The Pixel Buds Pro is Google’s fourth entry in the highly competitive true wireless earbuds game and the tech giant is going all in with its most feature-rich and expensive offering yet. Boasting a unique earbud design, impressively long battery life, integrated Google Assistant, customisable on-ear touch controls as well as multipoint technology enabling you to stay connected to two devices simultaneously, the Pixel Buds Pro looks to have the goods on paper.
Is it enough to stand out from the competition? Time to find out.
Design and fit
The Pixel Buds Pro makes a strong first impression thanks to a matte grey texture case that feels really nice in the hand and keeps fingerprints at bay. The case has a satisfying clunk to it when snapping it closed and its overall size is roughly the same as Apple’s AirPods Pro case but with the added bonus of being able to be charged wirelessly. The earbuds themselves are substantial in size and remind me of Jabra’s 85T with its bulbous shape.
Both the earbuds and the case have some level of water resistance. The earbuds are IPX4 rated, while the case is IPX2. Neither will survive being dipped in water but minor splashes, rain, or sweat should pose no problems.
The lack of indentation or grooves on the inside of the case as well as strong magnets meant fumbling around for the first few weeks trying to get the earbuds out of the case in a somewhat coordinated manner. The optimal way is to position your index finger on the top black edge of the earbuds and yank them from there while using your thumb as support to hold the bottom of the earbuds.
Similarly, it was a struggle to get the Pixel Buds Pro to fit securely in my ears. Now, granted this is a problem I run into with most earbuds but the odd bulbous shape meant that working out the correct way to insert them required a bit of trial and error.
Google does at least include a fit test within the Pixel Buds app, and for the first few days it told me that the seal was inadequate on my right earbud. I eventually got into a rhythm of inserting the earbuds correctly and passed the app’s 20-second fit test. While they felt comfortable to wear particularly for earbuds that sit quite deep in the ear canal, they tended to pop out of my ears after a while.
I found the fit secure enough for sedentary use cases such as when working from a desk but doing anything more active such as chores around the house, hitting the gym or going for a run was a no go. Everyone’s ears are different so your mileage may vary but it’s something worth noting, especially if you’re someone who normally has issues with earbuds falling out.
The good news is that once the earbuds are in your ear, making readjustments to keep them there won’t trigger accidental functions. On most other true wireless earbuds such as Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro, I would more often than not accidentally trigger a track change due to the touch panel surface being the only part of the earbud that is exposed. The Pixel Buds Pro tends to stick out of the ear more, allowing you to easily grip the edges of the earbuds with your fingers.
The touch panel surface is also nice and large so you can comfortably adjust the volume using swipe gestures. Controlling the Pixel Buds Pro feels great and a real highlight thanks to the easy to use and responsive touch controls. You have the usual single tap to pause or answer a call, double tap and triple tap to skip tracks and swiping forward and backward to lower and raise the volume.
The gestures remain the same on each bud and you can even use one bud while the other charges without losing any of the controls.
You can also customize the touch and hold gesture so that it will cycle between active noise cancellation (ANC) and transparency mode on the left earbud and trigger the voice assistant from the right earbud.
The nice thing is that you can also summon the voice assistant completely hands-free by simply saying ‘Hey Google’. Another handy gesture is that if you just tap and hold on the right earbud, the Voice Assistant will read back your most recent notifications.
Performance and features
By far my favourite feature of the Pixel Buds Pro is the support for Bluetooth’s multipoint standard. This includes audio switching, which enables you to be connected to two devices simultaneously and switch between them seamlessly.
I paired the Pixel Buds Pro to a MacBook Air and my Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 and I was able to switch between them by simply pausing the playing media on the smartphone and hitting play on the laptop. Similarly, the Buds Pro would automatically pause the playing media on the MacBook Air and divert to an incoming call on my smartphone and seamlessly switch back once the call was done.
The nice thing is that I still have full access to Google’s Voice Assistant irrespective of the device the Pixel Buds Pro was diverted to. Similarly, media playback and volume control gestures worked perfectly on all the devices as well.
A lot of other earbuds still don’t support multipoint audio switching, and the ones that do such as Apple’s AirPods or Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro only support audio switching with devices within their own ecosystem. Google’s agnostic approach with the Pixel Buds Pro makes it useful for a lot more people.
If you do decide to pair the Pixel Buds Pro to two Android devices and you are logged into the same Google Account, then you will get a few more controls such as the ability to manually revert the audio switching as well as receive an on-screen notification whenever the audio switches.
One feature that I did miss from the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro is voice detect, which automatically turns on ambient sound and lowers the volume of your playing media so you can have a conversation with someone without having to take your earbuds out.
Sound and microphone quality
The Pixel Buds Pro doesn’t support high-bitrate codecs like LDAC or Qualcomm’s aptX and instead relies exclusively on SBC and AAC. This means that while you will be able to stream music encoded in lossless format from streaming services like Apple Music, the transport layer between your smartphone to the Pixel Buds Pro will be a bit more compressed. It is a bit disappointing considering that some other earbuds at this price point do at least support either aptX HD or LDAC.
That said, the Pixel Buds Pro still sound good, packing a nice amount of tight and punchy bass and an overall energetic sound signature. However, it can sound a bit muddy at times, particularly in the mids and lacks some detail in the highs. The soundstage can also sound congested, which is particularly evident when listening to tracks that have a lot of instruments playing at once. I found the Galaxy Buds Pro sounded better overall with its superior imaging and more open sound.
There’s no customisable equaliser but Google says that this will be coming in a future update.
Microphone quality on calls was good with the Pixel Buds Pro managing to block out most of the background noise. It’s not as good as something like the Sony LinkBuds, which filtered out more unwanted noise and made my voice sound more natural in calls.
All the key components used for the Pixel Buds Pro active noise cancellation (ANC) were custom designed by Google, which includes the processor, speakers and and the underlying algorithms that power it. The result isn’t a vastly better or meaningfully different ANC experience. In most cases the ANC performed just about as you would expect at this price point, blocking out low humming sounds like air conditioning units and car engines while dampening more higher pitch sounds like the clinking of silverware and background chatter. Blocking out gusts of wind was a bit hit and miss.
Overall, I found the ANC and transparency modes performed well but falling short of class leaders like the Sony WF-XM4’s and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds.
Battery life on the Pixel Buds Pro is class leading as far as true wireless earbuds go. Google claims that with ANC on, the Pixel Buds Pro should deliver 7 hours, but I was able to get an impressive 8 hours as well as 12 hours with ANC disabled. This is double the runtime of what I was able to achieve with the Galaxy Buds Pro and AirPods Pro.
The Pixel Buds Pro support fast charging with a 15-minute charge providing 3 hours of playback and it also supports wireless charging.
The Pixel Buds Pro is rich in features and boasts plenty of battery life, but the insecure fit and middling sound quality hold it back from greatness.
Google Pixel Buds Pro
Google is now a serious contender in the earbuds space with the Pixel Buds Pro. They are impressive however could still improve in terms of fit and sound quality.
Value for money
Ease of use
Stellar battery life
Connects to two devices simultaneously with smart audio switching