Voice assistant in your ear: Google’s Pixel Buds put to the test

|     Till Simon Nagel     |

FEW other new innovations are getting more hype at the moment than voice-activated technology. Now Google is letting users put its digital assistant in their ear with the Pixel Buds. Is the hype justified?

Unlike most earphones, the Pixel Buds are not placed in the ear canal but rather protrude loosely like small speakers. This has the advantage – or disadvantage, depending on your point of view – that ambient noise isn’t completely blocked out.

Despite their size, the Pixel Buds are quite light. They sit comfortably in your ears and don’t fall out even when jogging.

In terms of connection with a smartphone, Google wants to set new standards. Fast pairing is supposed to make it easy to connect the Pixel Buds with any Android device – turn Bluetooth on, take the earphones out of their box and the devices should be paired. Apple’s Airpod earphones work in a similar way.

In reality it’s often not so simple and really only works smoothly with Google’s Pixel smartphone and some of the other most-up-to-date Android phones.

Unlike most earphones, the Pixel Buds are not placed in the ear canal but rather protrude loosely like small speakers. Battery life is four to five hours and charging takes around an hour. You don’t even always need a power socket as there’s a rechargeable battery in the earphone case

However, once successfully paired with a device the earphones work instantly as soon as you take them out of the box. The sound transmission is stable and with the right smartphone, audio is transmitted in high quality AAC format.

In contrast to some other Bluetooth headsets, the Pixel Buds when paired with a Pixel 2 smartphone easily work without problems at distances of 15 to 20 metres.

Battery life is four to five hours and charging takes around an hour. You don’t even always need a power socket as there’s a rechargeable battery in the earphone case.

The sound of the Pixel Buds leaves a mixed impression. As a phone headset and for communicating with the Google Assistant, they’re perfect. When it comes to music though, it’s a hit or miss.

Some music, particularly electronic music or quiet folk songs, comes across clearly but more complex pieces with many instruments or rock songs push the Pixel Buds to their limits. If you turn up the volume, quieter, higher tones especially fall by the wayside.

The ear buds work well with the Google Assistant. Just put your finger on the button, give a command and hear the answer in your ear. Messages and calendar entries can also be read out. However, for many questions the smartphone has to be unlocked for the assistant to work.

Another feature is the translation of languages in real time. This sounds like a futuristic universal translator but in reality it actually means the Pixel Buds just work as a wireless microphone for Google Translate.

On the downside, the buds have some annoying flaws, for example when controlling music. Music can be paused and the volume raised and lowered by tapping on the ear bud, however, you can’t jump forward a song or backwards without taking the phone out and doing it there.

There are also limitations when it comes to hands-free calling: while normal calls work well, voice-over-IP calls via alternative messenger apps like as Signal and Threema aren’t possible. – Text & Photo by dpa