Audio

Sleek earbuds with easy controls

Pixel Buds (2020)
Pixel Buds (2020)

Launched in the United States 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 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 on the bus, for instance.

The earbuds have a round touch-sensitive exterior with a Google logo and are 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 pairs of ear tips of different sizes are included, though no additional ear wings are provided.

The earbuds' IPX4 rating means they can withstand water splashes and sweat. Just don't wear them when running in heavy rain.

As you might expect, pairing the Pixel Buds (2020) with a Google Pixel smartphone or an 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 the earbuds 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

    • Easy auto-pairing on Android smartphones

    • Easy-to-remember default touch controls

    • Wireless charging case

    AGAINST

    • Audio quality mediocre when compared with its competition

    • Lacks active noise-cancelling technology

    • Promise of real-time translation a letdown

    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

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 - it is intuitive and easy to remember. You tap once to play or pause a track, twice to skip a track and thrice to return to the previous track. And you swipe forward to increase the volume and 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 the controls hard to remember.

One downside with the Pixel Buds (2020) is that it lacks active noise-cancellation technology. Its passive noise cancellation is unimpressive as its spatial vents, which reduce the "plugged-ear" feeling, allow too much noise to pass through.

The audio quality is nice in itself, but mediocre when compared with 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 people to use one earbud each to carry out a conversation in different languages.

However, this requires the use of the Google Translate app on your smartphone. But if you have the app on your phone, 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.

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2020, with the headline 'Sleek earbuds with easy controls'. Print Edition | Subscribe