The Google Pixel Buds (2020) may invoke a skeptical eyebrow raise, after all, many consumers are wary of tech companies’ data privacy policies. But the Pixel Buds (2020) gets a lot right as a premium set of earphones. This set of true wireless earbuds blows the original traditional wireless Pixel Buds out of the water, but it comes at a cost.
Editor’s note: this post has been updated on July 12, 2021, to add a section in alternatives about the new Pixel Buds A-Series.
Who should buy the Google Pixel Buds (2020)?
- Android users can take advantage of the Pixel Buds because it’s so easy to use with a modern Android device.
- People that use Google Assistant should pick up Google’s debut true wireless earphones.
Meet the Google Pixel Buds (2020)
I’ve said multiple times in past reviews that nailing the charging case is arguably the most important aspect of a good pair of true wireless earbuds. A cheap or cumbersome charging case can ruin the entire experience and make it difficult to recommend for everyday use. This was one of the biggest failures of the original Pixel Buds and this new one is a definite upgrade. The case of the new Pixel Buds is hands-down the best charging case I’ve used to date.
Everything about this charging case has been thought out and is executed extremely well. It’s made of a soft white plastic that feels great to the touch, and my only complaint is that it’s a little slippery and the lid has a slight squeak to it when you fidget with it, but for that to be my main issue just shows how much I like it. The case is small, round, and super pocketable—putting it on par with the quality of the AirPods or AirPods Pro cases, both of which have been great for a while. Its lid magnetically shuts and flipping it open to reveal the earbuds is effortless. It also just looks good with the black line that differentiates the lid slanting across the case at a nice angle.
Aesthetics aside, the case is also perfectly functional with just a single button on the back for pairing to non-Android devices. Another small touch that I really like is that when you open the lid you’ll see two small LEDs light up. One of them is on the front of the charging case tells you the battery status of the case itself while a second LED light is on the inside of the lid and tells you the status of the earbuds. So when the earbuds are depleted and you put them back in the fully charged case: the light on the inside will be orange to show the status of the earbuds, and the light on the case will be white to show the status of the case. It’s one of those small design tweaks that I find super practical. Anytime I wanted to know if the earbuds were fully charged, I just had to open the lid and check.
Finally, we get to the earbuds themselves. When Google first showed these off, I was surprised at just how thin they were. I was sure that it was just a prototype model, and the actual model would be thicker, but that isn’t the case. The Mentos-like design of the earbuds might not be for everyone but the one thing that these are is thin. From head-on you can barely tell that I’m even wearing earbuds—which is super impressive considering so many other models are still fairly bulky.
The earbuds come with three different-sized ear tips, but unfortunately, the concha wing is built-in and can’t be swapped out. That means that if you have large ears as I do, it doesn’t really prop itself against the inside of your ear like it should; resulting in a slightly loose fit. So far I haven’t had any issues wearing them around my apartment, or on walks, but I don’t feel too confident that these will stay put during one of my runs. This is a shame, seeing as these are IPX4 sweatproof and can handle it.
The earbuds are made of the same smooth plastic that the case is made from, and are touch-sensitive so you can control playback and access the Google Assistant. Normally touch-sensitive playback controls always give me some issues like accidentally pausing music or skipping tracks unintentionally, but I didn’t find that to be an issue here. Only intentional taps and swipes registered for me—exactly how it should be.
How to pair the new Pixel Buds on Android
If you’re on an Android device pairing to the Pixel Buds is super easy. Just like the AirPods with iOS devices, all you need to do to pair these to your phone is make sure Bluetooth is enabled on your source device, and open the case. From there, a small card will pop up that will let you connect to the earbuds and give you a short tutorial on how to use them. Part of the process is also making sure that your own Google Assistant can be accessed from the earbuds by long pressing on the earbud.
This has to be one of my favorite aspects of these earbuds, since the Google Assistant is genuinely useful. I find myself using it much more than normal when they’re already in my ears instead of reaching for my phone. To be fair, I still find it weird to talk to the Assistant in public, so I don’t see myself using this feature often while I’m riding the subway or something. But I am definitely going to use it while out my runs (once I’m able to) so I don’t have to constantly be futzing with my watch or cell phone.
While connected on Android, you also get access to a few interesting features that Google built in. While these don’t have active noise cancelling like the AirPods Pro or the Sony WF-1000XM3, they do have what’s called “Adaptive Sound”. This basically means that the Pixel Buds will automatically adjust the volume depending on what’s going on around you. So if you walk from the quiet part of your apartment to the busy cafe down the street the volume will increase accordingly.
