given the tech giant’s reputation and the positive reception of the Pixel phones, it was no surprise that there was a good deal of hype surrounding these wireless headphones. Unfortunately, when put to the test, they mostly fail to live up to that hype.
The highlights of the Pixel Buds features were their integration with Google Assistant and Google Translate, and while both of them do deliver on their promises in theory, there are practical issues that complicate matters. So, there is definitely a lot of potential in these earbuds—it will likely just take a while to iron out the details.
Positive feedback about Google’s Pixel Buds
Arguably the best feature of the Pixel Buds is their direct access to Google Assistant, done by simply placing your finger on the earbud and verbalizing your request. Once you release your finger, Google Assistant will return its answer to your request. Reviewers rave that this is lightning fast, but caution that it only works if you are connected to the internet, which is logical.
And it’s a two-way street: Assistant can also alert you whenever you receive a notification and read them aloud to you, and if anything needs replying to, you can do that via voice to text (again, as long as you are connected to the internet).
One of the things Assistant can do for you is activate Google Translate for real-time translation. Simply press and hold the icon on the screen while you speak, and then release to hear audio translation through the Pixel Buds.
Where Pixel Buds fall short
Despite these features being very cool in theory, there are a few issues. For one, some reviewers report that Assistant fails to alert them with notifications sometimes. In addition, because touching the earbuds is used to activate Google Assistant, and swiping on the right earbud is how you adjust the volume, it is difficult to handle or reposition the Pixel Buds without accidentally making them do something.
Real-time translation is neat, but if you really needed speech to audio translation—when talking with a person who does not speak your language, for example—it would make more sense to do it without earbuds in at all.
Apart from that, Google’s Pixel Buds are not truly wireless, since they are neckband style, and volume controls are not refined enough to some users, making things either too soft or too loud without ever hitting that sweet spot.
But since the audio quality is good for earbuds that do not provide sound isolation, and the special features are interesting in theory, the Pixel Buds will likely be a star product from Google in a few years’ time—they just haven’t gotten there yet.