Pixel Buds - An Alternative Review

Courtesy of Google
I've been using the Pixel Buds for the last few months, and I have to say I'm largely impressed. But let's get the negatives out of the way first.

The Bad

Out of the box, they wouldn't pair for me. That was incredibly frustrating. There's nothing like being super excited for something that just doesn't work. The manual pairing process was simple enough, and it did end up resolving the issue after a few attempts. Since then, they've intermittently dropped their connection a few times. That's been few and far between, and usually when they were out of the case but not actively being used.

Bluetooth 4.2 instead of 5. I'd really appreciate having the longer range of Bluetooth 5 over 4.2. There are likely other advantages to 5, but the range is the one that I'm mostly concerned with. Bluetooth 5 was available at the time, with several phones being released in 2017 with 5 available. If you want to have a flagship accessory, it needs to stand out. Having the same range as virtually every other pair of headphones is, to me, a pretty big oversight. Working in an office building, there are plenty of times I have to run down the hall for whatever reason, and it's usually just far enough that a standard connection struggles or, ultimately, fails. I pine for better range in Bluetooth devices - especially wireless headsets.

The case is easily the most love/hate aspect of these for me. The fit the Buds perfectly - too perfectly. I'm not a big guy that fat fingers everything, but I still manage to bungle the hell out of putting the Buds in the damn case. They have to line up just right, and the cord has to have just the right amount of tension on it. Wrap the cord too tightly, and there's too much of a loop to comfortably fit in the space between the Buds. Wrap it too loosely, and the lid won't close all the way. It's a gorgeous and sexy case that feels amazing (please keep using fabric cases, Google!), but adding a millimeter here and there would have a significant impact.

The Good

As much as people complain about the fit and feel in the ear, it's actually on the "things I love" list. I find them to be quite comfortable, even for prolonged periods of time. It's abnormal for me to use earbuds for more than maybe two hours - I just generally don't find them comfortable at all. The Buds, however, can work for 5 or 6 before I'm ready for a little breathing room in the ol' ears. Getting the loop just right so they stay in is something I tend to struggle with. While there's a little plastic piece that slides along the cord to prevent the loop from getting bigger, there's absolutely nothing that prevents it from getting smaller. I generally check them after I've taken them out two or three times as they tend to need a little adjustment periodically. But when I have that loop set just right, they don't fall out on their own, and I find them to be quite comfortable.

The sound is quite nice. Mostly. I prefer a flat and natural sound - I don't like emphasis on bass or highs when it comes to earbuds and headphones. The Pixel Buds are not flat. They don't have an overly pronounced bass like some, nor do they chime your ears to death with high-hats and cymbals. What they do, in my opinion, is emphasize the lower vocal range. Take, for example, Alessia Cara or Halsey. The little boost to the lower end of their vocal range gives a sound very different from what I hear anywhere else. It always surprises me, and I always forget all about it after a few seconds. It's a bit hard to describe, as it doesn't take away from tracks I listen to regularly. If anything, it adds a little bit of depth to the vocals and comes across as a fuller, richer sound. I'd prefer natural, but if a company is going to tweak things, I like the approach that Google has taken with the Buds. It does muddy things a little, like the guitar on A Perfect Circle's Judith. If you love a good bass guitar, fret not; Korn's Freak On A Leash still sounds stellar. And if you want this little boost in that lower, non-bass registry to shine, check out The Piano Guys' Cello Song. I love it as is, but it really does sound superb with the Buds.

The Mindblowingly Amazing

The Assistant is freaking amazing. Talking over the top of music took some getting used to, but I did manage to remember that the Google Assistant doesn't need to wait for the music to pause. Whether it's asking for the time, directions, or adding reminders, I use the hell out of the Google Assistant. I probably use the Assistant more with the Buds than without.

All in all, even with some annoyances here and there, I absolutely love the Pixel Buds. I really like the direction that Google is taking with their hardware, though there is undoubtedly room for improvement. Is it worth the asking price of $159? I'm not really sure, to tell you the truth. While I'm happy with my purchase and don't regret it, I'm not convinced I'd do that all over again. For the next generation with Bluetooth 5 (or better) and some design tweaks? Heck yeah, I'll be forking out another $159 (or more) for those.

Competition is great. It drives innovation and creativity. The Pixel Buds may not be revolutionary, or even the best wireless earbuds on the market. However, I like the attempt, and I'm excited about what the future holds.

Brian Greene is a single father and lifelong tech fan. He's spent his career in healthcare contracting longing for the day when the public sector's use of technology catches up to the private sector. As an ardent Android fanboy, he still considers the Nexus One to be his favorite phone ever made. Long live the lighted trackball!

Generally averse to social media, he does maintain a LinkedIn profile and rants about T-Mobiles slow internet speeds in Santa Ana on Twitter, @Demiurgous.