Like its smartphones, Google is introducing a new budget option to their wireless earbuds line. It has been given a similar moniker, adopting the ‘a’ naming scheme to be called the Google Pixel Buds A-Series.
Google frames this device as a value option for consumers looking to purchase wireless earbuds; delivering good quality audio performance without burning into your wallet. The truth is, there’s a lot of wireless earbuds that have that same focus, all performing with varying results. We’ll see if Google’s version can stick the landing.
The A-series does not stray far from the design sensibilities of the original Google Pixel Buds.
The charging case still retains the flat egg shape that is perfectly sized to hold comfortably and fit easily into a pocket. At the same time, the lid mechanism makes opening and closing the case a very satisfying experience.
Inside the case, you’ll find the earbuds themselves, which have these unique fin-like protrusions on each bud that supposedly help with a more secure fit in your ear. Putting in the earbuds is a slightly more troublesome endeavour because of the fins, but once you’ve managed to slot it in the ear properly, the earbuds do stay in rather snugly.
The earbuds’ secure fit also meant that I didn’t have to worry about it falling out, which was one less concern to deal with. Couple that with the IPX4-certified sweat and water resistance, and you’ve got wireless earbuds that are perfectly suited to accompany you out on your fitness routines.
Overall, I would say that the Google Pixel Buds A-Series are one of the most comfortable wireless earbuds that I have used. Each earbud only comes in at 5 grams which are incredibly light, and I barely felt them in my ears during my use; you can definitely use the earbuds for long periods without it being uncomfortable.
I also appreciate the actual design of the earbuds, particularly the flat outer surface implementation. The earbuds stay flush against the ear for a discreet look, but I especially like the fact that it now allows you to use the earbuds while lying down sideways. Because of this design, the earbuds don’t poke into the ears that much, and it made for a much more comfortable listening experience whenever I wanted to use them laid out in bed or on the couch.
For Singapore, the local online Google Store seems to only offer the White variant for the Google Pixel Buds A-Series. While it by no means is an ugly look — it fits in with Google’s clean aesthetic — it would have been good to have the Dark Olive colouring as an option to choose from.
Before going into the audio performance, I want to highlight an issue I encountered with the Google Pixel Buds A-Serie. For whatever reason, at least when paired with a Xiaomi phone that I used to test it with, the volume emitted was really quiet. Even at max volume, it sounded as if it was at a level below 50%. This problem does not appear when paired with a Pixel phone or even an iPhone, and it persists after the earbuds have been updated to the latest firmware. I have no idea what causes the issue and how to solve it.
For its actual performance, the Google Pixel Buds A-Series is advertised as a device that provides ‘rich sound for less’ by Google itself, but that seems a little exaggerated after I’ve experienced listening from the earbuds.
Listening to music, the low-end felt slightly underwhelming on the earbuds. There was a lack of ‘punchiness’ during bass-heavy portions from songs. There is some improvement if you toggle the bass boost option in the app, but it still wasn’t enough to feel satisfying for my own preference.
I can’t fault the audio clarity from the earbuds though. Music comes through crystal clear, and the mid-range performance particularly does belie its pricing. This works out great as well for things besides music, like podcasts for example; you can hear people’s voices without much issue.
Unfortunately, using the Google Pixel Buds A-Series outside doesn’t bring quite the listening experience that it should. Despite being in-ear earbuds, the sound isolation on the Pixel Buds A-Series is not good; it barely feels like any sound is getting blocked out.
In some ways, it can be good — I can have conversations without needing to take off the earbuds as long as nothing is playing. But when you want just to be enveloped in your music, these earbuds don’t give you that. There’s an annoying amount of background noise that seeps in, especially in crowded or busy areas, which takes away from the listening experience.
These problems could have been alleviated had the Google Pixel Buds A-Series come with some form of noise cancellation, but there is no such feature here. Instead, it has something called ‘adaptive sound’, which detects the surrounding noise and adjusts the volume accordingly. It works, but doesn’t do enough to help; environmental noise can still be heard coming through.
If you own an Android device, the Google Pixel Buds A-Series is for you. The earbuds have a Fast Pair feature that works with any device with Android 6.0 and later, helping you connect to them more easily. Simply flip open the charging case and get it to pairing mode for your phone to detect it. It’ll connect automatically when you open the lid the next time you want to use it.
Apple users will have to do this the old-fashioned way, and the worst part is that Google has elected to make it as troublesome as possible for subsequent uses. Every time you want to use the earbuds, you have to manually connect to them on your Bluetooth settings. For most other wireless earbuds I’ve tried, my iPhone will automatically connect to them just by opening the case lid if they have been paired together before, and they aren’t even Apple-aligned. If they can do it, why can’t Google do the same?
Once you’ve paired with the earbuds, you’ll be invited to download the Pixel Buds app. Google Pixel phone users should already have the app installed, but those with Apple devices will unfortunately miss out as it isn’t available on the App Store.
You’ve got the usual suspects in the app like earbuds and case battery percentage, touch gesture adjustments, find my device feature and EQ settings, but the EQ settings in particular are very disappointing; there’s only bass boost available.
The number of touch gestures for the Google Pixel Buds A-Series is decent. You’re given up to a triple tap command on the earbuds, which is frankly not commonly seen in other wireless earbuds at this price, or even some that are more expensive for that matter. However, there isn’t any volume touch control on the earbuds. It’s one of the more essential control options for wireless earbuds, and its absence is a big oversight on Google’s part.
Overall though, the touch controls work great. I mostly really like that the flat outer surface made touch detection almost flawless. I never had any issues with the earbuds not recognising my touch commands.
But perhaps the biggest feature from the Google Pixel Buds A-Series is voice commands. Simply say ‘Hey Google’ or ‘Ok Google’, and Google Assistant will fire up to help with whatever you need.
You’ll need to set it up first, but once you do, everything works as intended. You can get it to read your notifications, adjust volume, or even act as a real-time translation device with the help of Google Translate, and it is mostly hands-free. Personally, I would feel quite awkward using this in public, but I can admit, it is a cool feature that not many wireless earbuds have.
Google says the Google Pixel Buds A-Series is able to give 5 hours of playback, and during testing, the earbuds were able to provide close to that at 4 hours and 50 minutes. The case offers another additional 19 hours. It’s an average battery life duration though it should be more than sufficient if you aren’t a heavy user.
Unfortunately, Google has taken out wireless charging functionality, presumably to save costs, so that means that you’ll have to solely rely on regular cable charging to get the earbuds back up to speed.
Suppose you are new to the world of wireless earbuds. In that case, the Google Pixel Buds A-Series is an appropriate entry point that offers a lightweight earbud to use for long periods, decent enough audio quality to those who aren’t fussy, and a rather novel experience for Android users, particularly with its Google Assistant implementation.
I wouldn’t exactly recommend this to people wanting an upgrade on their existing wireless earbuds though. You can find better-sounding earbuds for close to the price of the Pixel Buds A-Series while also adding in superior noise isolation or even noise cancellation. I am also concerned about the volume issues that it presented; it doesn’t evoke great confidence for a seemingly Android-friendly earbud to have this problem appear on an Android device.