Google’s legacy in earbuds is… complicated. There was a lot to love about the Pixel Buds series, but also some serious flaws. Now we’re gearing up for the launch of the Pixel Buds Pro, and they need to learn from Google’s past mistakes and hiccups.
Problems with Google’s Pixel Buds
To date, Google has released three pairs of earbuds under the Pixel Buds brand.
In 2017, the company released the first pair of Pixel Buds alongside the Pixel 2 series, which was met with fairly widespread criticism. The wireless, but not fully wireless, earbuds have a chunky body, a cable connecting the two earbuds, and a price point that didn’t really make them competitive with Apple’s AirPods, which set the standard a year earlier.
However, they’ve introduced smart features and deep Google Assistant integration that really set the stage for what was to come.
In 2019, Google announced the first truly wireless Pixel Buds, with a full release in early 2020 – which feels like a decade ago for some reason.
The Pixel Buds (2020) were launched to a lot of praise. Our own review said they were “so good we can forget the originals existed”. The earphones had outstanding smart functions, comfortable design, compact body and clever ideas. Despite being pricey at $179, they ended up being a favorite for many. To this day, I appreciate the Pixel Buds’ excellent gesture controls and pressure-relieving venting, and they remain a pair of earbuds that I use regularly.
But then problems with the Pixel Buds started.
After a first wave of impressions from reviews, it quickly became clear that the Pixel Buds could work under certain conditions, e.g. B. in crowded areas, struggled with Bluetooth connections. Part of the reason that was initially overlooked is due to the launch timing, right at the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns in many parts of the world. Still, these problems were never fully resolved. Google rolled out some software updates to fix disconnects, and while they helped some users, it was clear that the problem was at the hardware level.
Another issue that some users found annoying was a “buzzing” noise when no audio was actively playing – it’s something I’ve personally never noticed in a meaningful way, but it’s something that needed fixing anyway. Also, some found the “wing” tip on the Pixel Buds a bit uncomfortable, which was a problem for the simple fact that the attachment couldn’t be removed.
Despite its woes, Google sold the Pixel Buds (2020) for over a year before eventually discontinuing the earbuds in favor of its latest model. In mid-2021, Google announced the Pixel Buds A Series, a slimmed-down version of the company’s earbuds that cost just $99. For the price, they had many of the same features and there weren’t any connectivity issues.
However, the A-series Pixel Buds weren’t entirely free of issues. The $99 Buds lacked some of the gesture controls that made the standard model so good, and despite Google’s best efforts, the wingtips and “buzz” lingered as user complaints.
Will the Pixel Buds Pro actually deliver?
With the Pixel Buds Pro, Google is putting a lot more resources into trying to succeed where it previously failed, and we have to Hope it means we’ll get some worthwhile improvements. And there are certainly some things we can see that are already pointing in that direction.
First, there’s the package that Pixel Buds Pro bring to the table. Active noise cancellation. Wireless charging. Full gesture control. 11 hours of battery life. A custom audio processor. It is a lot, and it is much good. Google has also built a hell of a team to support this effort, with several acquisitions over the past year or two.
Second, there are the improvements we’ve seen in the Pixel Buds A series. Definitely, since Google has already solved its connection problems once, we will not take a step back. Right?
Finally, we can only look at the stakes. Truly wireless earbuds are incredibly popular, with the market as a whole being worth billions of dollars. Really, they’re also a cornerstone for creating an “ecosystem” for smartphone owners, which Google has shown a lot of interest in. With the Pixel Watch, Pixel 7, and Pixel Tablet on the way, the earbuds that need to connect with everyone are coming. There’s just too much at stake.
Funnily enough, it really does feel like Google is going down a similar path as it did with the stock Pixel phones. The first few Pixel phones were minor hits, well received but sometimes plagued with problems. But finally, with the Pixel 6 series, Google pulled out all the stops and had a release that really made a difference.
Hopefully the Pixel Buds Pro end up there – a great release that we can all love, just hopefully with fewer quirks than the Pixel 6 series has seen before.
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