Friday, August 19, 2022

Google Pixel Buds Pro Review: A Fantastic Pair of Android-Focused Earbuds


  • 1 – Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 – Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 – Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 – Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 – Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 – Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 – Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 – Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 – Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 – Absolute Design Nirvana

Price: $200

Person holding the Google Pixel Buds Pro's case
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

Google finally created a true Apple AirPods Pro competitor with the Pixel Buds Pro. It has taken four generations to get here, but these Android-focused true wireless earbuds (TWEs) sound good, fit great, and offer all-day battery life. They’re not perfect, but they’re my new go-to earbuds.

Here’s What We Like

  • Solid sound quality
  • Great ANC
  • Comfortable fit
  • Wireless charging

And What We Don’t

  • Transparency mode works but isn’t best-in-class
  • Limited audio codecs
  • No EQ settings (yet)

Design: No Wings but Still Comfortable and Secure

Google Pixel Buds Pro earbuds in a person's hand
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

The Pixel Buds Pro are Google’s first earbuds without support wings/stabilizers. Instead, the earbuds are bean-shaped and rely on the silicone ear tip to hold the bud in your ear. Personally, I never liked the old wings as they weren’t removable and ultimately hurt my ears after several hours. The new design feels snug and is comfortable enough to wear for hours on end.

Taking a look around the bud, you’ll find three microphones (more on their performance below), a sensor for in-ear detection, two pogo pin pads for charging, and a capacitive touch surface for controlling the media you’re listening to.

The controls on the Pixel Buds Pro are easy to use and work surprisingly well. A single tap plays or pauses your music, double-tapping skips forward, triple-tapping goes backward, and long-pressing can either switch between listening modes (ANC, Transparency mode, and off) or activate Google Assistant.

Physical button and USB-C port on the Google Pixel Buds Pro's case
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

The charging case that comes with the Pixel Buds Pro is nearly identical to that of the Pixel Buds (2020) and Pixel Buds A-Series. It’s roughly the size of an egg (but obviously thinner) and is extremely pocketable.

Looking around the device, you’ll find a USB-C port on the bottom with a physical button around back used to put the earbuds into pairing mode. Around front, you’ll find a single LED light that will either shine white or orange. The light also pulses to indicate battery and pairing status, as detailed below:

  • Solid white: Pixel Buds are fully charged.
  • Solid yellow: One or both earbuds are charging.
  • Bouncing white: Pixel Buds are in pairing mode. Pairing mode will begin automatically if you press and hold the pairing button for 3s during the setup process with a new device.
  • Switching white/yellow: Pixel Buds are trying to pair, but one of them is not properly seated in the charging case. Try closing the lid and re-opening to re-align the buds.
  • Blinking yellow: Pixel Buds still have charge left but the charging case has less than 20%.

That’s obviously a lot to remember, so the only indicator I recommend memorizing is the blinking yellow pattern. When you see that, you’ll know it’s time to charge the case.

Sound Quality: Good Enough for Most

Person wearing the Google Pixel Buds Pro in their ear
Hannah Stryker / How-To Geek

I’ll cut to the chase: if you’re an audiophile, you won’t like the Google Pixel Buds’ sound profile. Out of the box, I found that the 11mm dynamic drivers over-emphasize the bass and treble, with the mid coming in a bit muddled.

Unfortunately, a customizable EQ isn’t coming until later in 2022. Google does ship a feature called “Volume EQ” that you can enable, but all that does is increase the bass and treble at lower volumes. That doesn’t help much when those frequencies are already elevated.

Now, if you’re like me (a non-audiophile) and just want a pair of earbuds that sound decent enough across the board, I think you’ll enjoy the Pixel Buds Pro. I enjoyed using these to listen to any type of music genre, podcast, or movie. The audio quality is definitely great for anyone just looking to enjoy listening to content, especially on the go.

These TWEs are Google’s first with active noise canceling (ANC) and Transparency mode. Here, I would say the Pixel Buds Pro are above average, but definitely not best-in-class. The ANC is good enough to be used on an airplane (without much pressure build-up), but Transparency mode still sounds a bit muffled. I could hold a conversation easily enough, but you could definitely tell there was something in your ears. In contrast, the Apple AirPods Pro’s Transparency mode sounds so natural that you forget you’re wearing earbuds.

