So far, the Pixel Buds have almost completely lived up to all the hype for me. We’ll do a full review soon, but I can already tell you they are my favorite earbuds in nearly every category. The case is fantastic, the battery life has been plentiful for my use, and the sound quality is great. Oh, and having the Google Assistant right there at any moment is a really nice perk, too. All around, these extrememly comfortable earbuds have been a joy to use in almost every situation: except one.
I’ve told myself over and over that I’m not a ‘real gamer’ and I think I used to buy into this notion. I don’t play many games on a console or PC. From time to time I dabble with them, but I certainly can’t consider myself a real part of the gaming community on the bigger platforms. On my phone/tablet/Chromebook, however, if I log the amount of time I spend playing games with friends and family, the situation looks quite different.
I spend hours every week involved in PUBG Mobile, Call of Duty Mobile, or Fortnite. We play PUBG Mobile at lunch daily and my kids are in love with Fortnite, so I play a match or two (or three, sometimes) with them most evenings. When I start adding up all the time and all the considerations I make concerning gaming on my mobile devices (gotta have headphones, triggers, chargers, etc.), I have to just admit that while I’m not a console gamer, I am 100% a mobile gamer. I’d wager many people are in the exact same boat, too. I played consoles for years in high school and college, but life gets ever more complex as you age and the demands of family and professional life can prohibit the time necessary to hone the skills you need to survive on desktop and console play.
Though mobile games are still skill-oriented, there are helpful allowances granted to us as mobile players that make games a bit more simple and casual. This aspect of mobile gaming is clearly not just popular for a few people. Whereas PUBG averages 500,000 active players a day, PUBG Mobile boast over 50 million a day: and that stat was gathered nearly a year ago. The game has only grown in popularity since. My point isn’t to say mobile gaming is better than desktop or console gaming. Instead, my point is lots of players are choosing to play on their mobile devices and will be using their hardware to do so more often than we think
It is in light of that fact that I feel the Pixel Buds are seriously lacking. With all the things these wireless earbuds simply nail, gaming latency is not even close to being good enough. As a matter of fact, I’d say the latency in games is as bad or worse than any other earbuds I’ve ever tried. As a matter of fact, the $30 SoundPeats I have in my window sill right now give me a better gaming experience. Compared to my Razer Hammerheads, there is no competition. The $99 Razer’s can easily be switched to gaming mode and the latency is completely removed across the board.
So, why is this so bad in the Pixel Buds? I understand generic earbuds having a bit of lag, but Google’s own? I really expected them to fix this issue, especially for Pixel phones. When I pair up AirPods with my iPad, there is not lag or latency on anything from games to videos to standard UI. With these being made by Google, I fully expected the earbuds and the companion app to have audio latency taken care of. I was flat-out wrong.
There is a glimmer of hope, however. The original Pixel Buds shipped out with poor gaming latency performance, too, but were updated later to fix this issue. Perhaps alongside a highly-requested built-in EQ, Google will drop this in an update to the Pixel Buds firmware and give us an option for low-latency gaming. I understand that zero latency likely decreases the battery life of any set of earbuds, but it is worth the trade-off for many of us.
Whether Google puts this feature in as a toggle or as an auto-adjustment, I sincerely hope they are working on it. As stated above, there are absolutely tons of mobile gamers out there. Where this used to be a fringe portion of the mobile population, that simply isn’t the case any longer. Earbuds need to be lag-free for video and games and at $179, the Pixel Buds need to deliver on this front. If Apple can make their years-old AirPods work across the board without latency, by this point, Google should be able to as well. We’ve reached out to Google for comment and will update if we hear back.