Thursday, July 16, 2020

Google Pixel Buds vs AirPods Pro for an iPhone user - review

Rather than reading the instructions and using an Android phone - which I’m sure is the optimum experience - I’m reviewing the new Google Pixel Buds earphones with an iPhone running iOS 13 and just normal assumptions about how Bluetooth headphones work. My daily headphones are Apple AirPods Pro which work pretty well as you’d expect.

The plastic case is a matt white finish that looks great. The lid is held with a magnet and flips open easily. Two LEDs light up white. The bottom of the case has a USB-C charging port. (I am a big fan of the future world where everything is USB-C). The case is a similar size and shape to the AirPods case and would be as comfortable in a pocket.

With the case open, but the buds still in there, the phone’s Bluetooth screen showed them and they quickly paired. (Contrary to the instructions, I didn’t need to hold the pairing button, maybe that’s needed for additional pairing).

Inside the box are alternative silicon tips, larger and smaller. I found the medium size tips fine in my ears. Also supplied is a high quality USB-A to USB-C charging cable and a little booklet.

The shape seems a little weird and they distinguish themselves from iPods by having an upward projection compared to Apple’s downward stork. They are very comfortable in my ears.

Compared to AirPods pro, the Pixel Buds seem to have a little more bass and a little less top end. They sound fine.

Latency, the delay in sound, is much longer than with AirPods. Typing on the keyboard on the phone shows this clearly. Latency is not a problem when listening to music and it’s certainly well under half a second so won’t be a problem on calls but my guess is that Apple is doing some of their technology stack magic to win the latency war.

Tapping either side sends a play/pause signal. Swiping adjusts volume - something which AirPods lack. I found the swipe gesture a little difficult to get right but this turned out to be because I had assumed that it was swipe up for louder and down for softer - turns out you swipe forwards to increase volume. Other touch controls are double-tap for next track, triple-tap for previous track. All of these controls work with iOS.

Removing an AirPod from your ear pauses playback, the Pixel Buds don’t do this - a feature I miss.

AirPods Pro have noise cancelling, which Pixel Buds do not but the ear seal seems ok except in busy streets. I do like the noise cancelling and transparency modes that AirPods Pro have but you do pay in both price and battery life for these features.

The microphones I tested by recording in the Voice Memo app. They sound clear and, I think, better than the mic system in AirPods Pro for a straight recording.

On a phone call I found the Pixel Buds blocked my ears so my own voice sounded muffled to me. The AirPods seem to feed a bit of voice back into the ears so speaking on the phone felt better. The person on the other end of the call preferred my audio with the AirPods compared to the Pixel Buds. It may well be that they work better on an Android phone.

In summary, The Google Pixel Buds are a quality in-ear headphone with good sound. The volume control gesture is welcome but the lack of noise cancelling and fold-back made them not quite as good in phone calls on an iPhone.

Pixel Buds are AU$279 from Google compared to AirPods Pro at AU$400 so I think they are an excellent headphone for the price.

My thanks to Google for supplying a review unit.

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