Small, round, with a design that vaguely recalls the shape of the Mentos: after being launched in the United States last April, the Google Pixel Buds 2 have finally arrived in Italy, ready to be tested.
Google's true wireless headphones are a highly anticipated product: in theory, according to the name, they would be the ideal continuation of the first Pixel Buds dated 2017, but they have very little in common with the previous ones, which even had the connection cable between earphones.
And then, among known things and others to be discovered, here is the result of my preview test: I tested them a few days coupled with my Pixel 3a.
- DESIGN AND COMFORT
- TOUCH CONTROLS
- INTEGRATION WITH GOOGLE ASSISTANT
- SPECIAL APPS AND FEATURES
- SOUND QUALITY
- DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ANDROID AND IOS
- PRICES, COLORS, AVAILABILITY
The first thing that catches the eye is undoubtedly the appearance of these Google-branded headphones: set in a very nice case, equipped with a good magnetic closure and made of a plastic material pleasant to the touch, there are two true wireless earphones with a decidedly unusual shape, held in place by a magnetic mechanism that facilitates correct insertion and therefore loading.
The feeling is that you are dealing with a solid, well-built product: the rounded shape of the case allows you to easily put it in your pocket, and the matte finish protects it from signs of wear. As soon as the case is opened, two LEDs light up: one, front and external, indicates the charge level of the case; the other, inside, indicates the charge level of the headphones.
In the back there is a button for Bluetooth pairing, and in the lower part there is the USB-C socket for charging, which however can also take place wirelessly. The headphones are very light: they weigh 5.3 grams each and measure 20.5 x 19.5 x 18.2 mm, while the case weighs 56.1 g (without headphones inside) and measures 63 x 47 x 25 mm.
The earphones certainly have a peculiar shape: round on the outside, they are in-ear but also equipped with a curious non-removable rubber "headband" which improves stability. Once worn, they must be placed by turning them clockwise until the "lock" position is found, and from the outside they are quite sober; personally, a design that I really appreciated.
As for comfort, the feeling is subjective, so much so that Google claims to have scanned thousands of ears to find a shape as universal as possible. Surely the presence of the bow is very effective to keep them in place, and they can be used for sports, having the IPX4 certification against splashing water. I found them quite comfortable: only after a couple of hours of uninterrupted use did I start to feel some discomfort.
The Pixel Buds 2 are equipped with touch controls that allow you to manage the music playback, calls and integrated functions of the Google assistant with some simple gestures, very intuitive, identical for both earphones.
- with a single touch you can stop or resume music playback and answer calls
- with two touches you can go to the next song, or you can close a call or reject it and silence the Google assistant
- with three touches you go back to the previous track
- with a long touch the voice assistant is summoned.
Also on both headphones you can also adjust the volume, both of music and calls: just slide your finger forward to raise it and back to lower it.
One of the strengths of the new Pixel Buds 2 is undoubtedly the integration with the Google assistant, which works well thanks to voice recognition and allows you to perform a series of interesting actions without even touching the headphones: just simply pronounce the hotword "Ok Google" to be able to ask for weather information, add and manage events in Google Calendar, take a selfie, start Spotify and read the notifications.
At the beginning the process is a bit slow, because you have to learn to know and respect the word shifts with the assistant. Once you get in tune, however, things are going much faster, especially if you have given some time to Voice Match to recognize your voice and the way you speak.
Starting from the notifications, it is also possible to reply to the messages received by dictating the response to the assistant, but also to send new messages specifying the application to be used. In fact, the functionality is active for both WhatsApp and Telegram, even if it is not possible to send voice messages directly.
For the moment, however, it is not yet possible to use it with Messenger, send mail with Gmail or write notes on Keep, even if these improvements could be introduced through updates. On the other hand, Google has guaranteed that Buds 2 will be supported just like Pixel smartphones, with frequent and continuous updates and with the so-called "feature drop", or the possibility of obtaining new features and not just simple bug fixes.
In early June, for example, firmware update 296 was released to resolve a slight buzz reported by some users after the launch of the headphones in the United States. To install it, you need to check for updates through the Pixel Buds app, and then put the headphones back in the case waiting for them to update; it can take a few hours, because unfortunately it is not possible to manually force a forced update.
On Pixel Buds 2 back what was, at the time, an exclusive of the first generation of the Google headphones, or the translation (almost) in real time during a conversation with a person who speaks another language. To use it, you need to download the app Google translator from the Play Store and choose the conversation mode from the smartphone screen.
Alternatively, you can also activate it by simply contacting the voice assistant with a request on the lines "Ok Google, help me speak Russian."
