I love the idea of Google’s second-generation Pixel Buds – just not their execution. I was so stoked to finally ditch the original buds with their crazy, twisty wire holding them together – something I never liked or understood – and go true wireless. It’s been nice to spend more time listening to them than I did straightening out their predecessors. Sadly, from the moment I received my new Pixel Buds, yes, even after several updates, I’ve been severely disappointed.
It’s been six months since these launched and try as I may, I still can’t fall in love with them. The main offender is the fact that their audio constantly cuts out in such extreme ways that they’re virtually unusable. First, the left bud will stop receiving audio, then the right and then the left again before they both completely stop working for a short time. Then, once my listening experience is sufficiently interrupted, order will finally be restored. Most of the time, the case and my phone are on the table right next to me when this occurs and the only environmental change that could cause them to malfunction is that I slightly turn my head to look out the window while writing, which hardly sounds like a feature to me – more like a ‘feature drop’.
Other times, I’ll be doing pushups or sit-ups at the gym and the case and my phone will be in my pocket. Each time I go up and then down to perform the exercise, the buds will cut out, which is a shame. Google did recently push update 552, which offers a fix for cut-outs after a minute and fifty seconds, but this didn’t resolve my issues. Actually, this has been going on for a long time and is completely inexcusable. Because of this, I could only conclude that I have, once again, received faulty Google hardware (edit: I’ve had two pairs of each generation and all were faulty), until I found out that I’m not the only one this is happening to.
I must just be one unlucky guy since this is my second go-around with Google’s earbuds and I’m having issues that completely impair my ability to use them. My original Pixel Buds mysteriously stopped working with Assistant and then, a few months later, the function was magically restored on its own before the buds stopped working entirely – no water damage, no sweat, no extreme temperatures – nothing. Oh yes, let’s discuss Assistant for a moment, shall we? Assistant is implemented much better in the new Pixel Buds, but I have to admit, it’s still quite annoying. The sound made when Assistant starts and stops listening has been improved for the new generation, but audio notifications could use an overhaul.
I’m not sure what it would take, but Google needs to use more AI and machine learning tricks to make better choices on what it reads aloud when I ask for my notifications. It’s difficult to put into words, but with the way that the human mind needs information and processes it, it feels as though Assistant is just not that intuitive in delivering it through the buds. Maybe it’s just trying too hard to create an audio experience where it lacks a visual one. I will say though, that unlike the original buds, I have yet to disable Assistant this time around. I only use it once a day, if that and yes, it’s still annoying, but it’s not annoying enough to disable and that’s an improvement. The first time around, the Assistant would constantly ping the user with ‘helpful’ tutorials for how to use it – something that I believe is highly unwarranted and intrusive in-ear.
While I see people complaining that the gesture controls for the wireless Pixel Buds are not customize-able, this doesn’t bother me. Instead, I just wish that the battery life for the left and right buds were consistent. It’s very odd to me that without even using the Assistant or gesture controls for an entire session (I have really good playlists), the right bud is always almost thirty percent less charged than the left. To me, this is absurd! I think that somehow the right bud has extra functionality that’s always-on or something and it drains faster. I’ve disabled Assistant and in-ear detection to test and the problem persists.
Lastly, Robby has already spoken about the latency that the Pixel Buds have while gaming on a Chromebook or phone several times, but I’ve also discovered that the same issue occurs while watching a movie or TV show on the new Chromecast with Google TV. Among other things it can do better, the delay between the actor’s lips moving and their speech is noticeable and jarring. I can’t recall if the same issue occurred on my Chromebook with the original buds, but I no longer have them to test. Either way, Google’s new Pixel Buds are gorgeous and I really love what they’ve done with the case too, but sadly, that means little to me if their functionality is subpar. They do regularly add features to their earbuds with what they call Feature Drops though and while they have added things like sharing detection, bass boost, Attention Alerts and more, I hope to see more focus on the audio cut-outs in the immediate future instead. Otherwise, I don’t foresee myself picking up the next iteration of their hardware.