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Are the Google Pixel Buds Pro good enough to be Android's AirPods Pro killer?
Google’s next generation of true wireless earbuds are here and they’re going “Pro” for the first time. We’ve been testing the Pixel Buds Pro for a couple of days and we figured it’d be a good idea to give some impressions of Google’s flagship buds.
Meet the new look, same as the old look
The Google Pixel Buds Pro don’t exactly reinvent the wheel, visually speaking. These true wireless earbuds feature the same rounded Mentos-esque look as the Pixel Buds A-series and 2020 Pixel Buds, only now they lack the little wing tip nubbins. This means the buds are a little less secure in your ear, but they may also feel a little more comfortable if the old design caused you pain. The Pixel Buds Pro also come in new colors, with a pale yellow Lemongrass option and a pinkish Coral, in addition to the typical Fog (white) and Charcoal (black). Unfortunately, those new color options don’t apply to the case, as they only come in white.
Speaking of the case, it looks almost exactly the same as that of the Pixel Buds A-series, but it’s got some additions under the hood. For starters, it’s now IPX2 rated (the earbuds themselves are IPX4), so you won’t have to worry about opening it in a rainstorm.
Actually using the Pixel Buds Pro is pretty much what you’d expect from the average pair of true wireless earbuds. There’s on-ear touch controls, and you can handle playback and toggle between active noise-cancelling (ANC) and Transparency modes with taps or tapping and holding.
The Pixel Buds Pro feature the same rounded Mentos-esque look as the Pixel Buds A-series.
Volume controls are handled by swiping forwards (volume up) and backwards (volume down), which is an interesting touch, but I feel a little mixed about it. It’s nice not to have the uncomfortable suction effect of tapping directly on something sticking into my ear whenever I want to change the volume. However, the touch-sensitive surface has a matte texture, which means swiping across it can tug at it a little — given these new earbuds lack the stabilizing fins of their predecessors, that’s a problem. A handful of the times I’ve tried to increase the volume, I’ve pulled the right earbud out of my ear. The Pixel Buds Pro have in-ear detection, which means this also pauses music, too.
The earbuds use Bluetooth 5.0 and support the default SBC audio codec, as well as AAC. It’s kind of a bummer that the maker of Android didn’t bother adding an audio codec that Android devices can really thrive with like aptX, but I haven’t run into any issues with latency or notably poor connection quality. If you’re already used to a non-Hi-Res Bluetooth audio experience, this probably won’t feel any different than usual.
If you’ve got a Pixel phone, the Google Pixel Buds app is already installed — just go to the connected devices page of your Settings app, and you can access all the software options the Pixel Buds Pro have to offer. Everyone with a different kind of Android phone will need to download the Google Pixel Buds app from the Play Store. While you can use the Pixel Buds Pro with an iPhone (or an iPad), there isn’t a dedicated app.
The features are pretty well laid out in the app (and the Pixel equivalent), but the options are definitely a little on the sparse side. You can customize some of the controls — adding a normal mode option is nice, instead of being stuck always choosing between ANC and Transparency mode — but a lot of the basic stuff is set. There’s no way to change how you control the volume if you don’t like occasionally pulling your earbuds out.
There’s no direct equalizer, or even EQ profiles, but Google has added a feature called Volume EQ, which adjusts the bass and treble output depending on how loud your earbuds are. Basically, it makes the lows and highs easier to hear as you reduce the volume. There’s no way to attach this to an on-ear control, so switching back and forth requires switching apps, and makes comparing a little tricky. So far it seems to work well enough, but the difference is pretty minimal.
The Pixel Buds Pro are supposed to support Spatial Audio through its app, but at time of writing this isn’t available. According to Google, that’s coming in the fall.
Google advertises seven hours on a single charge for the Google Pixel Buds Pro with noise-cancelling on. We haven’t conducted any in-depth battery tests yet, but based on my experience that feels right. I definitely haven’t felt like I’m running out of juice throughout the days, especially given how much the earbuds go in and out of their charging case. With noise-cancelling on, Google claims 20 hours total playback time, which would mean around 13 hours in the charging case — again, that feels pretty accurate.
The case also supports wireless charging now, which is a nice addition.
The noise-cancelling is very good
Arguably the biggest change between Google Pixel Buds Pro and the Pixel Buds A-series is that Google decided to add ANC. This feature can be hit or miss with true wireless earbuds, but it seems pretty good here. If you don’t have any audio playing, there’s a slight noticeable hiss, but I stopped noticing within seconds of starting to play media.
However, on balance, the Pixel Buds Pros’ ANC seems very good so far. Low-end attenuation is definitely good enough for a bus commute or even a plane ride. You probably won’t be completely isolated from someone talking right next to you, but it’ll make that a lot less distracting.
How do the Pixel Buds Pro sound?
Our sister site SoundGuys has in-depth testing results forthcoming, but so far my experience has been that the Google Pixel Buds deliver solid audio quality. The bass is definitely boosted a little more than I enjoy, but rock and pop songs sound great. Listening to a song like “I Can Fly Away” by Delicate Steve, most aspects of the song sound pretty nice. The hi-hat can feel a little piercing at moderately high volumes, which usually indicates some added treble emphasis. Most rock songs I listened to sounded totally fine, though.
How is the microphone?
The Google Pixel Buds Pros’ microphone is, in a word, fine. I haven’t had any issues making calls indoors, but listening to how it sounds, it’s pretty obvious this is no showstopper. I can’t imagine anyone will get anything worthwhile trying to record something like a podcast with these earbuds.
Should you buy the Google Pixel Buds Pro?
The Pixel Buds Pro feel like a decent option if you’re an Android user looking for something akin to the Apple AirPods Pro — its microphone isn’t as good, but the battery life and noise-cancelling are definitely pretty impressive. However, the incomplete app experience is pretty disappointing so far — not even being able to EQ the earbuds feels like a glaring omission, especially compared to other competing products, many of which won’t run you $199.
The Pixel Buds Pro are a decent alternative to the AirPods Pro and Galaxy Buds Pro.
The Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless ($179) support aptX and can do just about everything the Pixel Buds Pro can do — minus things like Fast Pair and multipoint — all for around $80 less. The more anonymous-looking Sony Linkbuds S ($198) cost less, and bring a much more comprehensive software experience. Meanwhile, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro ($199) may be as expensive as the Pixel Buds Pro, but they remain a popular option for Android users. If ANC isn’t that important to you, the Pixel Buds A-series ($99) are also still a decent option, and are considerably cheaper than the Pro model.