While they didn’t arrive at the Google I / O event as some expected, the Pixel Buds A-Series are already official: they’re the firm’s cheapest wireless headphones yet.
The general idea is to offer a cheaper version of the current Pixel Buds 2, but keeping the key features and quality. There are a few markdowns to achieve the significantly lower price, but they’re lower than you might expect: wireless charging and attention alerts.
Overall, Google has done a good job and even made small improvements. The main selling point of the Pixel Buds A is all the smart features, as the below average battery life and lack of noise cancellation (ANC) might make you prefer to buy another model. .
Design and build quality
As you may have already seen, Pixel Buds A are identical to Pixel Buds (2020). In fact, Google hasn’t changed the design at all, so this is a cheap version of those same headphones.
The only new features are two new color options: the Dark Olive – which I was expecting – and the Light White option, which I was sent to test. It bears the same name as the Buds 2, but now has light gray sections on the headphones and inside the case, instead of black.
If you’ve used the Pixel Buds 2, you can probably skip to the later sections of the review, but if not, these are well-designed, well-built headphones.
They come in a small case with a smooth matte finish. The look and feel are nice, although they are oddly simple, without the “G” logo in sight. The only thing it has is a USB-C port on the bottom for charging and a hidden LED just below the cover that lights up when you open it.
The headphones themselves are very small and one of the lightest pairs on the market, weighing just 5 grams each. They fit my ears perfectly and stay put. The pads can be changed and while there is a fin section to help with stability, this is a permanent feature.
It’s a shame because, although I use small ear pads, the fins aren’t very useful as they don’t reach my slightly larger ears. However, they were comfortable for me for long periods of time, and unlike other models, I wasn’t too concerned about them falling.
There is a “G” logo on the outside and this is where the touch controls are located. This is also where we find the first drawback compared to the Buds 2, because in this case there are no swipe gestures for the volume, instead you will have to use taps (single, double and triple ). However, it works well, with good responsiveness.
It’s a shame that the touch controls cannot be customized so that, for example, the left earbud takes care of volume and the right earbud takes care of playback.
The last thing to mention about the design is IPX4 water resistance which is basic but better than nothing. It should protect the A Buds from splashing or sweating.
Sound quality and features
Inside the Pixel Buds A are the same custom 12mm dynamic drivers as the Buds 2 and use Bluetooth 5.0 for connectivity. While there are newer versions such as 5.2, I haven’t had any of the crashing issues we encountered with the Buds 2.
The 12mm drivers are surprisingly large considering their size, and the Buds A deliver decent sound quality, with clean, crisp sound in the mid and high frequencies.
As Lewis discovered with the Buds 2, bass is sparse by default, but you can enable the bass boost option in the settings which fixes this problem if you listen to a lot of music with a lot of bass.
Unfortunately, they don’t have active noise cancellation (ANC), but neither do much more expensive pairs like Apple’s AirPods 2 or similarly priced options like Cambridge Audio’s Melomania 1 and RHA’s TrueConnect 2.
Passive sound insulation is very good, but if ANC is a must and you can’t justify the flagship prices, then go for the Huawei FreeBuds 4i or the Anker Soundcore Life A2 NC.
However, the main advantage of the Pixel Buds A is the range of smart features that Google offers. Most of them are not found with competitors of this price or higher.
Much of the appeal is because the headphones are Google Assistant compatible, so it’s like having little smart speakers in your ears. Before we get to what you can do, the smart tech shows up as soon as you open the box.
Fast Pair means you get a pop-up notification and after a few simple onscreen steps Buds A will connect to your phone. I expected this on my Pixel 4a 5G, but Google says it will work with any Android phone running version 6.0 or later.
Note that you can also use them with iOS or other bluetooth devices if you want, you only need the pairing button on the back of the case.
On my Pixel phone, the Pixel Buds app is present at the system level so you can get the battery life numbers for each earbud from the drop-down bar and quickly access all settings by tapping -or on the device in the Bluetooth devices menu.
