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The Pixel Buds Pro' new conversation mode is a game changer
Although I love activating noise cancelation on my true wireless buds to isolate my music, I often end up having to disable it or take the buds out of my ears to talk to people. It’s a decidedly first-world issue, but I’ve been annoyed enough by this, especially on my Pixel Buds Pro where my unruly curly hair makes touch controls quite inconvenient. Pushing the hair aside and then tapping and holding to turn off noise cancelation or switch into transparency mode isn’t seamless, and it always becomes a conversation disruptor.
But the Pixel Buds Pro got an update a couple of days ago that fixes this. Dubbed “Conversation Detection,” the new feature automatically pauses media playback and turns on transparency mode when you talk. Then it resumes playback and switches back to your previous noise cancelation or transparency setting when you’re done talking. Sounds good on paper, right? But how well does it work?
Surprisingly very well. It only takes a word or two at most for me to trigger the conversation detection; my music or podcasts pause, and I can hear what’s happening around me. An “OK” is genuinely enough to activate it. Whoa.
So when I’m working from home and my husband comes to talk to me, I can simply say, “One sec,” and not do or touch anything. The Buds Pro just flip into conversation mode and let me chat without disruptions. No fumbling to take the buds out or awkwardly trying to pause the music and activate transparency.
A simple 'OK' or 'Bonjour' is enough to trigger conversation mode, pause my music, and switch transparency on. Magical.
I walked up to a bakery earlier today with my music playing. I said, “Bonjour,” and started interacting with the baker without doing anything else. About five seconds after I was done and had stopped talking, my music resumed. This is what “magical” feels like when we talk about technology. It’s this kind of invisible and delightful feature that got me into this whole tech writing gig a decade and a half ago. It’s so simple but manages to improve my daily life just a little bit.
I now know that I don’t need to fumble with my Pixel Buds Pro when I walk to a coffee shop or some other store, if I see a ticket inspector in the subway station, or whenever I want to start chatting with my husband while we’re both working.
Better yet, the conversation detection only works when I speak. If someone speaks right next to me, it doesn’t activate. Neither if I whisper. It has to be a proper sound coming out of my own mouth, which makes me think Google is using both in-ear vibrations from the wearer’s speech as well as the microphone to eliminate any false positives. So I can ride the subway as much as I want with all the noises and discussions near me and without any disruptions to my music unless I, and only I, start talking.
Conversation detection only works when I, and only I, speak. Or sneeze or cough or sing. Don't activate it if you have the flu.
Oh, and it obviously doesn’t work during voice or video calls. Imagine if you stopped hearing the other person each time you talked. That’d be horrible!
The only downside to this mode is that it can be a bit too precise sometimes. A coughing or sneezing fit can trigger it; I had a bit of flu for a couple of days and it was an, uh, interesting experience. You can also activate it if you start singing along — goodbye, impromptu singing sessions and The Voice preps!
To be fair, though, this is a setting and you can disable it whenever you feel it’s not as seamlessly integrating with your everyday life as it is with mine. And now that I’ve had some experience with this, I want it on every pair of wireless buds with noise cancelation. The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and the latest Galaxy Buds have a similar function, but not many others do. Nothing needs to catch up; I want this on the Ear (2) too.
The new Pixel Buds Pro update also includes other features like Clearer Calls, which doubles the Bluetooth bandwidth for better call quality, and a new Hearing Wellness meter that notifies you when you’ve gone over the recommended volume limit and calculates your total exposure to loud music and audio over the last 24 hours and seven days. As someone who suffers from mild tinnitus, it’s something I recommend you take seriously. Don’t mess with your ears. The constant ringing isn’t fun.
On your phone, go into the Pixel Buds settings (Pixel phones only) or open the Pixel Buds app (other phones) and tap Sound then turn on Conversation Detection.