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Google's first attempt at truly wireless earbuds, the Pixel Buds, were good but not great. They lacked high-end features such as the active noise cancellation and transparency mode found in Samsung's Galaxy Buds and Apple's AirPods Pro. And Google's Pixel Buds A-Series, while more affordable, didn't offer any of the premium features some users have come to expect.
With the $199 Pixel Buds Pro, shipping as of today, Google is putting all of its hardware and software smarts into a tiny package. While I tested the Buds Pro over the past few days, one question kept coming to mind: Are these good enough to be the AirPods Pro for Android fans?
Spoiler alert: I think so.
|Microphones||Three in each earbud|
|Speaker||Custom 11mm dynamic speaker driver|
|Battery life w/ANC:||7 hours listening, 20 hours total with case|
|Battery life w/ANC off:||11 hours listening, 31 hours total with case|
|Features:||Active noise cancellation, transparency mode, Google Assistant|
|Colors:||Charcoal, fog, coral and lemongrass|
|Water and sweat resistance:||Earbuds IPX4, Case IPX2|
If you were to make assumptions about the design of the Pixel Buds Pro based on the design of the charging case, you'd assume the Buds Pro looks like the standard Pixel Buds or Buds A-Series. That is to say -- the charging case for the Pixel Buds and Pixel Buds Pro looks almost identical in size and color.
However, the case is wider and shorter than the old Pixel Buds case. There's an indicator light on the front of the case that lets you know the charging status or see when the Buds Pro enters pairing mode. On the bottom of the case is a USB-C port for charging the case and Buds Pro. On the back of the case is a pairing button that you hold in for a few seconds when it's time to pair the earbuds with a non-Android device.
Also present, but not visible, on the back of the case is a wireless charging coil that allows you to place the charging case on a Qi-compatible wireless charging pad to top off the case and/or BudS Pro. (Speaking of the case, Nomad Goods already has a leather case for the Pixel Buds Pro case -- I've been using the black case for a few days. It's great.)
Also: 7 Pixel Buds Pro tips and tricks to get the most out of Google's wireless earbuds
The old Pixel Buds design features a stabilizer arc that wraps into your ear to hold the earbuds in place, with a flat touchpad and the Google logo.
The Pixel Buds Pro, however, has ditched the stabilizer and has a wider body that goes into your ear, with a soft ear tip on the end. A medium-size tip comes preinstalled on the Buds Pro, with large and small tips included in the box.
When wearing the Buds Pro, the touchpad is visible, along with the Google logo and two mesh screens. The touchpad is used to interact with the earbuds and whatever you're listening to or to summon Google Assistant.
The initial setup and pairing of the Buds Pro will vary, based on the type of device you're connecting them to. If you're connecting the Buds Pro to a Pixel or any Android device running Android 6.0 or newer, all you need to do is place the charging case next to your phone with the earbuds inside it and open the case.
With your phone unlocked and the screen on, you'll see an alert after a second or two asking if you want to pair the Pixel Buds Pro to your device. After you pair the Buds Pro to one Android device, your Google account email address automatically will be linked to the Buds Pro.
That means you're able to open the Buds Pro case next to one of your other Android devices and you should see an alert asking if you want to use your earbuds with that device, allowing you to avoid going through the setup process again.
On a non-Pixel phone, you'll be prompted to install the Pixel Buds app from the Play store. You use the Pixel Buds app to manage and control everything about the earbuds, including firmware updates, changing gesture behaviors, enabling Google Assistant, and choosing which apps the Assistant will read notifications from.
On a Pixel phone, the Pixel Buds app is built into the operating system and is found in the Bluetooth connection settings. After using the Buds Pro with a Galaxy Z Fold 3 and a Pixel 6 Pro, I prefer having a standalone app over having to dig through the Settings app to make minor adjustments.
To be fair, there is a widget that acts as a shortcut to view your Pixel Buds' settings, but I still prefer the app itself.
Where the Pixel Buds Pro excel is with performance. The sound quality on the Buds Pro is on par, to my ears at least, with the AirPods Pro. Well, with one exception -- the Buds Pro currently don't support spatial audio, a feature that changes the direction of sounds and music as you move your head. The equalizer feature in the Pixel Buds app auto-adjusts sound during use, ensuring everything sounds as good as possible in real-time.
Active noise cancellation (ANC) is strong enough to block out the air conditioner in my office and my mechanical keyboard's clickity clack while typing. If someone comes into the room and talks loudly enough, I can hear, but it sounds as if the person is across the room talking in a whisper.
Switching between ANC and transparency mode is done by long-pressing on either earbuds' touchpad for a second. Transparency mode lets in some of the ambient sounds around you, which is handy if you're walking along a busy road or waiting to hear an announcement in the airport but still want to watch a show or listen to music.
Good sound quality, strong active noise cancellation, and some form of a transparency mode are, however, table scraps for high-end wireless earbuds in 2022.
Where I found the Pixel Buds Pro to be most impressive is with audio switching and multipoint connections. These two features are very similar, yet different.
Audio switching is used to switch the audio source between multiple Android devices that use the same Google account. For instance, I was just listening to music on my Galaxy Z Fold 3 through the Pixel Buds Pro, but when I received a call on my Pixel 6 Pro, the music on the Z Fold 3 automatically paused and I could hear the 6 Pro ringing in my ear.
An alert showed up on both devices letting me know the audio switched and that I could tap the notification to switch back to the Z Fold 3. The alert, however, didn't stay available for very long. Maybe 10 seconds? I could switch audio back to the original device by starting some sort of activity that requires audio, be it watching a video or tapping play in the Apple Music app.
Multipoint connections work in a similar way, but instead of being meant for Android-to-Android audio switching, it allows the earbuds to stay connected to two devices at the same time and switch between them when needed. As I write this very review I have the Pixel Buds Pro connected to Apple's new MacBook Air and the Pixel 6 Pro. I'm streaming music from the MacBook Air, but if at any point I get a call, the audio source switches to the 6 Pro. If I want to start streaming music on my phone and not the Mac, I have to pause the music on the MacBook Air first, then press play on the 6 Pro.
Even though it's an extra step to switch music playback for a multipoint connection, it's a much faster process than having to dive into the Bluetooth menu and select a device to connect to.
There's a bit of magic to the earbuds, as well. The range allows me to walk throughout my entire 3,300-square-foot house without any interference while my phone is on the centrally located kitchen table. Battery life has been good, too. But the earbuds also automatically play or pause your music when they're put in or removed from your ears -- even when connected to a Mac, which was something I didn't expect to work at all.
At $199, the Pixel Buds Pro is priced between the $249 Apple AirPods Proand the $149 Samsung Galaxy Buds 2. And despite their name implying the earbuds are only for Pixel phones, that's not the case at all. I've connected the Buds Pro to multiple Android phones without much fanfare and then was able to switch between devices without any effort on my part.
With multipoint connectivity being an option, you can even use the Buds Pro with a non-Android device, be it a PC, a Mac or an iPhone and stay connected to your Android phone of choice.
Based on sound quality, aggressive ANC, and tight integration with Android as a whole, the Galaxy Buds Pro are the wireless earbuds to get for Android users.