Pixel Buds: So close to perfection or so-so?
Google dropped the headphone jack in the Pixel 2 after touting it as a feature in the OG Pixel, so it makes sense for them to launch some wireless headphones to work really well with the Pixel 2.
In a ideal world that would be true, for the most part it is a good experience - but there are issues that make you want to scream that may eventually drive you nuts!
I went to the Depot to pick up the parcel because the company Google uses for deliveries in the UK, UKMail will not leave your package with a neighbour - inconvenient to say the least, as the depot is 30 minute drive away from my House, this has happened twice now.
It wouldn’t be so bad if UKMail would tell me when they’re coming, so I can make sure I’m in - perhaps Google will eventually switch couriers once the contract is over to a more reliable and efficient company…
Opening the parcel, you can tell that Google really care about the experience of unboxing a new gadget, taking a leaf out of Apple’s book. Inside the box was a USB-A to USB-C cable and a cute looking Pixel Bud Case, opening the case you find the Pixel Buds pre-wrapped for you with a simple explanation of how to charge and store your Pixel Buds. It’s unbelievable how many people find this difficult, it couldn’t be more simpler!
The case is sturdy enough to protect the Buds and soft enough not to dig into you whilst wearing tighter fit trousers, i’d say it's a pretty decent balance between the two. It doesn’t feel cheap but it doesn’t scream out premium either, more so practical and stylish. The setup process is relatively simple, make sure the buds are charged and then turn on Bluetooth then open the Pixel Bud case near your phone, eventually you’ll get a pop up on your phone asking you to set up the Pixel Buds.
This didn’t work for me the first time, until I charged the buds for around 5 minutes. After that everything was smooth sailing, voice commands worked well although I feel that the voice of the assistant sounds very low in quality, would it hurt to make this a higher quality? The Music quality is superb, the bass is punchy and the music comes alive - I can hear every instrument recorded to the tracks I listened to, truly is a great experience.
For awhile I didn’t take these buds out of my ears, they fit really well after adjusting the string to the shape of my ear canal. I didn’t have the feeling that they were about to fall out like I have with so many earphones before these, after a few more uses the rope you adjust tends to lose its position, forcing me to readjust from time to time.
It’s a little annoying but could be a lot worse. At work I wear them to help me concentrate, if someone comes over to my desk I can quickly pause music by tapping on the right earbud once, there’s a second delay but works very well if I want to have a conversation with someone in person. The Audio UI currently needs refinement, skipping songs can only be done by reaching for your phone or talking to the assistant at the moment, neither are always practical.
But Google is planning on releasing an update which will make my life a lot easier with the Pixel Buds, you will be able to program a triple tap gesture to either skip songs or turn off the earbuds, this isn’t officially confirmed yet though.
To speak to Google Assistant you hold down the right earbud whilst speaking, then release when you’re done. There’s a satisfying chime that plays soon as you release, something about this feature feels really good.
Holding the Bud and talking not only feels natural, it also feels like you’re some kind of secret agent. “Every time I speak to Google I feel like Jack Bauer” Everything was going really well until I decide to commute to work on a Bike, at the time of writing this the weather in the UK is dreary, Windy and unpredictable.
I thought to myself, this is going to be a great experience, riding along the Cycle track in Bristol listening to music - being able to change songs to my heart's content without stopping and fondling with my phone. Oh boy was I wrong, in order for this to happen it needs to be the perfect weather conditions, no wind and almost dead silence.
It's extremely frustrating to be riding my bike and attempting to speak to Google, near enough impossible sometimes!
The only way I could get it to work, is if I slow down to around 2mph and make sure I’m sheltered by nearby walls or trees. The first time this happened I was so angry, I said to myself that I’m sending these stupid Pixel Buds back.
But in the end I felt the positives outweigh the negatives. I’m hoping that Google refines the Microphone and the ambient Microphone, to work better in crappy weather conditions. For now I’ll slow down and hope for an update…
Google is well known for making software improvements that in turn improves hardware experiences, so I’m not being naïve in thinking this. The Google Pixel Buds get a thumbs up from me and I’ll definitely recommend buying them if you’re in the market for new earphones.