Google’s latest AirPods competitors, the Pixel Buds A-Series, get a big price cut and a slightly more comfortable design.
Not that you would know the A-Series were any cheaper. The earbuds have the same design as 2020’s Pixel Buds, complete with low-profile fit and subtle “G” branding.
The earbuds are slightly smaller and the stabilising wing is a little softer, which makes them a bit more comfortable to wear than their predecessors. Three sizes of silicone tips are supplied to ensure a good seal in your ears but the earbuds also have small pressure-releasing vents that prevent the “plugged-in” feeling some do not like with normal earbuds.
As with all true-wireless earbuds, the case is just as important as the earbuds, offering secure storage so you don’t lose them while charging them. The A-Series case is excellent. Small, smooth and easy to pocket, holding the earbuds in place with strong magnets and a lid that closes with a reassuring snap.
You get up to five hours of playback or 2.5 hours of talk time from the earbuds per charge. The case can charge the earbuds up to 3.8 times for a total of 24 hours of music.
Google does not provide an expected lifespan for the batteries in the earbuds or case. Batteries in similar products typically last for at least 500 full-charge cycles while maintaining at least 80% of their original capacity. Like the majority of true wireless earbuds, the Pixel Buds are not repairable, making them ultimately disposable.
The case is made with some post-consumer recycled plastic, part of Google’s commitment to including recycled materials in all its products launching from 2022. The company publishes environmental impact reports for some of its products but not the Pixel Buds, and will recycle all Pixel devices free of charge.
The A-Series support Google’s Fast Pair with Android devices but can be paired with Apple devices and Windows PCs, también. They support Bluetooth 5 with the universal SBC and AAC audio standards used by most devices. They only connect to one device at a time but each earbud can be used on its own. The Bluetooth connection to a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra y iPhone 12 Pro was solid at home and on a fairly quiet street. Testing in congested areas was not possible, sin emabargo, because of the Covid-19 situation in the UK.
The outside surface of the earbuds is touch-sensitive for gesture controls. Tap once to pause/play, twice and thrice to skip track. When used with an Android phone, tapping and holding activates Google Assistant, allowing you to issue commands and ask questions that are answered when you remove your finger.
There is no gesture for volume control. Used with an Android phone, the earbuds automatically turn up and down the volume by a small amount based on background noise but, otherwise, you have to reach for your phone or ask Assistant.
With an Android phone, Google Assistant can also be activated with the “Hey Google” wake word, and can read messages and notifications, send replies, perform real-time translation with Google Translate and all the other things the voice assistant can do on a phone.
They might be cheaper but the A-Series sound just as good as their more expensive predecessors. Clear, balanced and full sound with excellent separation of tones and detail make them ideal for most music genres. They have a “bass boost” setting but lack really deep low notes, so bass-lovers might want to look elsewhere.
Because of their vented design, the A-Series lack any real sound isolation. That’s good for awareness out on the street but terrible for blocking out distractions. They provide slightly more isolation than Apple’s AirPods or Microsoft’s Surface Earbuds, but not much.
Call quality was good on both ends of the call but leaked a little background noise into the call, while the lack of isolation made it harder to hear the caller on the street.
For comparison, la Pixel Buds cost £179, Apple AirPods cost £159, la AirPods Pro cost £ 249, la Samsung Galaxy Buds+ cost £99, la Galaxy Buds Pro cost £219, Microsoft’s Surface Earbuds cost £199.99, la Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro cost £129.99 y el Jabra Elite 85t cost £219.99.
The Pixel Buds A-Series offer everything that was good about Google’s previous earbuds for just over half the price.
That makes them some of the best-sounding true wireless earbuds you can get for under £100. The case is good, the battery life is decent, they don’t stick out far from your ears and have some fancy features with Android phones but also work fine with Windows PCs and Apple devices.
The lack of a volume control gesture is a little annoying, and some may not find the stabilising wing comfortable for extended periods. You cannot replace the battery either, which makes them ultimately disposable and loses them a star.