Google’s latest true wireless offering ticks a lot of boxes, but I really just want to rant about the headphone jack.
When Apple ditched the headphone jack on iPhones in 2016 citing “courage”, most people other than the devoted fans reacted with dismay. Why would you do away with a widely used, simple, cheap feature with a terrific range of compatible devices that most users already owned? The answer, of course, was to sell more wireless earbuds.
Other brands like Samsung and Google immediately mocked Apple for it. But in due course, they proceeded to follow the money and do away with the jack in their flagships as well, as wireless earbuds became a more lucrative part of their portfolio.
Fast forward six years to today, and headphone jacks are a rare commodity outside of budget devices, and expensive wireless earbuds have willy-nilly become the go-to listening device for many. Google’s latest, the Pixel Buds Pro, which I have had with me for a few weeks, are the most advanced true wireless earbuds they have ever launched.
The case has an alabaster finish that feels good.
I’ve used these earbuds over the past weeks to listen to music, podcasts, and watch videos and streaming content and straight off the bat I have to say they have performed rather well. But in the course of this review, I’ll go into the details of all of that, but also why this situation makes me more than a little sad.
These are the first pair of buds with the “Pro” suffix from Google. While there is no real accepted definition of what qualifies one of these as “pro” (surely there are no professional listeners?), it appears that the main ingredient here is the introduction of Active Noise Cancellation, now a must-have in the premium earbuds segment. The Pixel Buds Pro launched for a price of Rs 19,990 but this price dropped to below Rs 15,000 during the sales and I suspect it will remain there for a while.
The Pixel Buds Pro come in a pebble-like white case, with a lovely alabaster texture. It feels really good to hold in the hand and resists fingerprints well, although they do get dirty pretty quickly. The lid opens and snaps shut satisfyingly and inside are nestled the two snail-shaped buds, mine in a dull charcoal grey colour.
Prising the buds out is not always easy.
Prising the smooth buds out of the case presented a bit of a challenge on more than one occasion. I may well have been pulling them wrong, but these things should be klutz-proof, speaking as a klutz myself.
The earbuds are IPX4 rated so they can withstand some splashes and sweat (but don’t go dunking them in water). And the case is also IPX2 rated to withstand a little bit of a drizzle or something equivalent to that. The case also has an LED indicator and a pairing button. There are three sets of supplied ear tips and the default ones worked well for me.
The Pixel Buds Pro support SBC and AAC codecs (sorry folks, no lossless here), and the battery life promised is seven hours with ANC on and 11 hours with ANC off.
The buds also have vents and the pogo pins for charging.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Pixel Buds Pro. I paired them with both my phone and my computer and I truly appreciated the inclusion of multipoint. In case you are unfamiliar, multipoint means the earbuds can be simultaneously connected with two devices, so you don’t have to disconnect and reconnect every time you switch between your laptop and your phone. This feature is oddly missing from many models including some of the more expensive ones.
The Pixel Buds Pro have an exciting, crowd-pleasing sound. These are not going to win any audiophile awards because the sound profile is not even trying to be flat or neutral, but most people who buy earbuds are not audiophiles, and the tastefully executed bass and treble bumps will serve most musical genres very well, especially when you’re streaming them off Spotify or the like. The treble detail is very good without any exaggerated shrillness, and the bass is tight and well-controlled. While the mid-range is recessed, it’s still neutral enough that listening to podcasts and watching TV shows is clear and easy. Sonically, I have no complaints – the Pixel Buds Pro have an enjoyable, engaging sound with plenty of detail and oomph that will please most users.
The snail shaped buds themselves.
The Pixel Buds Pro were also comfortable for extended usage in my experience, able to handle some amount of movement without ever getting dislodged, although I didn’t actually try them on during workouts (I simply can’t work out with music on). The comfort, of course, will be subjective, so your mileage may vary.
Latency was not much of an issue for me while streaming videos, but of course I would probably not use these for gaming. There was no opportunity for me to test out the full seven hours of promised battery life, but I can say that I literally never had to worry about battery life – the buds and the case simply seemed to go on and on and on endlessly.
The case is satisfying to open and close.
The other aspects of using the earbuds were also very smooth. Pairing with a Pixel 6a was instant, and with other devices easy enough. The Pixel Buds app allows a degree of control over the buds, including switching between ANC, transparency and neither.
Speaking of ANC, the performance on the Pixel Buds Pro was solidly good. I understand it’s not quite as good as the class leading Sony WF-1000XM4 but for most users it will be more than adequate, doing a commendable job blocking out ambient sounds including airplane engines, a busy airport, and crowded coffee shops. The transparency mode is usable, but not the most realistic, but for me this is a purely functional feature to use occasionally, so I don’t mind.
The charcoal colour is discreet.
I would have liked an EQ feature in the app, especially since that would have allowed me to achieve a more neutral sound profile, but I understand that feature is in the works. The touch controls on the earbuds work as well as these tend to, occasionally mis-registering or failing to register, but mostly getting the job done. The microphones are good enough for calls and the odd voice note, but still not as good as mics that come with far cheaper wired earphones.
The Pixel Buds Pro case supports both USB-C wired and wireless charging. Google Assistant works well enough, if you’re the sort of person who uses it on earbuds (I’m not).
Should I buy it?
Wireless earbuds come with several glaring disadvantages compared to wired earphones.
Firstly, they are far more expensive for comparable sound quality. Wired earphones that cost three-digit prices sound as good as wireless earbuds that cost five-digit prices, and often have superior microphones.
Wired earphones can last for years and years (unless they suffer physical damage) whereas earbuds last as long as their batteries do, which is, on average, three years.
Wired earphones can be swapped between any number compatible device any number of times without bothering with pairing and disconnecting and all other kinds of finicky nonsense. Yes, the wires are a substantial inconvenience, but just let me choose which kind of inconvenience I prefer!
The buds are comfortable to wear.
As you can see, I utterly hate that phonemakers have removed headphone jacks from phones, forcing me to buy devices like the Pixel Buds Pro to serve the function of my old Panasonic earphones that cost me Rs 600 in 2016.
That said, in this messed up world where you don’t have a choice, the Pixel Buds Pro are an excellent choice that do virtually everything well. The launch price of Rs 19,990 was eye-wateringly expensive, but since they are available for Rs 14,890 at the time of writing, they are a great deal more compelling. The Sony WF-1000XM4 has class leading ANC, but also costs about Rs 2,000 more. If you have the budget for earbuds in this price range, the Pixel Buds Pro will serve you exceedingly well.
But I just want my headphone jack back.
The Pixel Buds Pro were sent to the reviewer as a loaner unit for review purposes. The unit will be returned on completion of the review. Google has been given no advance information about the content of this review and exercises no copy approval.
Contact the author on Twitter @vinayaravind.
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