The original Google Pixel Buds left much to be desired, but the Google Pixel Buds 2, is the superior offering that Android-philes have long awaited. These buds boast a sleeker design, sound better, feel extremely comfortable, and have plenty of intuitive features that give the Apple AirPods a run for their money.
The Pixel Buds 2’s magnificent Google integration expands functionality across the board, presenting users with numerous ways to engage with the earbuds and perform hands-free tasks with ease. However, all isn’t perfect, as weak battery life and call quality keep them from achieving their full potential.
Apple's AirPods Pro are the more ideal option for iPhone users and have noise-cancellation, while Samsung's Galaxy Buds Plus are a great pick for those seeking something platform-neutral. But, as you'll see in our Google Pixel Buds 2 review, Google's new buds hold their own against some of the best wireless earbuds out there.
Colors: White, Almost Black, Quite Mint, Oh So Orange
Battery life (rated): 5 hours (single charge), 24 hours (with charging case)
Size: 0.8 x 0.7 x 0.7 inches (per bud), 2.4 x 1.8 x 0.9 inches (charging case)
Weight: 0.18 ounces (per bud), 2.3 ounces (charging case)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Google Pixel Buds 2: Price and availability
The Google Pixel Buds 2 cost $179 and are available in one color at the moment: White. Other colors — Almost Black, Quite Mint and Oh So Orange — are set for release in the coming months. You can purchase the Pixel Buds 2 through the Google Store and other retailers, including Best Buy, Walmart, and Target (coming early May).
Bundled with the Pixel Buds 2 are a wireless charging case, USB-C to USB-A charging cable, three sets of ear tips, and a Quick Start guide.
Google Pixel Buds 2: Design
Google refined the Pixel Buds 2 design, keeping the distinctive circular form and implementing small touch-ups to achieve a low-profile appearance. The buds sit flush against the ear and are concealed to the point that they’re almost unnoticeable; you probably wouldn’t see the buds on someone’s ears if you were standing a few feet in front of them. I’m also a fan of the two-tone colorways, which are striking and complement the Google Pixel 4 line.
The only thing more attractive than the buds themselves is the egg-shaped wireless charging case. Sure, it’s a bit hefty at 2.3 ounces, but it looks and feels more premium than Apple’s charging cases. You can tell Google took inspiration from classic handheld gadgets – it almost resembles a Tamagotchi. Pretty cool. The interior is just as appealing with a slanted charging system that beautifully showcases the buds and makes accessing them easier.
Build quality is on point, with Google using solid matte plastic to create a sturdy, aesthetically pleasing product. The materials are durable, so there’s little worry of breaking the buds or charging case right out of the box. IPX4 certification was also added for water and sweat resistance, the same rating used on the AirPods Pro. Technically, you can use these for listening to music in a hot tub or sweaty workouts, though I wouldn’t advise either. Check out our picks for the best sport headphones for exercise-approved models.
One complaint I have about the casing for both the buds and charging case is that it’s sensitive to marks. Leaving them in your pockets with sharp objects like keys will scratch the hell out of these things. Other than that, this is a handsome creation that rivals Apple’s earbuds in the looks department.
You can tell by the tiny packaging that accessories are limited. Google gives you a long USB-C charging cable and three set of ear tips, which seems a bit stingy for $179. A carrying pouch would have been greatly appreciated.
Google Pixel Buds 2: Comfort and fit
The original Pixel Buds weren’t comfortable and had a tendency to slip out of my ears. Not to mention, the nylon cable that also doubled as an adjustment system to establish a proper on-ear fit was more of an annoyance than a benefit. To fix this, Google claims it “scanned thousands of ears to create a design that’s comfortable for as many people as possible.” Problem solved.
Besides going completely cordless, the Pixel Buds 2 has built-in fins atop both buds that mold perfectly to the inside of your ears. Since my fiancée and I have different ear shapes, I had her try on the buds for a while and she reported no issues. I performed a few sets of ab crunches and planks to test stability and they remained in placed the entire time. Going outside wasn’t an issue either, as I felt confident the buds wouldn’t fall out when wearing my mask, and they didn’t. The silicone tips created a tight seal that locked the buds in place.
Several factors play into the Pixel Buds 2’s remarkable comfort, the most important being the redesigned sound port. It’s longer and thinner, so it easily slides into your ears. The all-new “spatial vents” apply less pressure on the concha as well. These also create more environmental awareness by allowing ambient sounds to leak in, though depending on your preference, you may want complete noise isolation, which these buds won’t offer you. Nonetheless, I wore them for about two hours daily and my ears didn’t feel fatigued.
