- Google Pixel Buds are a $US159 pair of wireless headphones for Google Pixel 2 smartphones.
- The headphones offer better control than Apple’s AirPods, in a different design that people might like better.
- They also come with a very cool “universal translator” feature that seems very useful, but didn’t work 100% right in my hands-on.
Meet the Google Pixel Buds, a $US159 pair of wireless earbuds that give future owners of the new Google Pixel 2 smartphone an alternative to Apple’s pioneering (and very popular) AirPods. They ship in November.
I got to go hands on with the Google Pixel Buds. And while Google may be late to the wireless-audio party, the search giant has come up with something that outmaneuvers the AirPods in some important, and very cool, ways.
Whether Pixel Buds look cooler than Apple AirPods, I’ll let you judge for yourself. However, the strap between them might maybe make them harder to lose. And, unlike Apple’s option, if you lose one Pixel Bud, you lose both, so hey, at least you want have any orphan earbuds. Every silver lining has a cloud, I guess.
The sound is good, but not necessarily spectacular. They fit comfortably in your ears — it’s hard to see in photos, but there’s a fabric strap you can loosen up or tighten to help the Pixel Buds sit snugly.
The really nifty part is in the controls. If you swipe left or right over the grey surface of the earbud, you adjust the volume. Swiping left and right, meanwhile, changes the song if you’re playing music. If you press down on the earbud, it invokes the Google Assistant, the Pixel’s answer to Siri. If you let go of the button, Assistant stops listening.
That’s in comparison with the AirPods, which only have one button in each ear, and it’s up to you to assign what they do.
Google claims the Pixel Buds will last about 5 hours on a charge. Like AirPods, you just put the Pixel Buds back in their pocket-sized case to charge. The case can fully charge the Pixel Buds 5 times before needing a recharge, or so says Google. The case thoughtfully includes a groove around the inside edge, so you can easily wrap the connecting cord.
The really cool part
Last, but definitely not least, the Google Pixel Buds can act as a universal translator, “Star Trek” style. No fooling.
Just put on your Pixel Buds, open the Google Translate app on your Pixel 2 smartphone, and choose the languages you’re trying to translate to and from. As you speak into the Pixel Buds, your words get translated and spoken aloud by the Pixel 2 phone in the other language. Google says it will work with 40 languages.
I got to try out my mediocre Spanish on a Google spokesperson wearing Pixel Buds. And it worked! Mostly.
First, the Pixel 2 displays a friendly welcome message, basically informing the other person that you’re using a translation app and how it works. Since I was speaking Spanish in this conversation, the message was in Spanish.
As he talked in English, introducing himself to me, it did correctly read out the correct Spanish (“Hola, como estas?”). The problem was that answering him in Spanish was tricky — the room was loud, so the phone’s microphone couldn’t pick me up properly. Maybe don’t try this in a crowded bar.
Google says these features should come to other phones too, eventually. For now, Google wants to keep this feature on its own Pixel 2 phones while it works the kinks out.
There are still some questions: Are Pixel Buds as easy to set up as Apple’s AirPods? How good is the microphone, really? What’s the battery life like in everyday use? But for Pixel 2 owners, Google has come up with something really solid.
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