The first Google Pixel Buds were a decent first attempt at totally wireless earbuds, and this year they’ve brought their ‘A Series’ Pixel Buds offering similar functions and design with a lower price tag.
There’s compromises on the new Pixel Buds Series A with Google dropping the wireless charging and water resistance on the case, as well as swipe to control volume on the buds. There’s also features dropped including Attention Alerts and wind reduction for the microphones but they retain the same design, and same sound setup as the last gen.
At $159 there’s a lot of competition at this end of the market with options from Jabra, JBL, Huawei and more. Google however is applying some smarts to get an advantage with their Pixel Buds with instant access to the Google Assistant which offers all the usual functionality including reading out your notifications, searching and loads more.
I’ve been using the Pixel Buds for a week now and here’s how it went.
I found last year’s Pixel Buds to be very comfortable with the soft “stabilizer arc” fin making for a comfortable appendage to the bud which ensures it sits firmly in the ear – and unlike a lot of TWS earbuds, they have a low profile design and don’t stick out from your ear.
The buds are fairly comfortable to wear for extended periods. I wore them for about 4 hours at a stretch over the past few days and found them good, though the fin does start to get a little uncomfortable on the back of the ear at the end of these longer sessions.
The buds come in ‘Clearly White’ a two-tone colour with a soft grey underneath and a white outer shell. The underside is glossy, as opposed to the matte finish on last year’s model. This extends to the interior of the case as well which is likewise glossy, while last years was matte.
I do have a gripe with the colour with most other markets getting a rather svelte looking Dark Olive colour. Google said COVID unfortunately played in the decision to not bring the Dark Olive colour to Australia, but they’re always looking for opportunities to bring more colour options, but for now you can get the Clearly White which is still quite stylish.
The underside of the buds which sits in the ear includes a proximity sensor, pins for charging and a spatial vent to prevent the blocked ear feeling. There’s also Left and Right labels, although you definitely know when you put the wrong one in your ear.
I find the silicon ear tips – there’s a medium size pair of tips are attached and large and small in the box – pretty good at creating a decent seal in the ear with the spatial vent ensuring your ears don’t feel blocked. I am however keen to get my hands on the Comply foam tips which Google is now selling as an accessory on the Google Store.
Google hasn’t changed much outwardly, but they have made some changes internally to the connectivity. On the previous gen, Google only used one bud for connection that daisy chained to the second bud. This led to a number of users finding connection and sync issues. For the Pixel Buds A-Series both buds connect to the device.
In practice, the Pixel Buds A-Series are quite good at connecting, and remaining in-sync. I did however find they started getting choppy with my phone in my pants pocket. Taking the phone out of my pocket resolved the issue, as did keeping it in the pocket of my hoodie closer to the buds.
The case is essentially the same as the last years, it’s the same size, shape and has the same satisfying clacky sound as you snap it shut. It also still fits in the coin pocket in your jeans with the smooth shell easy to hold.
There’s a USB-C port on the base for charging – but Google has removed the wireless charging feature. The power/notification/status LED has moved slightly, though the pairing button is still on the back.
The case has magnets to firmly seat your buds in the case and ensure they touch the pogo pins inside for charging, as well as make sure they don’t just fall out of the case.
Battery life is always important, and Google is advertising the Pixel Buds A-Series with 24 hours of battery life. That’s five hours on the buds, and a further 19 in the case.
There’s some serious competition out there for Totally Wireless (TWS) buds with great battery life. There’s the FreeBuds 4i from Huawei which offer up to 30 hours with the option of Active Noise Cancellation and are priced the same.
Charging is convenient in the case, and if you forget to charge you can get a quick top up to get you through a gym session, workout or commute with 15 minutes in the case offering up to 3 hours of use.
You can check the battery life in a couple of ways, there’s an LED inside the case, as well as checking in the Pixel Buds app. You can still see information through the Bluetooth menu and you get an audible alert as you hit the 15% battery life left on the buds, so you’ll definitely know you need to charge.
Setup and Use
The pairing process is simple, pop open the top of the charging case and any Android phone running 6.0+ will instantly begin the pairing process – that’s the power of Google Play Services. The setup pairs the buds to your phone, then you can access the Pixel Buds app, built into Android.
It’s worth noting that you CAN use the Pixel Buds A-Series with iOS, but there’s no companion app so it makes things a little more difficult. That said, you can just pair them as Bluetooth buds and be on your merry way.
The settings in the app offer a number of functions including the Find Device option which sets any errant buds beeping. The alerts aren’t exactly going to blow you away as they’re still pretty low volume, but if you have a general idea where they are it can help.
You can also disable the in-ear detection in the app, though it’s handy to have this feature active so you’re not fumbling with your phone to pause when you need it. Just take out a bud, do what you need to and place it back in your ear to resume.
The touch controls on the buds are quite good, with the single, double and triple taps easily recognised. A long press will engage Google Assistant, reading out notifications if you hear a chime, or simply reading out the time if there are no notifications which is actually pretty handy.
You can also simply say ‘Ok/Hey Google’ to summon the Assistant without touching the bud. It’s super fast and easy to engage if you want it, or if you don’t you can turn it off in the app.
The Assistant is fast and it’s convenient having Google in your ear to answer questions and perform tasks like setting alarms, finding out the weather.
The touch controls are hard-coded, so you can’t change them but you can turn them off and see their uses in the Settings menu. I don’t tend to customise the controls on earbuds as they generally have a fairly good default setup and once you’re used to double and triple tapping for next track or repeat it’s fairly intuitive.
Google did remove the swipe for volume on the Pixel Buds A-Series, which was a bit contentious for me as I use that feature on the Pixel Buds gen 2. The volume swipe is convenient on the older model, but it’s not a deal breaker as I often found the swipe gesture missed the target, so upping the volume on your phone can be a more concise way to control volume.
One feature for volume that Google does include on the Pixel Buds A-Series is Adaptive Sound. The feature will intelligently recognise when ambient noise around you increases, or decreases, and changes the volume to compensate. It works, but I found it to be a little slow to compensate, so I was more distracted by the volume change than anything else. Luckily the Pixel Buds A-Series will respect your manually set volume, and you can turn it off completely in the settings.
Google had a pretty decent sound on last years Pixel Buds and with the same 12mm driver on-board you get just the same sound quality which is actually pretty good.
The sound profile Google aims for is a full, clear, natural sound that has balanced highs, mids and lows. The sound quality matches this for the most part, though as with most buds you tend to lack a bit of Bass at the low end. Google has put a ‘Bass Boost’ in the app, though it doesn’t make a huge difference.
The removal of the wind reduction on the microphone hasn’t really affected call quality when on the Pixel Buds A-Series. They’re still quite good and there were no complaints on sound quality on calls.
Should You Buy Them?
Google had a nice pair of earbuds with last years Pixel Buds, though connectivity issues meant they had a hit and miss reputation. The Pixel Buds A-Series fixes those connectivity issues with both buds connecting to your device, and they come at a fairly substantial discount.
Google could have gone the other way with their next TWS buds, adding in many more features and increasing the price, but instead we got the Pixel Buds A-Series, which capitalise on what made the originals good, and fixed what was needed to make these buds very attractive to almost any buyer.
There’s missing features like wireless charging and water resistance on the case, and volume swipe and Attention Alerts on the buds themselves, but when it comes down to it you still get that comfortable design, super easy access to Google Assistant, they sound great and that’s really what you want.
If you’re in the market for a good pair of earbuds, the Pixel Buds A-Series are definitely something you should be checking out. You can find the Pixel Buds A-Series for pre-order now on the Google Store or from JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman, and Officeworks from August 25th.