Google Pixel Buds Pro review: Best Android AirPod alternative?
The Google Pixel Buds Pro can hardly avoid a comparison with the AirPods Pro. Google's naming is far too similar to be excluded in that manner, and there is somehow a fascination with true wireless earbuds with a seamless connection to the Android ecosystem. Is it just the Pixel'esque design or are the Pixel Buds Pro really fun to use in everyday life? Find out the answer in my review!
- Super ccool design
- Effective ANC performance
- True multi-pairing capability
- Great connectivity to the Android ecosystem
- Unimpressive sound quality
- Equalizer is unavailable until this fall
- No iOS app
- Fiddly handling
The Google Pixel Buds Pro in a nutshell
If you don't have much time, I'll present my short conclusion from the review in advance:
If you find them pretty and use an Android phone, you won't go wrong with buying them. If not, you can find models that sound better and offer more features in our list of the best in-ear Bluetooth headphones.
If you are already sure that you want to buy the Google Pixel Buds Pro, you have to prepare a budget of $199 based on the recommended retail price. You can buy them from Google's online store as well as from online stores. Important: For the market launch in July and until fall 2022, both the individual equalizers and the Spatial Audio continue to remain missing, which is enabled by updating your mobile operating system to Android 13.
Design & comfort
If you like the design of existing Google accessories, you will also like the Pixel Buds Pro. They come in the same high-quality plastic look, which generates a certain charm from curves and round edges. At 23 x 22 x 22 millimeters, the earbuds are average in size, but the charging case is nice and compact at 63.2 x 50 x 25 millimeters.
What I liked:
- Pretty design with the charm of Google
- Comfortable fit even without any holding fins
- Crisp feedback for touch inputs
What I disliked:
- Fiddly handling when removing and insertion to the charging case
- Charging case gets dirty quickly
- Spartan packaging
While Google sets bold accents with hard edges in its smartphones in 2022, the design of the Pixel Buds Pro is far less adventurous. They are clearly reminiscent of the wired headphones that Google included with its smartphones a long time ago, or the Pixel Stand 2. However, the earbuds are visually appealing and, thanks to the small charging case, they are really convenient to have around.
Wearing comfort was already good with the preinstalled M-sized earbuds in my review. The Google Pixel Buds app confirmed this in the included test for the final fit. If your ears deviate from the boring M-size, S and L sizes are also included. Apart from a manual, only the earbuds are included in the box. If you do not have a USB-C charging cable, you will have to buy one.
While Google uses retaining fins in the cheaper Pixel Buds A-series to guarantee a better grip in the ear, the Pro version only sits in your ear via the vacuum of the silicone attachments. This works surprisingly well, but still makes for a queasy feeling when jogging or headbanging.
Even after several days of using it, I find the removal from the charging case to be a rather jittery act. This is because only a small part of the earbuds peek out of the insertion recesses here, which makes the removal rather fiddly. The earbud's shape, which is somewhat reminiscent of a round cone, also sits poorly in the hand. Other manufacturers managed to do this much more comfortably and securely.
Another small drawback: The charging tray gets dirty fast when it comes into contact with keys or other pocket contents. However, most stains and marks can be wiped off using your fingers.
App & convenience functions
The companion app of the Google Pixel Buds Pro is only available for Android users. As a consolation for iOS fans, it even comes pre-installed on Pixel smartphones! (Just kidding!) According to the banana principle, the equalizers and spatial audio will only be delivered by fall 2022, but there will be nice features like multipoint Bluetooth support and direct integration with Google Assistant at launch.
What I liked:
- Pretty companion app
- Direct integration with Pixel devices
- Multi-pairing and wearable detection
What I disliked:
- Severe limitations for iOS users
- Many features available only months after its launch
Google wants to give its direct customers, i.e. all those who call a Pixel smartphone their own, a small advantage. You do not have to install the companion app, but can access all functions directly via its Bluetooth settings. In my eyes, however, this is more cumbersome than having a dedicated app on the handset. Instead of opening an app on the home screen, you will have to open the Bluetooth settings:
- Launch the Bluetooth settings
- Tap the gear icon of the Pixel Buds Pro
- Adjust the desired settings
If these steps proved to be rather lengthy and tedious for you, you can alternatively place a 1x1 widget on the home screen. Unfortunately, there is no quick control available here. Google could still work on integrating its earbuds here. The feature set is also still a bit limited until this fall. A perfect example of the banana principle, where new products are launched with limited features only to be updated later - if it ever arrives!
As of August 2022, I could not yet use the Pixel Buds Pro's equalizers. Google mentioned in small print on its homepage that this feature would be added in the fall. Also later in the year, Android 13 will also offer Spatial Audio, and the Pixel Buds Pro are, of course, compatible with that as flagship earbuds. As soon as we get to try out the features, we'll have an update for you!
What already works well is the multi-pairing function includes detection for devices whose audio output you want to use at the moment. During the review, I had my notebook and smartphone connected most of the time. The Pixel Buds Pro switched seamlessly between listening to music on the laptop and playing a message sound on my iPhone. Google doesn't make any mistakes here.
Other convenience features include support for Google Assistant, including activation via voice commands. This is an advantage over most earbuds, which can usually only accept voice commands after pressing a button. A wear detection feature also ensures that playback stops when you remove the headphones from your ear. Google's charging case also knows when it is open or closed.
