Hands on: Google Pixel Buds review

Your very own Babelfish

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

These clever buds impress with fit and power, but we would have loved to have seen truly wireless options.

For

  • Clever-fitting hooks
  • Good fit in the ear

Against

  • Cord can slip
  • Hard to put in case

The Google Pixel Ear Bluetooth headphones are designed to complement the colors and look of the new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, while bringing their own translating smarts to the table as well.

The first thing you'll notice is that, unlike Samsung's and Apple's 'true wireless' offerings, there's a cord hanging in between the two noise-makers – while these buds are wireless, they're not truly so.

However, that cord does have some clever uses... not least meaning it'll be harder to lose your earbuds, and you can hang them around your neck when they're not in use.

The design is fairly standard for a set of earbuds, to be honest, with the rubberized outer fitting nicely into the ear, and a flanged bud inside sealing the sound in nicely.

The cord has a neat trick: slide it upwards and you'll be able to make a small 'wing' that holds it in your ear perfectly... being able to customize like this is a really nice trick.

The sound quality seems more than acceptable, with the design of the buds not being truly noise-isolating, but still enough to put a decent roar into your ears.

We were, irritatingly, stuffed into a noisy demo area, so couldn't push them to their natural limits, but what we heard was pretty rich and offered a decent level of bass.

The headphones are compatible with any device that supports Bluetooth playback, but are best used with the Pixel – they'll insta-pair with the new device from Google in the same way Apple's AirPods do when you open the case for the first time. 

It's not the first time that Google has taken its cues from Apple, but it's a slick system. You'll even, apparently, be able to use Siri with the Buds, but they're best used with the Google phones.

The outsides of the headphones are touch-sensitive, so you can hold to access the Assistant, swipe forwards and backwards to alter volume and swipe up and down to skip tracks. It's a simple system.

Sadly, as they aren't finished units, we couldn't try out the Google Assistant functionality, so we've yet to find out just how good they are at enabling you to communicate in foreign languages.

Whether you need it really is the bigger question, as while it is a properly futuristic thing to have, we can't say that we regularly want to talk to people in a different language. 

It'll also need two people using Pixel Buds together to have a truly multi-lingual conversation, which is pretty unlikely. Plus we can see it being difficult to explain to someone that we're using them as a translation tool if we can't speak the language.

The charging box, which doubles as a case for the headphones, is a little irritating. The outside feels a little flimsy (again, though, we were trying pre-production units), and while the battery life is good for five hours on the Pixel Buds from a single charge (and you can get multiple juices from keeping them in the case) having to wrap the cables around the outside is tedious.

They don't even fit flush around the outside, with a small amount of cable having to go inside the case... it's workable, but something you need to get used to.

Early verdict

These are cool little buds, and we need to spend more time testing out the translation function and audio quality to get a feel for the real-life experience with them – they have some unique features that other earbuds lack, but that doesn't necessarily make them the best on the market.

But from a design and fit point of view, they're good; a little expensive perhaps, but overall still a decent idea from Google, and likely to entice people who are worried about losing separate wireless buds.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.