The Apple AirPods was subject to ridicule when it were first announced, but as is often the case, Cupertino has proved that this is a product people want to own. It has now sold millions upon millions of AirPods, with estimates suggesting people have bought over 200 million of them so far.
Now, every company is competing in the battery-powered, in-ear headphone market with products that look and work in a way that can only be inspired by Apple’s Airpods. And now, with the Google Pixel Buds A-Series, Google’s strategy is clearly to attack Apple on price, with a super-competitive $99 product that promises many of the same features as the AirPods.
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In this Apple AirPods vs. Google Pixel Buds A-Series face-off, we'll take a look at both products and try to work out which is right for you. But here's a hint: it it seems to you that the obvious choice is for Google Pixel owners to get the Pixel Buds A-Series and Apple users to opt for the AirPods, you may be right.
Apple AirPods vs. Google Pixel Buds A-Series: Specs compared
|Header Cell - Column 0||Apple AirPods (2019)||Google Pixel Buds A-Series|
|Wireless charging case||Optional||No|
|Battery life (rated)||5 hours music, 3 hours talk, 24 hours music with charging case||5 hours, 2.5 hours talk, 24 hours music with charging case|
|Water resistance||IPX4 (sweat and dust only)||IPX4 (sweat and dust only)|
|Case size||2.1 x 1.7 x 0.8 inches||2.5 x 1.9 x 1 inches|
|Case weight||1.5 ounces||1.9 ounces|
Apple AirPods vs. Google Pixel Buds A-Series: Price
Things do get a little bit tricky for the Apple Airpods when it comes to the price. The Google Pixel Buds A-Series starts at $99, while Apple’s cheapest AirPods model is $159. That’s quite a price difference, and while it is worth noting that Amazon does often sell The AirPods below their retail price, its stock availability is quite poor.
Based on price alone, it’s hard to recommend the AirPods, but of course we’ll end up back at the same argument as ever, which is that AirPods are much better if you’re on an iPhone, iPad or Mac.
Winner: Google Pixel Buds A-Series
Apple AirPods vs. Google Pixel Buds A-Series: Design
Aesthetically I’d say that the Pixel Buds A-Series's earbuds are more attractive. I have no problem with Apple’s design, and the drop down tube they feature is an important part of their functionality, as well as Apple’s brand aesthetic.
Some people will have an absolutely terrible time keeping AirPods in their ears. They don’t have any rubber tips to bump up the friction and keep them in place. I don’t have any problem with them at all, but ears are a really wide range of shapes and sizes so it’s hard to say what’s right for you.
On the flip side, I like the fact that the Google buds fit nicely, are contained within your ear, and have three sizes of silicone tips to help you find a snug fit.
The package size of these earbuds, in their cases, is similar. Apple’s little case is something of a marvel really. It’s tiny, fits in small pockets and because it’s shiny plastic it will be easy to slide into your jeans without hassle. The Pixel Buds A-Series case is a bit less smooth and might be slightly harder to put in place. But the counter argument is that the matte effect might stop them sliding out when you sit down. The A-Series' case is also bigger, but not enough to cause concern.
One small note that’s really worth mentioning, Apple’s AirPods are really easy to take out of the case, and you’ll put them in your ears right every time. Google’s Pixel Buds A-Series are a bit more fiddly. Not difficult, but you’ll need to mess around with them more and it hasn’t felt automatic to me, in the way the Apple AirPods do. Like I said, it’s a small point, but Apple’s careful consideration around design does make a difference.
Winner: Apple AirPods
Apple AirPods vs. Google Pixel Buds A-Series: Controls
There’s really very little to choose from when it comes to controls. Both sets of earbuds will allow you to voice activate their respective assistants, which is a handy feature if you want to leave your phone in your pocket.
You can control playback on both too. I prefer the Apple method of assigning track advance to one ear, and back to the other. That just makes more sense to me, but your mileage may vary. Google’s mappings are more fixed but they’re easy to use and work on either bud, so you don’t need to tap a specific side to change tracks.
Apple AirPods vs. Google Pixel Buds A-Series: App and special features
On both iPhones and Google handsets like the Pixel 4a, the functionality to use these headphones is built in to the respective operating systems. This is one of the biggest reasons to pick the headphones that match your device. With AirPods on Android there are some third-party apps that offer workarounds.