You might like: Best noise cancelling true wireless earphones
It also has sensors that can auto-pause your music when you remove the earbud. While I prefer the transparency mode of the AirPods Pro or the Jabra Elite 75t, this is the next best thing, and I found it way more natural when talking to other people. If I’m having a conversation with someone I’m not going to continue wearing my earbuds no matter how good the transparency mode is so I appreciate that the music pauses automatically. If you’re on Android you can also count on a small card in the notification dropdown that will tell you how much battery life is left on each earbud.
How to pair the new Pixel Buds on iOS and other operating systems
If you don’t have an Android phone you can still connect to the new Pixel Buds if you want. I was able to pair to my pair with both my Huawei Matebook and my iPhone 11 Pro and use them as I would any other Bluetooth device. To do this you just have to:
- Place earbuds inside the charging case and close the lid.
- Open the lid but do not remove the earbuds.
- Press and hold the small button on the back of the charging case until the small LED light begins blinking white.
- Go to the Bluetooth settings of your source device and choose the Pixel Buds from the list.
- Take out the earbuds and use them normally.
Unfortunately, you won’t get some of the features if you’re not connected to an Android device. While connected to an iPhone you won’t get access to the Google Assistant even if you have the app downloaded on your phone. Long pressing on the earbud won’t even bring up Siri. You also won’t get the Adaptive Sound feature, or at least it doesn’t seem like it in my experience. On the bright side though, the auto-pause feature still works regardless of which device you’re using.
How does the real-time translation feature work?
One of the big features that Google has been pushing since the days of the original Pixel Buds is the real-time translation feature. I tried my hand at some Spanish to see how they worked. To get it to work, you need to download the Google Translation app, and you also need to have the app open while you’re trying to translate something. I find that this kind of defeats the purpose of having the real-time translation built into the earbuds if I need to reach for my phone anyway. Plus, the Assistant had a hard time trying to figure out whether I wanted to use my phone or the earbuds—and half the time it ended up playing the audio entirely through the earbuds. While the translate app is definitely useful, and I’ve used it while traveling in the past, I’m still not sold on how useful it is in earbuds. The process to access translation via earbuds is just another layer of annoyance that isn’t needed.
What’s new with the Pixel Buds feature drop?
Google has recently updated the Pixel Buds with a slew of new features, including a unique experiment called Attention Alerts. This feature momentarily lowers the volume of your content, allowing you to hear sounds that may require your attention—such as an emergency siren or a baby’s cries.
The update also includes usability enhancements for the Pixel Buds, including fixes to audio cutouts and the ability to find your buds using Find My Device. Sharing detection has also been added, which lets you control the volume of one earbud independently from the other.
Start here: Ultimate headphone buying guide
In regards to sound, the Pixel Buds now feature bass boost—if you prefer a little extra oomph to your kick drums. The Google Assistant has also been given additional control over the Pixel Buds, with the ability to disable the touch controls and indicate its battery life.
Google has also taken the liberty of adding a live transcription mode to the Pixel Buds, allowing you to hear translations while people are speaking to you. At the moment, the feature only works with French, German, Italian, and Spanish being translated into English. All these updates are available starting today.
Can a software update break my Pixel Buds connection?
More and more headphones recently have been relying on software updates to add new features and fix problems, but unfortunately, that can also sometimes lead to new issues arising. That is what many Pixel Buds gen 2 users are saying has happened with one of the newer software updates to the Pixel Buds. They say that a recent update has caused issues with the connection resulting in frequent audio cutouts between the earbuds and the source device, mainly while the phone is in a pocket and the user is exercising. While I didn’t have any issues with my review unit we figured this was worth mentioning anyway as it’s clearly not an isolated incident. It should hopefully be fixed by another software update but we’ll be sure to keep this review updated with the latest news as it arises.
What’s the battery life like on the new Google Pixel Buds?
Google claims a battery life of five hours of constant playback but in our testing I found that it actually did better than that. At a constant output of 75dB I managed to get 6 hours and 8 minutes of constant playback which is very average when compared to other models we’ve tested. Still, it should last you long enough for the average commute or workout at the gym which is good. Then you can just pop them back in the case which Google says should give you another 24 hours of listening time.
The charging case also fast charges the ‘buds giving you another two hours of playback after just 10 minutes in the case. If you’re on Android you’ll get a little dropdown menu showing you the battery life of each earbud but I’m not sure how accurate it is since they seem to discharge at different rates. During my testing though the two earbuds died way closer to each other than the percentage displayed would suggest.
Do the Google Pixel Buds have a microphone?
