When the Pixel Buds were announced in October of 2019, I’ll never forget how overjoyed I was at the proposition. A pair of light, attractive, feature-rich earbuds made specifically for Android phones was just the type of Bluetooth accessory I was after. I’ve been through many earbuds – wired and wireless – and one thing about them constantly falls short: latency while gaming. The only buds I’ve used without this failing are the Airpods (only with iOS devices) and the Razer Hammerheads that are sold primarily for their ability to switch to an ultra-low latency gaming mode.
Other than those, all wireless earbuds exhibit lag in real time activities like gaming. I even snatched up the original Pixel Buds a year after their announcement in hopes that Google at least made sure to remove lag between them and Pixel phones. Not even close. They struggled just as mightily as every other headset and after so many tries and fails, I started to give up on the idea that Bluetooth earbuds and Android could ever remove the lag.
When the vaunted 2020 Pixel Buds arrived in our office last month, I knew latency would be one of the first things I’d check, but I also knew in my gut it would still be an issue. After pairing them up and launching into a game, I quickly realized my suspicions were correct, and even a tad bit worse than I even thought to begin with. I remembered reading about a firmware update that was issued to the original Pixel Buds that was meant to reduce gaming lag, but never tried this fix personally as I quickly returned my original pair after they first launched.
In a bit of curiosity, I dug around and found some of the articles from June 2019 and started to wonder if whatever they changed in the first Pixel Buds actually made a difference. After all, I’ve become quite convinced that much of the latency present in wireless earbuds is due to limitations in the earbuds moreso than the device you are connected to. The Razer Hammerhead earbuds can cut latency on any device I connect them to, not just specific hardware, so that tells me lag can be conquered with updates to the earbuds alone.
We all became so curious about this, in fact, that we up and bought a pair of the older Pixel Buds just to test it out. No one here wants these earbuds. No one will use them. We just wanted to see if Google’s firmware update could really make that much difference. And, you know what? It absolutely did! When the earbuds were opened, they were initially on the original firmware and exhibited plenty of latency in games. After charging them up and waiting for the firmware update, however, the latency with PUBG Mobile actually decreased all the way down to the levels I enjoy on the Razer Hammerheads that are built for gaming. I was shocked!
This tells me that not only is a fix possible for the current lag on the Pixel Buds, but that Google is fully capable of delivering that fix. If they’ve done it before for a set of earbuds far less-capable than the current Pixel Buds (the older Pixel Buds are equipped with Bluetooth 4.2 instead of the 5.0 that is on board the newer earbuds), it only stands to reason they will again. Additionally, Google has more reason this time around to get this hiccup taken care of. I don’t have sales numbers, but I’d imagine few bought the first version of the Pixel Buds or kept them around for long if they did so.
With the new Pixel Buds, Google clearly has a hardware hit on its hands and I think they know it. With the announcement that ‘Feature Drops’ will be coming to the earbuds just like we see on Pixel Phones, I think Google is set to continue iterating on the functionality of these already-fantastic accessories as time goes on. The ability is there, the pathway is established, and now we just need Google to deliver the fix. I am confident it will happen.