Google Pixel Buds A-Series Review: Clearly Google’s AirPods 2

Google Pixel Buds A-Series (Buds A) is the latest true wireless in-ear headphones, or earbuds, from the search giant.

Google Buds A-Series. (Photo: Google)

The best news about the Buds A is its much cheaper price tag of S$149 – $120 cheaper than its direct predecessor, the Pixel Buds (2020).

SPECS
PRICE: S$149, available on Google Store
DRIVERS: 12mm dynamic
CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth 5.0
WEIGHT: 5.06g (earbud), 42.8g (charging case without earbuds)

Yet, the Buds A is supposed to have better sound while keeping most goodies of its predecessor like built-in Google Assistant and sleek comfy design.

DESIGN
In fact, you will be forgiven thinking the Buds A is its direct predecessor, as they really look identical. Google even uses the same pebble-shaped charging case, except the Buds A’s case is grey in the inside and not black like in the case of Pixel Buds (2020).

The Pixel Buds A-Series looks no different from Pixel Buds (2020). (Photo: Google)

Available only in one colour of Clearly White, it is quite clear that everything is either white or in shades of grey. The earbuds have a round touch-sensitive white exterior with a Google logo, which is joined to a short stem with a tiny stabiliser ear wing and a silicone ear tip – all in grey colour.

I like that the stabiliser ear wing “anchors” and secures the earbud to your ear comfortably, just like the Pixel Buds (2020). Three different-sized pairs of ear tips are included, so you can find a pair that suits your ears. However, there are no additional stabiliser ear wings provided. Still, I have no qualms wearing the earbuds for a jog.

A close-up of the Pixels Buds A-Series. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

The earbuds’ IPX4 rating means they can withstand water splashes and sweat. Just don’t wear them for runs in those heavy torrential downpours.

The charging case has a pairing button on its back and a USB-C port at its bottom. Unfortunately, with the cheaper price tag, the case no longer supports wireless charging.

PERFORMANCE
As you might expect, pairing the Buds A with a Google Pixel smartphone or any Android smartphone (running Android 6.0 and later) is a breeze. All you need to do is to flip up the lid of the charging case with the earbuds inside, and a window will appear on the smartphone for you to tap and connect.

But with a Samsung Galaxy Fold3, such a window failed to appear. I have to do it the manual way, which is to press the pairing button of the case in order to pair it with Fold3. No such issues when pairing with a Pixel 3 XL.

Trying to pair the Buds A-Series to a Samsung Galaxy Fold3 is not as seamless as to a Pixel smartphone. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

If you have a Pixel smartphone, the Pixel Buds will be a system-level app. To access the app, go to Settings > Connected devices and tap the gear icon by the Buds A-Series name.

For non-Pixel Android (6.0 and later) smartphones, you have to download the Pixel Buds app (Android only), which allows you to update firmware and customise the touch controls. Not that the default touch control scheme needs any changes, as it is intuitive and easy to remember. You tap once to play or pause a track, tap twice to skip a track and tap thrice to go to the previous track.

FOR
+ Much cheaper than its predecessor
+ Same comfy design as its predecessor
+ Easy auto-pairing with Android smartphones
+ Default touch controls are easy to remember

AGAINST
– Case does not support wireless charging
– Loses swipe for volume control found in its predecessor
– Still lacks active noise cancellation
– Real-time translation still a letdown

These controls are identical for each earbud, unlike some of its competitors which have different functions assigned to the same controls on the left and right earbud, making them hard to remember.

However, the Buds A loses the swipe forward and backward touch gestures for volume control that is present in its predecessor. This might irks some, but no biggie to me.

The Buds A features 12mm dynamic drivers and come integrated with Google Assistant, just like its predecessor (again). And it also has adaptive sound technology that optimises volume based on environmental noise. In other words, it will automatically reducing the volume when you are in a quiet room and upping the volume when you are in a noisy environment.

The Pixels Buds A-Series is great to wear for workouts. (Photo: Google)

Despite having same drivers and design, the audio quality is an upgrade from its predecessor. This is especially so in terms of the bass.

While its predecessor’s bass lacks oomph, bass is more punchy and sharp in the Buds A. The mids and highs are clear and distinct. Overall, it offers a better and more refined soundscape compared to other earbuds of the same price range.

There is no equaliser setting in the Pixel Buds app for you to customise the sound though. The only control you have is to turn on Bass Boost, which I think most users will prefer as it really does what it is supposed to do.

The bigger downer though is that the Buds A lacks active noise cancellation. Like its predecessor, its passive noise cancellation is not too impressive as well. This is due to its spatial vents reducing the “plugged-ear” feeling. While this is much more comfortable for use and safer when jogging, it allows much noise to pass through.

You might want to turn on the Bass Boost. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

So, if you are looking for earbuds to cancel out the never-ending renovations or knocking of your neighbours, the Buds A certainly cannot do the job.

Google continues to tout its real-time translation – two person to use one earbud each to carry out a conversation in different language – as a feature for the Buds A. But to me, it continues to be a let down. It still requires the use of the Google Translate app on your smartphone. I mean, if you have the app on your smartphone, why would you need the earbuds?

The app itself can read out the translated words and the earbuds are merely audio conduits. You can basically do the same thing without the earbuds.

BATTERY LIFE
Battery life is slightly above average – rated at five hours of music playback on a full charge.

During my tests, I found the battery life dropping to 50 per cent after around 2 hours 10 minutes of playback at maximum volume. But the charging case is supposed to add 19 more hours.

VERDICT
The Google Pixels Buds A-Series is an affordable true wireless in-ear headphones to go with your Android smartphone, especially if you have a Pixel one. It is essentially Google’s AirPods 2.

While the Buds A-Series is much cheaper and features better overall sound than its predecessor, it also loses some features like wireless charging and swipe volume control. It is like a step forward but a step and a half back. Nonetheless, it is still one pair of earbuds to consider.

RATINGS
FEATURES: 7/10
DESIGN: 8/10
PERFORMANCE: 8/10
BATTERY LIFE: 7.5/10
VALUE FOR MONEY: 9/10
OVERALL: 7.5/10