There’s no denying it at this point: I’m terribly excited for the Pixel Buds Pro. So excited, in fact, that I’ve started using the Pixel Buds A-Series around the office just to remind myself of how good the experience is when using Pixel accessories with a Pixel phone. I keep looking back at the announcement and re-reading the official landing page, thinking to myself all the while these could end up being the best set of wireless earbuds I’ve ever owned. But they could also let me down in a huge, gut-busting way.
Latency for gaming and live video is important
When we talk about wireless earbuds, one of the primary things I do with them is play mobile games. Sure, I use them to drown out the sounds around me sometimes and I use them to watch content other times, but my main, go-to use for my current earbuds – the Apple AirPods Pro – is playing games.
Where activities like watching YouTube or taking a video call can adjust the video on the fly to match up with whatever latency the earbuds exhibit, gaming simply doesn’t have this luxury. With games, sounds are important and need to happen pretty close to the actual action happening on the screen. In a fast-paced shooter like Apex Legends Mobile, I don’t have the benefit of delayed visuals to sync up with my audio: things happen in real time and happen fast.
And that’s a spot where the Pixel Buds Pro could easily fail me. Do I sound pessimistic? If so, I’ve earned the right. With the original Pixel Buds, the first wireless Pixel Buds, and still with the Pixel Buds A-Series, latency is pretty poor across the board. Again, it is fine for music or video consumption, but gaming isn’t good. The A-Series are the best of the bunch, but they still fall far short of even the cheapest modern earbuds on the market.
Earbuds like the Wyze Buds Pro that cost only $70 have no issue with audio latency, providing me with a fast enough response not to be an issue in games. They match the AirPods and AirPods Pro and a handful of other standard wireless earbuds I’ve used over the years in this department, and it baffles me to this day why Google hasn’t addressed this on their wireless Pixel Buds.
It is worth noting that Google did fix this issue with the original Pixel Buds (you know, the ones that had a wire connecting them to each other?), pushing a firmware update that simply removed the latency. We thought this would happen with the first fully-wireless Pixel Buds and with the A-Series, but it never did.
Every feature you could want
With the Pixel Buds Pro addressing every single want or need anyone could have with a set of wireless earbuds, it is my tendency to think that they surely took care of this very-fixable issue with these latest earbuds. But the more I think about it, the more I worry. If Google could so easily fix audio latency with the 1st-generation of Pixel Buds, why didn’t they just do that with the other two versions? Why not issue a quick fix and just clean it up?
And that question is what is lingering for me as we speak. What if Google didn’t update the Pixel Buds or Pixel Buds A-Series simply because they either don’t care or don’t put any priority on latency? What if it comes down to battery life or something else that keeps them from making sure latency is as low as possible? Could it be possible that Google knows the issue is there and is choosing not to fix it?
And if any of that is true, does that mean we may see audio lag in the new Pixel Buds Pro? As much as I want to say that there’s no way that happens, I can’t stop thinking about it. If these new earbuds ship with all the things I desperately want from a single device and somehow don’t work for gaming, I’ll be heartbroken. With the clean interaction I get between my phone and the Pixel Buds A-Series, added ANC, a better (and what looks like a more-comfortable) shape, insane battery life, the same size charging case, and Fast Pair on the way for my Chromebook, too, these earbuds are set to literally do every single thing I could ask for.
But if they lag for games, it will shoot a hole right in the middle of their usefulness for not only me but countless others as well. So I’m holding out hope that with all the newer codecs and APIs out there these days, there’s no way Google would ship a set of earbuds in 2022 that lag more than something that costs 1/3 of their asking price. I’m holding out hope that the third time is a charm (if you don’t count the weird, 1st version of the Pixel Buds) and that along with all the other cool tech Google has included in these $199 earbuds, a solution for audio latency has been included. If so, there’s a chance that these become the absolute best earbuds I’ve ever used. If not, I just don’t know at this point. Hey Google, please don’t break my heart.