Yes, the Pixel Buds microphone sounds surprisingly good. Considering there’s no weird stem or angled part of the earbuds like you’ll find on some other true wireless models, I was surprised with how well the microphones here are able to pick up voices. As you can see from the frequency response they do a solid job at making sure that all of the important frequencies in the human voice are well-represented and not overly emphasized. They’re not perfect, but overall they do a great job with speech intelligibility: the only thing that matters with a headset mic.
New Google Pixel Buds microphone sample:
What do the new Google Pixel Buds sound like?
Sound quality wasn’t the strongest point on the original Pixel Buds mainly because of their lack of isolation and that’s more or less the case here—but at least it isn’t as bad as the Pixel USB earbuds. Isolation still isn’t a strong point with the new Google Pixel Buds, and they block basically nothing in the low end. So if you’re looking to bring these on an airplane: this probably isn’t the one for you since the roar of the engine will cut right through.
That said: these buds sound really good, and are very consumer-friendly. Though I should warn any bassheads out there that this isn’t going to do it for you. The bass response is pretty flat and if you can get a good seal by switching out the ear tips then you should be fine. That is, assuming you don’t like overbearing bass. While there was definitely a lack of sub-bass in some songs I found that what I’m after in a pair of true wireless earbuds was there. These did just enough to keep me satisfied.
The kick drums and bass guitar in Selfless by The Strokes are subtle but present, just like I like it. There is a small amount of emphasis in the mids and highs as well which made these pretty good for listening to my podcasts while walking around the apartment. I’ve been listening to a number of podcasts thanks to quarantine and seeing as the range of 300Hz-3,000Hz is where most formants necessary for speech intelligibility tend to lie I didn’t have a problem hearing the commentators over whatever else is going on in my apartment.
The one thing that still remains to be seen is how well that will hold up once I’m back outside and these have to compete with trucks and subways—but in my use, I’ve had no issues. Highs are also emphasized, but the end result was a little different. While I was able to clearly hear all of the hi-hats and cymbals in the song Feels Like We Only Go Backwards by Tame Impala they definitely were not as clear as I’m used to, and at times things in the highs almost sounded like they were overlapping each other.
Should you buy the Google Pixel Buds (2020)?
While these aren’t the best true wireless earbuds we’ve tested, Google nailed all of the important stuff when you’re looking for a top-tier pair of true wireless earbuds. The new Google Pixel Buds are a legit option for just about anyone, and if you use the Google Assistant or just want something that’s well-made (and not the AirPods) then these are a good choice. While I would personally still recommend something like the Jabra Elite 75t to most people, I personally ordered my own pair of Pixel Buds and plan to make these my daily buds.
The charging case is easy to use and well-built, the earbuds are intuitive and useful (save for the translation feature), and they sound good enough. While the battery life is average and they do get uncomfortable for extended listening sessions they’re just so easy to use that I’m willing to make that trade. Plus, having the Assistant so readily available is more useful than I thought it’d be. While the $179 price tag makes these a hard sell, I think that most Android users will find these are more than good enough. While there are many great true wireless earbuds to choose from, Android users finally have their AirPods competitor.
What about the Google Pixel Buds A-Series?
In June 2021, Google released the Pixel Buds A-Series, a streamlined version of the Google Pixel Buds (2020). The Google Pixel Buds A-Series drops some premium features such as wireless charging and touch volume controls in exchange for a sub-$100 starting retail price. These earbuds lack wind reduction and attention alerts, but these aren’t their greatest drawbacks. If you have an Android phone, you may experience volume issues that require digging into developer settings on your phone to fix.
However, the Google Pixel Buds A-Series still has a similar sound, hands-free access to Google Assistant, real-time translation, and an IPX4 water-resistance rating. If you’re interested in buying the Google Pixel Buds (2020) but don’t need all the bells and whistles, you should definitely consider saving a few bucks and picking up the Google Pixel Buds A-Series instead.
What should you get instead of Google Pixel Buds?
The Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) directly competes against the Google Pixel Buds (2020) but Amazon offers a few extra features to customers like good active noise canceling and an ear tip fit test. The noise cancelling outperforms premium alternatives like the Apple AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM4, and the ear tip test aids to immensely improve sound quality and isolation. Another great alternative is the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, which includes a pair of noise canceling earphones and a wireless charging case. Just as Google’s earbuds work best with Google Pixel smartphones, Samsung’s earphones work best with Samsung Galaxy hardware. Some features are exclusive to Samsung handsets like 360 Audio and streaming over the Samsung Scalable Codec, but the most important features like the IPX7 rating and very good noise cancelling benefit all.