As mentioned earlier, Buds A’s touch controls don’t support volume slides, but you can ask the Google Assistant to raise or lower them. It’s an interesting touch, although I can’t imagine using it in public even though you can touch and hold the headset instead of saying “Hey Google”.
This is just one of the many things the Google Assistant can do on headphones, so it doesn’t end there, far from it.
One of the main functions is translation, which can be very useful when traveling abroad or just talking with non-English speaking neighbors. You can translate 40 different languages in real time using the Google Translate app.
Without someone fluent in another language to test it, Google suggested that I watch a YouTube video in another language. He translated my speech effortlessly, but, as you can see above, he had a little trouble keeping up with the fast Spanish. I imagine talking to someone in real life when you know they’re talking to an app will work better.
You can also have notifications read to you if you want (after selecting the apps you want to enable this feature for) and this can be very useful – for example, you are shopping and your partner sends you a message to add to the list-, but you also get unnecessary things like “Jordan sent three photos”.
The adaptive sound is unrelated to the assistant, but rather claims to adjust the volume automatically based on where you go when wearing the Buds A. I didn’t think it did much, but I didn’t. took the Buds nowhere particularly demanding when testing them. .
I have found the over-the-ear detection more useful and reliable than many others with the same function. It knows when you take your headphones off or on with infrared sensors, and quickly pause or resume your music.
There’s more, as you can also use your phone to find the Pixel Buds A if you lose them. And the good news is, if you don’t like any of almost all of these features, you can probably turn them off in settings so you don’t mind.
As with the Pixel Buds 2, battery life is always a downside, as the Buds A can last five hours of playtime with just the headphones.
This seemed true to me, as my colleague Lewis found the Buds 2 to be about three hours long. But that’s a far cry from many rivals, as some can last twice as long or even longer.
If we add the charging case, the total time is 24 hours, which is not bad, but that figure of five hours will not be enough for some users, especially if they want to take a long flight. mail or something similar. .
Fast charging helps the situation a bit, as you can get three hours of playtime on a 15-minute charge.
The case itself is charged by USB-C and does not have wireless charging like the Buds 2.
While Pixel Buds 2 have a pretty steep price tag of $ 179, Pixel Buds A are much more affordable at $ 99.
They will arrive “before June 18” in the United States, where they can be reserved. And while there is still no official launch date in Europe, you can sign up for a waitlist through the Google Store.
There are of course many cheaper pairs of wireless headphones out there, but rarely those from big tech brands. The main competitors here, which are slightly cheaper and have active noise cancellation, are the Huawei FreeBuds 4i and Anker Soundcore Life A2 NC, both from 79.
Check out our charts of the best wireless headphones and the best inexpensive wireless headphones for more options.
Google is finally doing this with its own branded wireless headphones and I think it was a wise move to take the flagship model and cut out some of the extra features. premium to obtain a much more attractive price.
After all, it worked well with Pixel ‘a’ phones.
Considering the price difference compared to the Pixel Buds 2, it might be a bit of a surprise to see how much Google has reduced here, namely wireless charging in the case and attention alerts.
Everything else stays true, and while there are cheaper competitors with active noise cancellation, the Pixel Buds A offer something different, and that’s a ton of smart features.
Basics like on-ear sensing and decent touch controls are just the start, as the Buds A also support adaptive sound, quick pairing, and the Google Assistant, opening up a world of possibilities, l ” getting responses to notifications. .
Battery life isn’t great for the headphones themselves, but the case has a lot of extra charge and quick charge to quickly charge the headphones when they run out.
If the cons aren’t on your must-see list, Pixel Buds A are recommended.
- 12mm dynamic controllers
- Bluetooth 5.0
- Two microphones with beamforming accelerometer and voice detection
- 5 hour battery life (24 hours with case)
- Compatibility with Google Assistant
- Touch controls
- IR sensors for in-ear detection
- Compatibility with Google Translate
- IPX4 sweat and water resistance
- 20.7 x 29.3 x 17.5 mm, 5.06 g (auriculars)
- 63 x 47 x 25 mm, 42.8 g (bottom)
- White and dark olives