Google’s new Pixel Buds Pro are out and available and I’ve had the pleasure of using what I’ll go ahead and crown as the best earbuds Google has made up to this point. Are they perfect? No. Are they great? Yeah, but in the ANC wireless earbud space, there’s a ton of competition at this point. Are Google’s latest earbuds worth their $199 price tag when other ANC earbuds exist at a fraction of their price?
Before we go comparing all of these earbuds, there’s one particular thing I need you to keep in mind: earbuds are wildly subjective. From the way they sound to the way they look to the way they fit, there’s only so much objectivity we can have when talking about a piece of daily carry tech that is this intimately part of the user experience. In the end, what’s great for me might be terrible for you, and vice-versa.
So how do we talk about these earbuds in a more-objective way that helps us decide whether or not a particular price point is actually worth the money? It’s a tough task and we can’t ignore the more-subjective stuff, but you can weigh opinions on those types of things a bit lighter than the objective things like Bluetooth connections, battery life, and case size, for instance. For example, I wouldn’t get too spun out if I say I don’t like the way the Pixel Buds Pro fit my ears. They may fit yours just fine, so that opinion shouldn’t hold as much weight as the connectivity.
To keep things in order, we’ll look at the following traits of all three of these earbuds: case size/features, battery life, ear tip options, comfort and wear longevity, sound, ANC/transparency, wireless controls, included apps, general lag, and price. It sounds like a lot, but we’ll go through them pretty quickly and in groups to keep this moving along swiftly. Before we dive in, here’s a quick intro to the buds we’re discussing today: the Anker Soundcore Life Note 3 XR, the Wyze Buds Pro, and of course the Pixel Buds Pro.
The cases and battery life
All three cases are great. They are all small enough to fit in a front pocket and large enough to provide some serious listening time. Each has a magnetic closure, but only the Pixel Buds Pro and Wyze Buds Pro feature wireless charging. The earbuds magnetically seat in each case, so it’s largely a draw when it comes to the case for each of these earbuds. I prefer the feel and size of the Pixel Buds Pro and Wyze Buds and love the wireless charging, too.
All 3 also charge via USB if needed and while the Soundcore earbuds don’t charge wirelessly, their case provides a whopping 24 hours of additional charge for a total of 35 hours of listening time with ANC off, so you won’t need to top them up quite as often as the Wyze Buds Pro or Pixel Buds Pro. The Wyze Buds Pro come in at 24 total hours between the earbuds and case, and the Pixel Buds Pro find the middle ground with 31 total hours with ANC turned off. With that in mind, the Pixel Buds Pro narrowly win in this category due to the long battery life and wireless charging combined in a small, comfy case.
Ear tip options and comfort
This part is clearly subjective as we all don’t have the same size or shape for our ears. What works for me may not work for you, but in my experience, the most comfortable of all the three earbuds we’re discussing today are the Anker Soundcores. Part of this could be due to the 5 ear tip sizes included in the box, but it goes a bit beyond that as well. While the Soundcore and Wyze earbuds share a similar, AirPod-inspired design, I think Anker does it a bit better and with the right ear tips sizes selected, I can wear these earbuds for hours without any real fatigue. for what it’s worth, the Wyze Buds Pro are pretty good in this category, but still cause a bit of discomfort after prolonged use and don’t seat quite as well in my ears as the Anker earbuds.
The Pixel Buds Pro are decent from a comfort standpoint, but they aren’t great for me. First, getting them in and out of your ears isn’t simple and I find myself having to dig around a fumble when removing them. But more than that, long-term wearability isn’t great for my ears. With only 3 ear tips to choose from, I couldn’t get both a good seal in my ear and not feel a bit crowded. I thought after quite a few hours I’d come around, but I’ve still yet to hit that sweet spot with the Pixel Buds Pro where it feels effortless to wear them.
For this admittedly subjective category, the Anker Soundcore Life Note 3 earbuds win, if only narrowly over the Wyze Buds Pro. And both of those earbuds are far more comfortable to wear, insert and remove for me on a regular basis than the Pixel Buds Pro.
Sound, ANC and transparency
I’m no audiophile, so as long as my earbuds sound clear and deliver a bit of low-end, I’m happy. No one wants muddy audio or uneven sound, and all three of these earbuds are great to listen to and have shown no issues in holding a solid connection at all times. All three also offer ANC and transparency mode, and this is where there we see some real separation between these earbuds.