There is a problem if you use an iPhone though: You can connect the Pixel Buds Pro and use them like "normal" earbuds. Unfortunately, there is no companion app in the AppStore. Thus, the control of many features is missing. That's too bad!
Sound & ANC
The Google Pixel Buds Pro's music hails from 11-millimeter drivers. The ANC is not adaptive and unfortunately cannot be fine-tuned, making it a technical drawback of the Pixel Buds Pro: Only AAC and SCB are supported as Bluetooth codecs, which means that HD codecs are not supported. This is a noticeable omission that affects the audio resolution as well as the latency.
What I liked:
- Solid sound with a tendency towards bass (equalizer not yet available)
- ANC is really effective
- Great quality during calls
What I disliked:
- Complex tracks sound spongy
- No HD codecs supported
- ANC without gradations (on / off / transparency)
With an MSRP of just under $200, Google positioned its in-ear Bluetooth earbuds in the higher-end market. Thus, models like the Sony WF-1000XM4 and the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 will end up being compared. Both headphones were very convincing in terms of technical aspects and sound in their respective reviews. Google falls far behind here with its earbuds.
The lack of support for HD codecs like AptX or LDAC is already a major disadvantage when listening to music. Even with high-quality drivers, the Pixel Buds Pro cannot achieve the resolution of competing models as a result. At the same time, the latency of the AAC and SBC codecs is high, which is especially noticeable in videos and mobile games in reality.
Despite the technical drawbacks, the Pixel Buds Pro sounds solid and impress especially in the bass range. It should be mentioned that Google does not yet offer an equalizer in its app. Thus, the Pixel Buds Pro are rather something more for bass fans at market launch, i.e. for genres like R&B, hip-hop, electro, EDM, and of course, pop music. Indeed, tracks like "I'm so blessed you're mine" by James Blake or the new Beyonce album released in July are worth listening to and come with the necessary thumps.
More chaotic tracks like "Nighttime Disguise" by the progressive metal band Leprous, "Cafo" by Animals as Leaders or more complex, classical music quickly sound overloaded and spongy. At the same time, the Pixel Buds Pro do not separate individual frequencies precisely enough to reproduce them clearly for the listener. This does not sound nice, but it can possibly be fine-tuned a bit via the equalizers.
Speaking of fine-tuning: Unfortunately, you cannot do so with the active noise cancellation. You can alternate between on, off and transparency mode via the Pixel Buds app or by a long press on the individual earbuds. Other models allow gradual activation in situations. However, the ANC is really effective when fully active and filters out 90% of the typing on my keyboard and noise from the street in front of my home office window, for instance. The noise cancellation is among the best I've ever experienced in a pair of earbuds.
When making phone calls, the Pixel Buds Pro does a good job. The other party told me that the call quality was good, and I could also understand the other party well. What is unfortunately missing is a passthrough function of one's own voice, which is pleasant when making calls using ANC headphones. Furthermore, the quality of a voice recording via the program Audacity is rather mediocre.
Battery & Charging
Google's Pixel Buds Pro offer a long battery life of seven hours with noise cancellation enabled. This is a real power guzzler for Google, because the Pro Buds manage a decent eleven hours without ANC. You can extend the runtime up to 20 hours with ANC and 31 hours without ANC via the included charging case. Wireless charging and quick charging are also supported.
What I liked:
- Very good battery life
- Quick and wireless charging on board
What I disliked:
- Earbuds slip off the phone during reverse wireless charging
With runtimes of seven to eleven hours in mixed use with and without ANC, the Google Pixel Buds lasted for a pleasantly long time. We could easily use them for an entire workday in the review without having to look for a charger. If you still want to go jogging after work, you can also achieve another hour of runtime via a 5-minute charge thanks to its Quick Charging capability. Google also stated that 15 minutes of charging is enough to provide juice for another three hours, which is nice since Quick Charge usually works slower with longer charging times.
If you do not have a USB-C charging cable at home (after all, none is included in the box), you can also charge the Google Pixel Buds Pro wirelessly. Except for the Pixel 6a, all existing Pixel smartphones also offer reverse wireless charging, which allows you to charge the earbuds by placing them on the back of the handset. Doing so, a problem arises here: The smartphone and earbuds are so slippery that the latter tends to slip off the device. This is regrettable!
So, are the Google Pixel Buds Pro THE recommended earbuds for Android smartphones, as many reviewers have claimed? Personally, I would like to be cautious with this statement. This is because although the multi-pairing and the connection to the Google Pixel 6 were really, really good throughout the review duration, the $199 earbuds fall behind in terms of other features.
Above all, it is the sound quality that I find difficult to forgive with the earbuds, at least at the time of its launch. This is because right out of the box, the Pixel Buds Pro are very bass-heavy and the sound is too spongy for more complex pieces of music. This is partly due to the lack of support for HD codecs like AptX HD, which is found in more and more affordable in-ear Bluetooth headphones. Those offerings will also see you find practical comfort features like location-based ANC control, adaptive ANC with finer graduation, or 3D audio, which is not arriving on Google's earbuds until the end of the year.
The very good ANC performance and the runtimes that are suitable for everyday use once again, offers a very positive experience, but these are also available from other manufacturers. Thus, the question of a purchase recommendation ultimately depends on your sympathy or antipathy for Google's Pro headphones. Although there are better models out there with a $200 price tag, only Google's earbuds look so unique and pretty.
In short: If you find them pretty and use an Android smartphone, you won't go wrong with buying them. If not, our list of the best true wireless erabuds includes models that sound better and offer more features.