The long-awaited, highly-anticipated Pixel Buds Pro are in the office and everyone here is extremely excited about their arrival. I’ve only had them in-hand for a few days and it was an even shorter time period when we filmed the video included in this post, so these are all very early thoughts about Google’s new ANC wireless earbuds. At $199, they need to deliver a premium experience, and I can tell you confidently that early impressions are very favorable.
Pixel Buds Pro case and charging
Right out of the box, the Pixel Buds Pro feel right at home in the Pixel Buds family of earbuds. We get the same soft-touch plastic, the same general case shape, the same magnetic flip-top lid, USB Type C and wireless charging, pairing button around back and LED indicator on the front. If you’ve handled the Pixel Buds or Pixel Buds A-Series, you know exactly what we’re dealing with. It all feels premium and looks great, too.
This case is ever so slightly wider than the other two, previous Pixel Buds cases, but without them around, you’d be hard pressed to notice the difference. The case is the same thickness and height of the older cases, so the only real change is the slight increase across the front. We’re talking millimeters, here, so it shouldn’t affect the portability in the least.
The setup and pairing process
One of the things that has made me yearn to return to Pixel Buds – even with the lack of ANC – is the experience of using them with an Android phone and Chromebook. While things aren’t exactly optimized for Chromebooks, these earbuds sync and pair quickly and easily with both my Pixel 6 Pro and my Chromebook. Future updates to Fast Pair should take this to the next level by allowing me to pair them to my phone and then automatically have them set up on my Chromebook without any additional steps, but that isn’t the case just yet. The Pixel Buds Pro connected seamlessly to my Pixel 6 Pro and as soon as I cracked open the top portion of the case, a toast notification appeared and walked me through the entire setup.
All the features you expect are here
This included the eartip seal test that identifies whether or not you selected the right size eartips for your Pixel Buds (there are 3 sizes included). You also get the chance to choose what your tap and hold gestures do and I set my right earbud to switch ANC on and off, with my left earbud controlling the Google Assistant. You can swap that as you choose and even opt-in to allow the ANC switch to cycle between all 3 modes – ANC on, transparency mode, and ANC off – if you choose. For me, toggling just between ANC and transparency mode is the simpler setup, so I’m sticking with that since the transparency mode feels so natural and well executed.
Google is leaning on their machine learning and AI to make their first noise cancelling attempt a success, and I can tell you that it feels like they’ve done a great job out of the gate. These earbuds won’t give you the same level of seclusion as an over-ear set of headphones, but they do a fantastic job of killing the room noise around you, giving you a quiet, focused headspace to work within. At this point, I feel like they do a bit better job than the Apple AirPods Pro, and I’ve been largely satisfied with those earbuds for a few years now.
There are single-tap gestures for play, pause, next/previous track and the swipe gesture is back to allow simple, reliable volume controls right from the earbuds. I absolutely love that and have missed this for a while with the AirPods Pro as my daily driver earbuds. Not surprisingly, the Pixel Buds Pro are also adept at detecting whether they are in your ear or not, and audio pauses quickly when they are removed and restarts right on time when you put them back in.
Finally, the Pixel Buds Pro include both audio switching and multipoint connections. This allows for you to have two devices connected at once and use whichever one you choose at the moment. While audio switching moves your earbuds connection from one device to the next via your Google Account and Fast Pair, multipoint actually allows you to be connected to two devices via Bluetooth at the same time, allowing for very quick, localized switching between devices. Pause the video on one device and hit play on the other and you’ll immediately have audio. It’s a cool trick that doesn’t quite work with your phone and a Chromebook just yet, but the upcoming finalization to Fast Pair on ChromeOS should help that out a bit.
How the Pixel Buds Pro sound and feel
All those features are great, but what about the fit? What about how they actually feel in your ear? Well, this is all good news, too, as these earbuds sound full, rich and deliver a fantastic sound stage. I’m no audiophile, but I appreciate solid sound, and the Pixel Buds Pro deliver it. Bass is rich and full without crowding things, high frequencies are crisp and the mids are present without muddying up the overall balance. I’ve loved listening to just about anything on these earbuds.
And while I really enjoy the ANC, I’m equally impressed by the transparency mode, too. Most earbuds get this wrong and the best I’ve used up to this point are the AirPods Pro, but even those earbuds tend to exaggerate the high frequencies being passed through. The Pixel Buds Pro feel natural when in transparency mode, and I’ve loved the ability to keep them in my ears and hold conversations or take phone calls with ease.
I’ve used the Pixel Buds Pro for a few multi-hour sessions so far and they are quite comfortable. Just like any earbud, I feel the need to take them out for a couple minutes after over an hour of use just to let my ears rest, but as I’ve been wearing them a bit more in the past few days, I’ve found these earbuds to be some of the most comfortable I’ve used for long periods. I wish that was a universal sentiment, but it unfortunately is not. What feels great in my ear might be terrible for you, so in the end, you’ll really have to try them out to know for sure.
Connectivity and input lag
With the original Pixel Buds, connectivity issues were persistent and pretty terrible. It was an ugly stain to have on a first-gen product, and it looks like Google solved those issues with the Pixel Buds A-series. That work has carried over to the Pixel Buds Pro and I’ve yet to have a single connection issue with them so far. More testing is needed for sure, but I’ve had to go to ridiculous lengths to make them disconnect from my phone at my desk, so when used within reason, there’s no fear of dropped connections.
I wish I could say Google learned their lesson with gaming lag, but that isn’t the case just yet. We’re in talks with some folks over in the Pixel Buds department and hope to find some sort of resolution, but don’t bank on it until it is delivered via a software update. At this point, the Pixel Buds Pro register about a half second delay when playing games. Videos and audio are just fine, but those media types have an ability to offset the images on screen to match the delay. Games are real time, so there’s no way to fake this.
While all Bluetooth earbuds have a bit of latency no matter what, devices like the Razor Hammerhead, OnePlus Buds, and AirPods all manage to keep this gaming lag to a minimum and exhibit at least half the gaming latency we are seeing on the Pixel Buds Pro. That means gaming on your phone is impacted, but it also affects gaming on something like the Nintendo Switch.
For now, the Pixel Buds Pro are not your best option when it comes to gaming, but we’re hoping for a fix down the road. As with the Pixel phones, Google delivers firmware updates and new features as time goes by, so I could see a simple gaming mode coming into play down the road for reduced latency when you want it.
At this point, that’s all I have to say about these new earbuds from Google. I need longer to test the claimed 31 hour battery life and long-term connectivity. But I think Google has put together a fantastic set of wireless earbuds that will likely only get better with time. To be frank, there’s not much they need to fix with the Pixel Buds Pro at this point and I’m fully expecting things to simply get better with time. As it stands right now, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you decide to snag a pair right now.