Google Pixel Buds: Controls
Like its predecessor, the Pixel Buds 2 incorporate touch and slide gestures to manage playback and calls. The only difference is these buds support on-ear detection to automatically pause music when you take them out of your ears. And, of course, Google Assistant is at the helm for hands-free engagement to carry out an endless number of tasks via voice commands.
Overall, the controls are a mixed bag of mildly erratic and swift-acting performance. I love that all of the standard functions are programmed on both buds, meaning you can use either one to play/pause music, answer/end calls, skip tracks, and manage volume. The touchpads on the front are responsive to taps and the slide gestures are even more accurate.
Unfortunately, the buds were finicky at times and didn't register intended commands properly. If it wasn’t the buds misinterpreting tap gestures (e.g. skip a track instead of playing the previous one), then it was odd stuff like playing music without sound; this occurred a few times when pressing play on Spotify directly through my phone.
On-ear detection was also 50/50. Removing both buds paused music, but that same accuracy wasn’t shown when placing them back on. There was latency every time and it took a second or two for the right earbud to play music. Also, it’s annoying that you have to remove both earbuds to perform this task.
Google Pixel Buds 2: Google Assistant integration
Now, let’s get to the hallmark function of these buds: Google Assistant. The digital assistant performs exceptionally well, thanks to its stellar speech recognition and smart integration. The “Hey, Google” feature, which is basically Google’s answer to Apple’s “Hey Siri” is such a joy to use and operates flawlessly.
Saying the phrase out loud automatically pulls up Google Assistant, and following up with an inquiry rewards with you instant results. Basic commands like “check the weather,” “list calendar events for the day,” and “take a selfie” were all a breeze to execute. The software is also great for reading notifications and replying to messages with just your voice. It was the more complex commands that demonstrated Google Assistant’s greatness on the Pixel Buds 2.
Once linking the buds to my Spotify account, I asked to play my Black Thought Essential Playlist, and granted, it interpreted the request as “Play Black. essential playlist,” but the AI was smart enough to complete the intended task. It’s also cool that you can link Google Assistant to other music platforms like Google Play, Pandora, Deezer, and more. There is an endless number of features to go through that I’m still testing, but so far, so good.
Google Pixel Buds 2: App and special features
The Pixel Buds 2 has other Google-friendly features available to create a more seamless user experience. Leading the way is Conversation mode, which enacts real-time translations to better communicate with foreigners (or locals, if you’re the foreigner). Asking the buds, “Hey Google, help me speak Italian,” or any other language, will launch Google Translate and convert whatever you say to that set language. It works well minus some grammatical errors, but with more than 40 languages available, it’s a service feature you’ll be grateful to have when traveling internationally. Just make sure you have a strong wireless connection.
Find My Device is the other key feature you won’t take for granted. Enabling it will show the buds’ current location, or if nearby, you can enable the ring function on either bud, which produces a loud ringing noise to help find them quickly. Having the latter available is pretty sweet, especially if you’re a klutz like me who commonly misplaces their buds around the house.
You’ll want to download the Pixel Buds app (exclusive to Android), though it serves more as a friendly reminder for what the buds can do instead of offering more extensive features. For instance, you can check the battery levels of each bud on the home screen and refamiliarize yourself with the controls, but you can’t personalize them. What you can do is enable the in-ear detection and Adaptive Sound features (more on this in the following section). There are also options to manage spoken notifications and push firmware updates.
That’s really about it. No customizable EQ or music presets. No voice call enhancement. No ambient listening mode. Google says more features are on the way, including an update to Find My Earbuds that shows the last known location of your buds, so that shows the company has more in store for the Pixel Buds 2.
Google Pixel Buds 2: Sound quality
The audio on the first-gen Pixel Buds was nothing to rave about. In short, lower tones and bass response sounded muddy. Google took note of these criticisms and went to work fine-tuning the Pixel Buds 2 profile, which now produces rich and warm sound.
Underneath the hood are custom-designed 12mm dynamic drivers that clean up the low end and give instruments like the bass guitar and drums a livelier presence. I tested the Pixel Buds 2 across several genres, from hip-hop to rock to Jazz. Where the blaring horns and snares on M.O.P.’s “Ante Up” were inaudible on the Pixel Buds, these sounds were pronounced and blended well with the rappers’ shouty vocals. The bass levels won’t raise the hair on your arms and are more powerful on the AirPods Pro, but it’s acceptable here.
Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” performed better and blessed my ears with crisp-sounding, serene harmonies. The Pixel Buds 2 proved it could handle mids and highs, reproducing the song’s a cappellas and head-banging guitar riffs superbly. More melodic selections like Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” were intimate listening affairs that revealed subtle nuances in the recordings; it’s surprising to hear how clear and prominent the trombone sounds alongside the horns and piano keys.
The AirPods Pro has an adaptive EQ that automatically adjusts the sound to the shape of your ear, but the Pixel Buds 2 have its own adaptive sound feature that optimizes volume based on the loudness of your environment. I did notice a slight increase in sound when hearing music in my rowdy living room with the TV on and my fiancée on a conference call. Was it a tremendous boost? Not really, but it was sufficient enough to block out distractions and hear music uninterrupted.
Google Pixel Buds 2: Call quality and connectivity
Sadly, the Google Pixel Buds 2 did little to convince me that it's a reliable calling headset, which is a shame since it does such a great job of picking up vocals. Clarity and volume are the two biggest culprits here. For some reason, every call I answered sounded incredibly low, and a few of my friends could barely hear me. Keep in mind this was with the buds at max volume and me sitting in a completely silent living room. Other models like the Jabra Elite Active 75t support features that enhance call quality by increasing how loud and deep one’s voice sounds, which is something Google may want to consider with its next software update.
As far as connectivity goes, the Pixel Buds 2 are as fast-pairing and stable as Google promises, though they take a page out of Apple’s playbook and afford this experience to their respective platform: Android. The setup is instantaneous, as popping open the charging case enables Google’s Fast Pair technology and lets you automatically pair to Android devices. A pop up appears to walk you through and set up the buds’ features. You will need to make sure your smartphone is running Android 6.0 (or higher). I streamed music successfully around my apartment with my Google Pixel 2XL charging in the bedroom; the buds maintained a strong Bluetooth range of about 35 feet before dropout occurred. If only the buds could connect to two devices simultaneously.
Using the Pixel Buds 2 with iOS devices strips you of features, and pairing is an irksome task that requires going through the Bluetooth settings and holding down the button on the back the charging case. You won’t be able to use Siri. However, you can use Google Assistant, but need to download the Google Assistant app from the App Store.
Something else worth noting was how wonky the buds acted when paired to my MacBook Pro. It took several tries before the laptop recognized the buds. In addition, Apple Music songs would play, but there was no sound coming out of the buds. The controls were disabled as well.
Google Pixel Buds 2: Battery life
I couldn't help but be disappointed with the Pixel Buds 2’s battery life. While rated at 5 hours, a full charge really gets you about 4.5 hours, the same as the AirPods Pro with active noise cancellation on. Enabled features and heavy streaming factor into playtime, too. The discharge times between the buds are also off with the right earbud consuming more energy than the left. According to Google, “because the two earbuds serve different functions at different times to maximize battery, one earbud may consume more battery than the other.”
As much as I appreciate Google programming the Pixel Buds 2 with super-quick charging to power the buds for 2 hours on a 10-minute charge, you’re still going to have to carry around your charging cable and charging case if you want these buds to last throughout the day.
Speaking of which, the charging case is one of the Pixel Buds 2’s biggest perks. Not just because it holds 24 hours of juice, but also its wireless charging capabilities. It’s compatible with Qi-enabled charging pads, so you can charge it without any pesky wires in the way.
Google Pixel Buds 2: Verdict
The Google Pixel Buds 2 are a prosperous return to the audio space for Google and some of the best wireless earbuds available. Being able to immediately pair to Android device by flipping open the case is super convenient, while having Google Assistant available at all times is amazing.
The buds are highly comfortable as well, plus the durable shell with sweat and water resistance assures a longer shelf life. Also, the aesthetic upgrades and improvements in sound and features give these buds enough firepower to battle the AirPods Pro.
Whether they’re capable of winning that battle is a completely different story. For one, the subpar battery life won’t win over the binge-streamers; again, the fact that they provide the same playtime on a full charge as the AirPods Pro do with ANC enabled is a huge let down. Call quality continues to suffer, and the controls can be wonky at times, too.
These shortcomings aside, the Pixel Buds are an ideal investment for Android users that want fast performance and great sound in a sleek-looking package. Otherwise, you’ll find more performance from lower-priced options like the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus or class leaders like the AirPods Pro and Jabra Elite Active 75t.