The headphone space is a highly competetive one, there are a multitude of very long-standing firms in this sector who have a high-degree of expertise and can deliver some truly stunning listening experiences; Bose, Bang & Olufsen, AKG/Harman, Sennheiser, to name but a very small sample. Admittedly, the wireless headphone space is something of a new frontier, ripe for pioneering by other firms too.
But, at the end of the day, wireless or no, most consumers expect decent comfort and sound quality when they’re paying a lot of money. And that’s not even factoring in the hardcore audiophiles.
When you pay over £100 for a pair of headphones, you expect a certain level of sound quality and finesse. The headphone market is densely packed with excellent options, at great prices, so wading in with a pricey pair of earbuds is always risky. But that is just what Google has done with its Pixel Buds.
And right off the bat, I’m afraid to say the results aren’t good – not even close. You see, the Pixel Buds are expensive and, worse still, they’re not very good – not very good at audio, not very good at comfort, not very good at anything really.
This is unfortunate, massively so, because I was super excited by the prospect of these headphones at launch. Not only could they apparently translate language in real-time, but they also looked pretty good too. They had a wire so you wouldn’t lose them if one fell out, a nice shape and look to them, and promised decent functionality through Google Assistant.
But it’s not just me that doesn’t like the Pixel Buds, a quick gander across the many review websites on the web shows similar sentiments from a lot of reputable tech sources – Engadget, The Verge, CNET, Trusted Review – even papers such as The Guardian and The Express. All seem to agree that Google has shot itself in the foot with its first foray into wireless earbuds.
So what the hell happened? Why do the Google Pixel Buds suck? Read on to find out more.
Google Pixel Buds Review: Design
When I unboxed the Google Pixel Buds, my first response was sadness; the earbuds were made from a hard plastic.
For me, this is a deal-breaker for a couple of reasons: 1) they’re painfully uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time, like having a pair of small rocks inserted in your ear, and 2) because they’re made from hard plastic, they do not expand to the shape of your ear canal and therefore let in plenty of exterior sound.
The nature of the build materials also means they’re supremely awkward to actually get in your ear in the first place. And even when you do eventually get them in, they feel unnatural and uncomfortable.
I actually do like the way they look, however, and I appreciate the cloth cord that connects them; you won’t ever lose one, for instance, and you can wear them around your neck when they’re not in use. But that’s literally it in terms of positives. The rest is just plain wrong.
The box that they come in (which also serves as a charging point) has to be the most stupid invention to ever come out of a tech company. You have to wrap the wires in a particular way to get the Pixel Buds to sit in them properly and, well… I have never got it right. Not once.
Pairing is fairly easy, however, as you’d expect from a pair of £159 headphones at the back-end of 2017. Simply go to your phone’s Bluetooth settings and follow the instructions – it takes less than 30 seconds.
On the right earbud, you have controls for doing things with the Pixel Buds. Things like playing music, activating Google Assistant, increasing or decreasing the volume of songs, but, oddly, there is no option for skipping tracks (you have to do this with your voice, which sucks on public transport). Also, the app you’re using MUST support voice too in order for the Pixel Buds to work, otherwise you’re screwed. Apple Music for Android doesn’t FYI.
Google Pixel Buds Review: Performance
How’s the sound quality? Distinctly average, sadly. Not even close to what I imagined it would be. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that I have used better-sounding headphones that came free with one of my many phone purchases over the years.
The design of the earbud itself lets in too much exterior noise, so you never feel truly immersed in the music or whatever you’re listening to. They’re OK for podcasts and the like, but music lovers will be left wanting with the Pixel Buds. Big time.
And for £150, you would definitely expect more from these headphones. I mean, the Hammo Wireless headphones are MILES better and CHEAPER. Given the choice, I would take a pair of the HAMMO wireless headphones over the Pixel Buds every day of the week and twice on a Sunday.
The bottom line is the Pixel Buds suck on a train, plane, or when you’re in the gym. They don’t block out exterior sound, so you’re never connected to what you’re listening to. And, worse still, even when you’re in the right, quiet environment for them, the sound quality just isn’t good enough for the price Google is asking.
If they were £30 it’d be a different story, but they ain’t – they’re 150 quid!
Google Pixel Buds Review: Google Assistant & Other Things
Google Assistant works just like it does on Google Home and your Pixel phone, meaning it’s decent and useful in the right hands. On a pair of headphones, however, I kind of, well… I just don’t get it.
Most of the time, when you’re wearing headphones, you’re out and about. In a city or someplace else. And this type of setting isn’t really conducive to talking to yourself (or, issuing commands to your headphones). It feels odd and not something I ever do.
The Translate thing DOES NOT work as advertised either. Not even close, so please do not go out and buy a pair of these based on that. The translate feature is simply an extension of the Translate app you can get on your phone, and it works as you’d imagine. I tested it on my fiancé – who’s both Finnish and Kurdish – and it was, well… rather disappointing to say the least.
Google Pixel Buds Review: Battery Life
Again, not great. My Hammo Wireless headphones, which I positively love, last for an impossible amount of time. I use them every day, listen to audiobooks in bed all night, and since I opened them, three weeks ago, I’ve only charged them twice.
I know, it’s gotta be black magic or something!?
The Pixel Buds will do four hours at a push, less if you’re using Google Assistant a lot. And this, compared to Bose’s QC35 II’s or the Hammo Wireless headphones, just isn’t good enough. In fact, it’s not even close. It sucks, basically. Like pretty much everything else about these headphones.
Google Pixel Buds Review: Verdict
Terrible. I wanted to love these headphones, but the reality of using them is just one depressing event after the other. The battery sucks, the sound quality sucks, they’re uncomfortable and they cannot translate language in realtime.
Basically, you definitely want to avoid these overpriced, uncomfortable, sub-par headphones like the plague. Sorry, Google.