The translation app will open and, by holding the headset down during your word turn, your sentences will be translated into the desired language: they will appear on the smartphone screen and will also be read by the translator's synthetic voice so that your interlocutor can listen to them . The functionality is available for over 40 languages, as long as there is a good internet connection.
Another interesting function is Find My Device, which allows you to find the headphones in case, for example, you don't remember where you left them. Activating it through the app Pixel Buds on the smartphone it is possible to play each of the two earphones, provided they are nearby.
The Pixel Buds app, available only for Android, allows you to manage the permissions of the Google assistant, search for updates, check the charge level of each headset, view gesture controls (but do not customize them) and enable or disable features such as the in-ear detection, which tests whether the earphones are worn (and, if not, suspends playback) and adaptive sound, which – thanks to the presence of an accelerometer that detects the movements of the jaw and two microphones positioned on each earphone – detects if you are speaking in noisy environmental conditions; if so, it intervenes by raising the volume.
The sound quality is good, both on call and during music playback. The earphones mount dynamic 12mm drivers. After testing them with different musical genres, I can say that mids and highs are good, while the lows are not particularly deep; moreover, it is not possible to customize the equalization, and the supported codecs are only AAC and SBC, probably with a view to saving energy.
In addition to the adaptive sound functionality illustrated above as regards the contrast of ambient noise, it must be said that the Pixel Buds 2 do not have an active noise cancellation system. Rather, it is a passive and almost "mechanical" cancellation, because the surrounding noises are muffled by the perfect fit of the in-ear earphone inside the ear, thanks also to the presence of the rubber headband; the presence of a "vent" allows not to feel an annoying pressure in the ear canal.
So this is a good level of isolation, but not total: enough not to hear the noises that surround us, but not to completely cut out the low and continuous frequencies such as those, for example, that are heard on the plane while is in flight.
Connectivity, with Bluetooth 5.0, is good: if you have an Android 6.0 device and later, simply open the case and a dialog with the headphones app will open.
Certainly the ideal companion for the new Google headphones is a Pixel smartphone, where the Pixel Buds app is an integral part of the operating system, so much so that it can be accessed from the connectivity settings menu, but also for other Android smartphones, compatibility is perfect.
Just download the app from the Play Store, activate Bluetooth and you're done: just open the headphones case to activate the Fast Pair and access all the features of the app, from the Google assistant to real-time translation, from adaptive sound management to headphone sound research.
The situation is different for iOS devices, for which things get a little more complicated: to pair, you will need to use the Bluetooth button on the back of the case, plus the functions related to the Google assistant are missing and to the Pixel Buds application, including real-time translation. The headphones also don't work with Siri.
Important chapter, the battery: the declared duration, confirmed by the field test, is five hours of music playback and two and a half hours of calls for each headset; an average performance which, although not burdened by the presence of an active noise cancellation, still has to cope with the numerous features related to the voice assistant, especially if you choose to activate them all.
The earphones also discharge unevenly: it seems that the right consumes slightly more than the left, which could be due to the fact that the two take care of different functions to maximize battery performance. In any case, the case intervenes to save the situation, which guarantees another 19 hours of charge to both earphones, for a total of 24 hours of music playback to be kept comfortably in your pocket (or 12 hours of calls).
In addition, there is a function that allows you to earn two hours of playback with just ten minutes of charging. In addition to the USB-C socket, there is also the possibility of wireless charging.
The new Pixel Buds 2 will be launched on the Italian market today, at a price of 199 euros. At the moment in our country the only available color is the white one (Clearly White) that you see in the article, but in the United States three other color variations have also been proposed: Oh So Orange, Quite Mint and Almost Black.
The packaging is essential: it contains the headphones, the case, three pairs of ear pads, the USB-C to USB-A charging cable and a quick guide.
Like other large-scale companies, Google is also focusing heavily on services and its ecosystem. These Pixel Buds 2 are proof of this: they represent an additional element in the world of devices offered by Mountain View, in an attempt to create a range that is as interconnected as possible and based on the voice assistant.
Maybe they won't make a difference from the hardware point of view like the Sony and Sennheiser proposals, more focused on the audio quality of their products (starting from active noise cancellation), but they have a series of advantages related to the deep integration with the Android world and with Google Assistant.
In my case, indeed, they made sense to Google's voice assistant, which so far I had used very little, and which instead coupled with headphones has taken on a completely different utility, especially for the ability to read notifications and respond to messages without not even having to put your hand on the smartphone.
That said, it is a good product, robust, with a distinctive design and with a series of decidedly attractive features as regards the assistant. Is that right for you? As always, it all depends on what you are looking for.
Excellent integration with Google AssistantDistinctive design and robust manufactureExcellent hands-free functionalityFast wireless chargingSplash protectionDevice translation and sound search functionality Average battery lifeNo noise canceling activeFew supported codecs (AAC)
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