If you pair the Pixel Buds A-Series with an iPhone, the touch controls will work fine but you’ll lose Google Assistant. The Pixel Buds can, however, communicate the remaining battery level with your iPhone, although it won’t report the battery level of each bud separately.
Special features on both are fairly limited. The Pixel Buds can automatically adjust their levels based on ambient noise. You can also boost the bass, which has a minimal effect but might help improve low frequency response a little bit.
Apple AirPods vs. Google Pixel Buds A-Series: Sound quality
I’ll be honest, I’m fussy when it comes to sound. I can tolerate all manner of headphones, but I only ever feel really satisfied when the sound balance is really well tuned. In-ear headphones are always something of a compromise, particularly wireless ones. Small drivers, low power amps and the simply fit in my ear make them a lot more tricky than a good pair of over-ear cans.
Neither Apple nor Google has got the sound quality quite right, and yet they couldn’t be more different from each other. Both seem to isolate lyrics well in songs, but both also sound a bit muddy in weirdly different ways.
For example, Apple’s AirPods sound like classic Sony earbuds to me. There’s a lot of surprisingly powerful bass on offer and it seems mostly well controlled. They do, however, also sometimes feel a bit droney. Listening to a lot of bass for a long time is fatiguing and I do sometimes feel like the AirPods overdo it. But this is a sound profile that has long proved popular with the mass market, so it makes sense that the company went down this route.
Google’s A-Series, sounds slightly better on the whole, though also seems to be more hesitant on bass. It’s not that these buds are incapable, it’s just that it’s tuned out quite a bit. That might be to preserve the sound, helping to prevent distortion, but it also makes them sound a little weak when compared to the AirPods. They can have a touch too much high end, and still sometimes sound a little muddy.
As I noted in my original Pixel Buds A-Series review, it's quite weak when paired with non-Android devices. I tested this with a Bluetooth-equipped TV and they sound quality was atrocious. One major problem was the lack of power, which doesn’t manifest as a problem with phones but did on the TV. Apple’s AirPods, on the other hand, pairs well with everything, albeit as just basic earbuds. I can use this pair with my TV though, which adds to its convenience, and sound quality largely remains unaffected.
Winner: Pixel Buds A-Series
Apple AirPods vs. Google Pixel Buds A-Series: Battery life
These two sets of headphones are once again well matched in battery life. We’ve tested both of these separately for their performance and we found that in mixed use we saw 4 hours 49 minutes from the AirPods and 4 hours 41 minutes from the Pixel Buds. That’s about as close as it’s reasonable to be, and for just music the claimed five hours from both seems achievable.
Apple nabs is slightly here, because it does manage very slightly longer on a charge in our testing, even if that’s only a few minutes. Some people argue that the battery life on all of these earbuds is bad, but I simply don’t agree. I think 5-ish hours on these tiny little earphones is actually quite the feat of technological achievement.
Apple AirPods vs. Google Pixel Buds A-Series: Call quality
This is an easy topic, both of these earbuds are functional in calls, but nothing more. Recording your own voice with them is absolutely out of the question, they just aren’t high enough quality. For meetings and phone calls they’ll do at a pinch, but neither is a joy of high def voice.
Apple AirPods vs. Google Pixel Buds A-Series: Verdict
In this price range, you should buy wireless earbuds knowing there are going to be compromises. For that money, you could get some really decent sounding over-ear headphones, like the Cleer Enduro ANC: one of the best noise-cancelling headphones. True wireless earbuds are, to repeat the word, a compromise. They offer convenience, but lack the sort of sound quality that music really deserves.
After a lot of consideration, I have to say that I think the Google Pixel Buds A-Series is the better-sounding earbuds. The AirPods is, I think, a victim of its age now. While the ones on test here are the 2nd-gen, 2019 model, the audio quality hasn’t changed and the market has moved on. It will be interesting to see if the upcoming AirPods 3 reflects that, but for now, stick with the Pixel Buds A-Series.
|Header Cell - Column 0||Apple Airpods 2019||Google Pixel Buds A-Series|
|Sound Quality (20)||13||14|
|Special features and apps (10)||5||5|
|Price and value (20)||15||19|
|Battery life (10)||8||7|
|Total score (100)||72||75|
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