Google may have wowed audiences when it presented the Pixel Buds, its nearly wireless, language-translating headphones meant to compete with Apple's AirPods. But the first reviews show that many critics beg to differ.
According to most critics, the buds are besieged by an unintuitive setup process, sub-par real-time translation and a bulky design. One critic managed to fall in love with them, though, as they fit his life perfectly.
Here's what reviewers are saying:
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Over at Gizmodo, Adam Clark Estes' nearly entirely-negative review slams the Pixel Buds for their unintuitive design, and how complicated the translation feature is.
"The Assistant stuff is cool. The right earbud features a touch-sensitive surface that lets you play or pause the music, adjust the volume, beckon the Google Assistant (if your phone is new enough), learn the time, and listen to your latest notifications."
"Although they’re bigger than the AirPods, the Pixel Buds feature the same five-hour battery life."
"They also come in a charging case, but it feels flimsy, like a takeout container. The case and earbuds combo is so unintuitive that Google includes instructions on how to wrap the wire around the case so that it will close."
"The translation feature [is] just as confusing as everything else about the Pixel Buds. You’d think that you could just tap the right earbud and ask Google to translate what you’re hearing, but it’s more complicated than that. You do have to tap the earbud and ask Google to translate, but then you have to open up the Google Translate app and hold your phone in front of your foreign language-speaking friend."
Ryan Waniata at Digital Trends wasn't dazzled by the Pixel Buds either, but he found a few things to like about them, including the low latency when triggering Google Assistant and the earbuds' solid touch controls.
"A single tap on the right earbud will play and pause tracks, while swiping forward or backward controls volume. Both worked perfectly, in sharp contrast to most similar designs we’ve encountered."
"We practiced [the translation tool] with one of our multi-lingual colleagues, a native Spanish speaker from Colombia, and both of us were impressed at how accurate the translation was. Our colleague even tried to mess with the app by using her region’s word for “cool,” chévere, and the app didn’t falter."
"The Buds inside are bulbous discs connected to U-shaped earpieces, resting on magnetic cradles. They would be average sized for true wireless buds, but they’re monstrous for tethered ones."
"Purpose-built to sit just inside your ear canal, the Pixel Buds never quite feel secure. As Google promised, we mostly got used to the fit over time (and had zero issues with them falling out), but it was odd each time we reinserted them.
"The loose fit also means very little ambient noise isolation, so office chatter and plane engines leak right through."
Khari Johnson's review at VentureBeat focuses on the perks and pratfalls of the Pixel Buds featuring Google Assistant and the new Translate feature, but noted that the latter isn't much better than what you get with Google's language services on other platforms.
"In a romp around downtown San Francisco Friday, Google Assistant was able to give quick walking directions to my destination. Just by hearing me say “I need to get to Target” or “I need to get to the nearest hospital,” Google Maps began a trip and started rattling off instructions."
"Auditory notifications are a big plus for Google Assistant with Pixel Buds. You hear a chime in your ear each time your phone gets a push notification. To hear Google Assistant tell you what sparked the notification, double-tap the right earbud."
"The notifications you hear in your ear and the ones that appear on your screen should not be treated as equals, but for now Google Assistant tells you virtually everything."
"[Translation] is a cool feature, but it’s not yet the Babel Fish. Most phrases longer than a sentence are cut off after about 5-7 seconds of translation. That’s about the same you can expect from any smartphone using the regular Google Translate app."
In her extremely brief review for Axios, Ina Fried spent much of her time saying why Apple's AirPods are better.
"Pixel Buds shine in added features, in particular one that lets the headset handle real-time translation via Google Translate."
"In my limited testing, [translation] wasn't that different than just using the Google Translate app, though it is a bit more discrete."
"Apple's AirPods are decidedly more elegant, effortlessly connecting to the iPhone and so light and comfortable you barely notice they are there."
Forbes' Larry Magid managed to find reasons to be impressed by the Pixel Buds, though he was put off by the setup experience, like most reviewers. He's also the only reviewer to rave about their sound quality.
"To begin with, they sound great - better than any earbuds I've tested. The sounds were rich and clear and with surprisingly good bass and there is more than enough volume if you crank them up."
"The translation feature works as advertised. If you press the right earbud for a second and say 'Help me speak Spanish (or any supported language), she'll say 'Sure, opening Google Translate.' Then whatever you say while holding the earbud will be spoken aloud and displayed on your phone's screen."
"Unlike some earbuds, they don't fit tightly into the ear so they won't suppress noise around you. For this reason, they might not be optimal for wearing on a plane or train, but they sounded great at home and when I took my dog for a walk.
"When I followed the rather sparse instruction in the little booklet that came with the buds, nothing happened even though I dutifully went through all the steps including 'open the charging case next to your phone with the Google Pixel Buds still inside,' and 'follow the on-screen steps to finish setup.' There were no on-screen steps."
"And that brings us to the case. … You need it to both set-up and charge the Pixel Buds so you had better remember to take it with you and be sure not to lose it. Maybe it's just me, but I have a tendency to misplace things, which is why I prefer that my devices plug directly into off-the-shelf cables. It's cheap and easy to get extra USB cables and even possible to get your hands on one from where you happen to be if you lose the one you have. I'm not sure what Google plans to charge for a replacement case, but I hope it's inexpensive and easy to get."
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Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.