Google Pixel Buds (2020) Review: Activate Google Assistant With Just Your Voice
Updated: Aug 20, 2021
Let’s put it out there, I think the second-generation Google Pixel Buds are phenomenal. There are flaws for sure, but as a whole, the Pixel Buds (2020) is a very compelling offering from Google. Here’s why.
They are much improved from the first-gen, and while you still get the same mentos-shaped design, these no longer jut out of your ears as much as before, and the stabilising fin has been integrated into the body of the earbuds. Unfortunately, because the fin is built-in, you’ll be unable to swap it out for larger ones, so if your ears are on the bigger side, these might result in the fins feeling somewhat less useful.
The buds themselves are small, but the carrying case is surprisingly large and I do wonder if Google could have made the case smaller for less conspicuous bulges in jeans pockets. That being said, it would have cut into the extra charges that the case provides, up to 19 hours, which honestly is quite low for true wireless earbuds coming out in 2020.
The earbuds hold up to five hours of listening time and 2.5 hours of talk time, which isn’t great, but listening at a more reasonable 60% volume will give you slightly more than five hours. The case is Qi-certified though, so you’ll be able to plop it down on any compatible wireless charger instead of fumbling with wires.
I’ve always envied Apple users for the ease of use Apple products have, open up an AirPods case near an iPhone and you immediately get a prompt to pair them. Well, Google does the same with the Pixel Buds.
Simply opening the case resulted in a quick popup on my Android phone asking if I would like to pair, and once paired, I got another notification reminding me of the existence of the Pixel Buds app for download. Downloading the app is definitely recommended since you get the option to ring for your earbuds if you ever lose them, alongside other stuff like firmware updates and enabling features. It’s intuitive from start to finish, and I do have to commend Google on a job well done here.
You don’t get any fancy active noise cancelling in these earbuds, but the passive seal works okay to keep general chatter to a minimum, although louder sounds like a car driving by will still be very audible.
An interesting feature is actually Adaptive Sound. What this does is monitor the environment around the wearer and automatically adjust the volume of the music playing to match it. So if you walk down a noisy street, your music will be playing at a louder volume than at your quiet office. Personally, I thought this would be a bit offputting, but I found that the adjustment was done very smoothly, to the point where I didn’t even realise at times.
You get touch controls on these, and after using them for a week I’ve only had one false touch registered when I was putting them on for the first time. The controls are responsive, and you can skip tracks, call up Google Assistant and even control the volume of your music.
Audio quality on these is pretty decent, although there’s a lack of bass. You might be able to boost the bass a little by changing out ear tips and such, but Google doesn’t provide an EQ feature for consumers to tweak the sound.
Mids and highs are pretty good, and the soundstage is wide enough. If I had one major quibble, it would be that the separation on these isn’t the best. If you’re listening to a complicated song or piece of music, you might find instruments starting to blend together a bit.
There are two beamforming mics, and voice quality on the earbuds are pretty good. It’s clear and distinct from background noise, which definitely works in the Pixel Buds’ favour since Android users will also be using Google Assistant.
With phones that run Android 6.0 and up, there are a bunch of fun features. First off, these are the first hotword enabled earbuds for Google Assistant, so you won’t have to tap or press any button. A simple “hey Google” or “okay Google” will pull up Google Assistant and you’ll also get a soft chime to indicate Google is listening.
You can also get Google Assistant to read out notifications, but the cool feature is Google Translate. By simply waking up Google Assistant on the earbuds and saying “help me speak [language]”, you’ll be able to speak in English or the chosen language and hear a translation. I didn’t get a chance to try out a full conversation in a different language, but it worked quite well when I asked short sentences and questions in Chinese, Japanese, Korean and English.
This doesn’t require your phone either, if you’re just looking to get a translation for a few words or a sentence. For proper conversations though, it’s definitely better to use the Google Translate app on a phone. Wearing earbuds while trying to have a conversation with someone might also look quite rude, so there’s that social aspect to consider.
Running on Bluetooth 5.0, the connection is super solid and I managed to get 10 meters away with two walls in between, so that’s definitely something. There’s also no delay when watching videos on YouTube or Netflix, so no need to deal with unsynced audio.
At S$269, these aren’t cheap, but they aren’t expensive either. Are the Pixel Buds (2020) the best you can get? No, there are issues like the subpar battery life, but if you’re an Android user, value convenience and use Google Assistant, these are definitely one to consider.
More information and purchase options for the Google Pixel Buds (2020) (S$269) can be found on Google’s website.
Written by Cheryl Tan