Google Pixel Buds A-Series Review: A For Average... UNLESS You Love Google Assistant

The Google Pixel Buds A-Series is an… affordable alternative to the Pixel Buds, and while I thought the second-gen Pixel Buds were great, I’m a bit more hesitant on the A-Series.

Hey guys, we have the Pixel Buds A-series with us today, and they’re the company’s most affordable earbuds to date, at just US$99, or S$149.


So, let’s talk about design first. It’s pretty much identical to the Pixel Buds 2020, with the same shape and feel, except that the black band around the lid is now a light gray colour that isn’t as starkly different anymore. You still get a USB-C charging port at the bottom, along with a pill-shaped button at the back that serves to put the earbuds into pairing mode manually.


Inside, the earbuds, again, look almost identical to the Pixel Buds 2020, with that same mentos-like faceplate and integrated stabilising fin on the shell. Same problem here, because the fins are built-in, there’s no way to swap them out for bigger ones, so people with bigger ears might feel the fins are a bit useless.


Aside from that though, the buds are pretty small and quite comfortable in the ear.


The Fast Pair feature is also definitely handy; it’s something that you won’t really miss until you try another pair of earbuds and they don’t have fast pair so you need to head into your settings, bluetooth, wait for it to show up on the list then connect.


To keep these buds priced at under US$100, there have been some compromises made. There’s no ANC on these, for one, but there is a vent in the earbuds to alleviate pressure build-up and the likes, and that does result in a decent amount of environmental noise leaking in. Passive noise isolation is just okay, so you’ll definitely be able to hear stuff going on around you, car engine noise and the likes. This is pretty useful if you’re out jogging or exercising and need to keep an ear out for oncoming traffic though, so yeah.


Touch controls are pretty basic, you get one tap for play/pause, two taps for next track and three taps for previous track. A long press and hold pulls up Google Assistant, and that’s it, easy enough to remember.


When you first connect the buds to your phone, there’ll be a notification asking you if you want to download the Pixel Buds app and such for set up, and you’ll definitely want to download it. Inside, you get an EQ feature that really isn’t much of an EQ, just asks you if you want to turn bass boost on or off, as well as Adaptive Sound, which is Google’s feature to automatically raise or lower music volume based on how noisy your environment is.


Now, I thought Adaptive Sound was pretty well done on the Pixel Buds 2020, but I was surprisingly disappointed by the implementation here. In my old review, I recall feeling that the Adaptive Sound feature was done very smoothly, but for the A-Series, it felt quite jarring whenever the volume changed. For example, I was out one day waiting for my cab, and the music volume was at a pretty decent volume to counter traffic noise and the likes. Once I got into the cab, the volume turned WAY down. I’m not quite sure if it’s an algorithm thing that might have gotten tweaked, but it feels like it was a change for the worse. Anyway, I turned this feature off right after that incident.


There are also some cool features inherited from the more expensive Pixel Buds, like the ability to just say “Hey Google” or “Okay Google” instead of having to long tap and hold on the earbud. There’s also Google’s real-time translation feature, where you can wake up Google Assistant and say “Help me speak Chinese”, for example, and the earbuds will give you a translation of what you want to say in Chinese. It’s cool, but honestly, I think most people wouldn’t really use it.


Personally, I’d just pull out my phone, type a message into Google translate and show it directly to the person to avoid any sort of miscommunication. I mean, asking people to repeat a line in a foreign language kinda is a recipe for disaster, especially if that language requires really precise pronunciation. A joke my brother told me the other day is that Mandarin is way too hard; if you’re not careful, you could go from talking about your mom to talking about a horse. If you get it, you get it.


You also get firmware updates in the app, in-ear detection toggle as well as a Find Device feature which utilises Google’s Find My Device app, yet another app to download. You can also ring either the left or right earbud, which is handy if you have a tendency to leave them out of the case. The earbuds do have to be nearby and connected to your phone in order to be rung though.


You get Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, so yeah, pretty standard, and you only get SBC and AAC, although I didn’t really expect any high-res codecs in earbuds under US$100. You can also use both earbuds independently, with the other one in the case, so it's pretty handy for people who like to use only one earbud at a time since you’re not forced to only use the left or the right.


Battery life is just okay. Google claims five hours in the earbuds, and I got around four hours and 25 minutes on average, although it did dip down to around four hours on one occasion, and I’ll explain why later when we get into the sound quality portion. There’s supposed to be another 19 hours in the case for a total of 24 hours, and I didn’t really have to charge the case much during the duration of my testing. There’s no wireless charging here though, unlike the pricier Google Pixel Buds.


There’s also IPX4 water resistance, so it’ll hold up to some sweat and rain, but of course, that’s just for the earbuds, not the charging case.


Microphone quality is okay, my voice does come across quite clearly, and when using Google Assistant, I noticed the mics picked up my commands very well even if I was mumbling them and not trying to articulate the words as clearly.


Sound quality, though, is pretty decent. Let’s talk about the problem I encountered first. These earbuds are really quiet, for some reason. I typically listen to music around 30% or 40% volume, and it works fine with earbuds that have ANC because I don’t need to raise the volume to counter external noise. For these, there’s no ANC and you get external noise trickling in because of the vent. Add those to the fact that the earbuds are really soft, and I found myself listening to music at 50 or even 60% volume if I was out and about. Just something to take note of, it’s not really a dealbreaker, but these really don’t get all that loud.


Anyway, sound quality is pretty decent, like I said. You get a relatively well-balanced sound that’s clean and detailed across all ranges, with an okay amount of separation. The only quibble I have is that the soundstage could stand to be just a bit wider and the separation could be a touch better too. Right now, it just feels a bit too cramped. Complicated pieces suffer as a result, with instruments starting to blend in together. That being said, it’s still an impressive offering from Google at a hundred bucks.


So, who would get these? Well, if you’re using an Android phone and want a pair of affordable earbuds, it’s a good option. You get convenient features like reading your notifications out loud and such, and fast pair is definitely handy. If you’re big on Google Assistant, then these are probably the best and most integrated earbuds you can get, aside from the more expensive Pixel Buds.

 

Content by Cheryl Tan

 

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