The Pixel Buds Pro offer my favorite transparency mode, allowing me to talk without the booming head voice, yet they deliver the outside world in a very natural way. While they don’t have the strongest ANC of the bunch – that belongs to the Anker Soundcore Life Note 3’s – the combo of solid ANC with fantastic transparency makes them the overall winner in this category. The Wyze Buds Pro have decent ANC and good transparency, but sometimes the high-end sounds get too amplified when ANC is turned off, so I prefer the Pixel Buds Pro. And while the Soundcore earbuds have really solid ANC, the transparency leaves a lot to be desired and still makes you very aware that your ears are blocked up a bit.
Wireless controls and app support
Each of these earbuds has an app you can get from the Play Store and all three apps are quite good. The Soundcore earbuds have great features like a dedicated EQ, gaming mode, an ear fit test and customized touch controls. The Wyze Buds Pro have a similar setup with a few less options, but you can change your touch controls, add bass boost, and make a few other small tweaks to your setup. The Pixel Buds Pro get custom touch controls, an ear tip seal test, Audio Switch Fast Pair and Multipoint connection settings, and a way to find your earbud if it was misplaced.
But for the most part, this section is where the Pixel Buds Pro break away from the competition. The swipe gestures for volume control are amazing, the taps to play/pause/skip music and the long-press to enable/disable ANC are all so good that you begin to remember why these are a bit more on the premium end of the spectrum.
Sure, the Wyze Buds Pro and Soundcore Life Note earbuds have touch controls, but they never feel quite as smooth or responsive as the Pixel Buds Pro. There’s just no comparison here in my opinion: Google nailed this part of the experience. And if you are a Pixel owner, the integration with your phone feels simple and natural from the initial pairing to the additional features like Multipoint and Fast Pair, and when you put those things alongside the solid options available in the app, the Pixel Buds Pro win this section.
Finally, before we get to prices, we have to discuss lag. For the third iteration in a row, the Pixel Buds Pro exhibit far more Bluetooth latency than their competitors. While latency in Bluetooth earbuds is unavoidable to a degree, the fact that even affordable earbuds match the AirPods and AirPods pro with general latency makes me wonder why in the world Google can’t seem to get this right. Many people will miss this because it only affects you when you’re doing something that requires real-time sound like playing games. Audio playback doesn’t require your phone to be synced up with what’s on screen and video playback is generally smart enough to delay the video a tad to match up with whatever latency the earbuds have.
If you play games at all, however, you’ll want this latency to be as low as possible, and both the Wyze Buds Pro and Soundcore Life Note 3’s excel at this. The Pixel Buds Pro have more latency than any other earbud I’ve worn in the past few years, and it is a shame. There’s no reason Google can’t fix this, and they may end up correcting it, but you shouldn’t have to buy a product today based on promises for tomorrow. Until it gets fixed, this is a pretty big blunder on a $199 pair of earbuds for me and plenty of others just like me out there.
With all of that said, we come to the prices of these earbuds. Because competition is fierce, I want to talk in terms of what I paid for all of them. The Pixel Buds Pro are clearly $199 and will be for a while. When the Wyze Buds Pro launched, I paid $69 for them. They’ve gone up to just over $80, but I want to stick with what I have in them, and the same thing is true of the Soundcore earbuds. They retail for $99, but they’ve been on sale for a while at Best Buy for $40. That’s what I paid and what they cost as we’re posting this content, so that’s the price we’ll use.
So the question becomes this: are the Pixel Buds Pro worth 5x the price of something like the Soundcore Life Note 3’s? Are they worth nearly 3x what I paid for the Wyze Buds Pro? If you’ve been paying attention through this post and video, you likely know the answer is a solid no at this point. Sure, the touch controls are fantastic on the Pixel Buds Pro and the integration with Pixel Phones is a nice touch, but those are marginal gains. At the end of the day, earbuds live in your ear canals and need to be comfortable and capable at all the things you use them for.
The Wyze Buds Pro and Anker Soundcore Life Note 3 XR both do a great job at handling all their tasks with ease. They are comfortable, they provide solid ANC and sound, they have plenty of settings, battery life, and cases that do most of what you need. When you look at price tags and features, it becomes increasingly obvious that you can get nearly everything you need out of a set of earbuds that run a small fraction of the cost of the Pixel Buds Pro, and I’d be lying to you if I said spending that extra cash got you a wildly-better experience. It just doesn’t, and though I like the Pixel Buds Pro just fine, the cost/benefit ratio isn’t quite there with the available earbuds on the market. Will you be unhappy with your Pixel Buds Pro if you get them? Likely not, but it’s worth noting that there might be a better option out there for far less money if you care to look around a bit.