If there’s one thing you can count on from Google, it’s that they’ll manufacture extremely nice things at prices that seem a little too low. Their most recent release is the Google Pixel Buds A-Series, which are genuine wireless in-ear headphones. They’re exactly like the flagship Pixel Buds, but without some of the more specialised nice-to-have features, and they’re practically half the price. I enjoy how these small buttons appear in the ear. They have a unique appearance. They’re not attempting to be Apple AirPods like so many other companies, and you can tell simply by looking. Given how little really comes out of the ear, that’s quite an accomplishment.
Exceeding their price point
Google says they’ve scanned thousands of ears to get the fit right, but I have to admit to being a little disappointed in this area. There are only three sizes of included ear tips, and they run smaller than most others I’ve tried. I’m normally a medium, but I’m a large in these and wish I had an extra-large for my left ear. This is great news for people with smaller ear canals, but will be rough for our larger-eared friends. You can order Comply Foam tips separately (and I would highly recommend doing that if you have issues with the included tips).
The little charging egg is similarly adorable. The outside is a lightly matte white, which will absolutely attract stains and be difficult to clean. Mine has so far remained unscathed, but that’s only because it’s illegal for me to leave my house. As soon as I have a reason to put it in the same bag as a snack, it’s going to start looking more individual. I do really like how the inside of the case is the same colour as the buds, while all the cases look the same on the outside. Like a surprise egg. My headphones are white/grey, so it doesn’t quite have the same effect, but those olive ones look cool.
They do have little attached fins to keep them in your ear, but they’re more of a vestigial tail than a fin. They’re not quite big enough to be effective, and because they can’t be switched out for a different size, they’re nowhere near as helpful as the fins included with Bose and Plantronics ear buds. The big question is why are these $159 when the regular Pixel Buds are $279. All the important specs are the same: each bud has 5 hours battery life built in (plus more in the case), both have very good passive noise reduction (thanks to the design), both have adaptive sound, the Buds are sweat and water resistant, they have Google Assistant, and in-ear detection.
The other most obvious comparison is to AirPods. It’s unfair to compare audio quality, given they have vastly different designs. But on price, $159 is the exact same as the AirPods model with the wired charging case. In both cases they’re the best option for the relative phone operating systems. If you’re wanting relatively inexpensive true wireless headphones, Android users should get the A-Series Buds and iPhone users should go AirPods. Like most pairs of true wireless headphones, the Pixel Buds A-Series feature on-ear controls so you can tap to pause, skip songs or answer the phone. Like most true wireless headphones, these controls completely suck.
It’s easier to say the stuff the A-Series don’t have: they come in fewer colours, the case doesn’t have wireless charging, they don’t have wind reduction, you can’t swipe for volume control, and the case isn’t water resistant. And that’s fine. None of those things are worth $120 to most people. It’s a bummer not to have the black or orange colours, but the olive and white options are fine. Most people don’t need to get their headphone case wet anyway. The wind reduction was nice, that’s true. Most importantly, from what I can tell, the sound quality is the same. So, unless one of those features is really important to you, the A-Series seems like a no-brainer choice.
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