The microphones on the Pixel Buds Pro are good enough. Your voice comes through clear in quiet environments but can start to get cut off in especially noisy spaces. I once called someone while at an exceptionally loud coffee shop and the Pixel Buds Pro were fighting so hard to cut out background noise that half of what I was saying didn’t come through to the person on the end.

Microphone Sample Without Background Noise

Microphone Sample With Background Noise

Battery Life: These’ll Last You All Day

Google Pixel Buds Pro inserted into the case
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

Between the Pixel Buds Pro being comfortable and their fantastic battery life, there’s almost no reason to take them out of your ears. Google advertises these as having 11 hours of battery life with ANC or Transparency mode turned off and 7 with them on. I found these lab tests to be fairly accurate in the real world.

My real battery test came on a recent business trip that took longer than expected thanks to flight delays. I kept them in from the moment I walked through security to when I landed at my destination six hours later. I had enough juice to keep listening if I had chosen to.

Thankfully, when I did run the Pixel Buds Pro out of battery, the case quickly got them back to full charge. I found that I could get two to three full charges out of the case before having to place it on a Qi wireless charger or plug in a USB-C cable.

One thing to note is that Google didn’t include a power adaptor or a USB-C cable in the Pixel Buds Pro’s box. You’ll have to use your phone’s charger or purchase a new one.

Software: You’ll Need an Android Device

Google Pixel Buds app running on a Google Pixel 6a smartphone
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

The AirPods and AirPods Pro are some of the best wireless earbuds you can buy, but to take full advantage of the headphones, you need an Apple device. You’re more than welcome to pair your AirPods to your Android smartphone or Windows 11 PC, but to update the firmware or customize the controls, you’ll need them connected to an iPhone, iPad, or Mac.

The same type of limitation can be found with the Pixel Buds Pro. The only way to keep the earbuds’ software updated and change the long-press touch control actions is to pair them with an Android smartphone or tablet.

Note: Most Android devices require you to download the Google Pixel Buds app from the Play Store. Pixel smartphones come with the app pre-installed.

The Pixel Buds app experience is pretty standard with options to check the earbuds’ battery percentage, switch between Noise Canceling and Transparency mode, and turn on or off Bluetooth Multipoint. You’ll also find a test to verify that the ear tip seal is snug enough to use ANC efficiently, a menu for finding a missing earbud, and more.

At the end of the day, I used the Google Pixel Buds Pro with my iPhone 13 Pro and MacBook Air (2022) for the majority of my testing and didn’t run into any issues. Just know that you’ll need to repair the buds to an Android device every so often to check for firmware updates.

Should You Buy the Google Pixel Buds Pro?

Google Pixel Buds Pro earbuds outside the case on the ground
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

The Pixel Buds Pro are by far Google’s best earbuds without a doubt. They’re comfortable to wear for hours on end, battery life is great, ANC is good enough to use on an airplane, and the audio quality is suitable for everyday listening. The Pixel Buds Pro are the equivalent of Apple’s AirPods Pro in that they’re not audiophile level, but they just work for popping into your ears and getting an enjoyable listening experience.

The good news is that if the Pixel Buds Pro aren’t for you, there are dozens of premium-sounding earbuds available for purchase right now that also feature ANC. If you’re a Samsung Galaxy owner, the new Galaxy Buds Pro 2 are absolutely worth considering as they offer a similar form factor, Hi-Fi 24bit (with newer phones), and don’t cost much more. And if you want to go all out, the Sony WF-1000XM4s offer the best ANC and sound around.

You can buy the Pixel Buds Pro for $199.99 in Charcoal, Coral, Fog, and Lemongrass. They’re available from Amazon, Google StoreBest Buy, Walmart, and Target.

Here’s What We Like

  • Solid sound quality
  • Great ANC
  • Comfortable fit
  • Wireless charging

And What We Don’t

  • Transparency mode works but isn’t best-in-class
  • Limited audio codecs
  • No EQ settings (yet)

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