With the True Wireless Headphones Pixel Buds 2, Google wants to provide Android users with a full equivalent to the AirPods from Apple. Our test reveals whether that was successful.
Google had already announced the Pixel Buds 2 at the end of 2019, and with some delay the new true wireless headphones made it to local stores in mid-July 2020. And yes, there was actually already a first generation of Pixel Buds, which was launched in 2018, but went down quite a bit alongside the competition and was quickly forgotten. The Pixel Buds 2 should not have this fate, because this time I can anticipate that much, Google has succeeded in a pretty good product.
Google Pixel Buds 2 Review: True wireless headphones based on the textbook
The Pixel Buds 2 are a typical pair of true wireless headphones. They are delivered in a stylish and haptically very pleasant charging case, the lid of which opens and closes with a satisfying click. The matt color scheme in white and black goes perfectly with the Pixel 4 smartphone and also looks very stylish on its own.
The charging case can be charged either via USB-C cable or wirelessly via the Qi standard and has a battery that provides enough juice for around 24 hours of music enjoyment at medium volume, provided that no special features are used. The earphones themselves store enough energy for four to five hours of listening pleasure at a time. This is a decent value, but far from the Samsung Galaxy Buds + with up to eleven hours of battery life.
Google Pixel Buds 2 Test: Music with style
The chic look continues with the earphones, they almost look like small Mentos drops. I’ve been using the Pixel Buds 2 for two weeks now and can certify that the headphones are extremely comfortable to wear. Google provides ear pads in three sizes, which is a good thing with in-ear headphones. A small valve on both earphones ensures that the pressure in the ear is equalized.
The sound of the Pixel Buds 2 is neutral. Thanks to the built-in 12 millimeter drivers, the headphones offer a relatively wide sound stage on which highs and mids are particularly well separated. The headphones only run out of breath in the low frequency range. Compared to other in-ear headphones like Samsung’s Galaxy Buds, the bass lacks volume. Some users may be bothered by this, others shouldn’t care. As a fan of rock and metal I prefer at least a bit more bass, but otherwise I was satisfied with the sound of the Buds 2.
For me, the biggest negative point about the sound of the Pixel Buds 2 was the low volume. On my smartphone, I had to set the virtual volume control at least a third higher than on other in-ear headphones in order to get the same volume in the end. The lower volume also has a plus point: even at the maximum setting, the sound remains clear and transparent.
Google Pixel Buds 2: Suitable for making calls
True wireless in-ear headphones can be used not only for listening to music, but also for making calls and video conferences. Both work with the Pixel Buds 2 without any problems and in good quality thanks to the built-in dual beamforming microphones. Sensors even recognize when users are silent in a conversation and filter out loud ambient noises for the person in the conversation at these moments.
Google Pixel Buds 2: Pseudo-Noise-Canceling
Real active noise canceling, such as the AirPods Pro offer, does not exist with the Pixel Buds 2. At the same time, the design-related passive noise suppression is not as strong as, for example, with the Galaxy Buds. But Google wouldn’t be Google if they hadn’t come up with a smart alternative.
The said feature is called “automatic sound adjustment” and automatically adjusts the volume of the playback to the ambient volume. It can be activated using the free Pixel Buds app. In practice, this means that the music volume increases automatically, for example, as soon as louder noises occur in the vicinity, and decreases again as soon as the background noise disappears.
I was able to test it while cycling in the city, for example. Depending on how loud the traffic was around me, the playback volume adjusted so that I could hear my playlist clearly at all times. The volume changes were of course noticeable. The automatic sound adjustment works as described, but is not the most elegant solution compared to active noise canceling.
Google Pixel Buds 2: Control by touch and voice
Like all good true wireless in-ear headphones, the Pixel Buds 2 have a control system that is both simple and complex. By tapping the earbuds once, twice or three times, actions like pausing the music, jumping to the next song and jumping back to the previous track can be performed. In addition, the volume can be adjusted directly on the earphones using swiping gestures.
The Google Assistant can also be activated directly via the Pixel Buds and either with a long tap on one of the two earphones or directly via voice activation and the familiar command “Ok, Google”. However, the gestures cannot be changed or adapted.
Google Pixel Buds 2 The Pixel Buds app
With the Pixel Buds app, Google is delivering the right companion app for its new headphones. Among other things, it allows the automatic sound adjustment to be activated and lost headphones to be found again. Unfortunately, the manufacturer does without an equalizer and other convenience functions.
Google Pixel Buds 2 Conclusion: very good, but by no means without alternatives
With the Pixel Buds 2, Google has met expectations and launched a worthy Android replacement for the Apple AirPods. From coupling and operation to the various features, all functions are at least on par with their counterparts from Apple and only here also accessible to Android users. In addition, the Buds 2 are pretty chic, easy to handle and offer excellent wearing comfort, a thoroughly successful product.
However, Google is relatively late with its true wireless in-ear headphones. Other manufacturers have long since positioned themselves and also offer excellent products that are in no way inferior to the Pixel Buds 2.
For example, those who use a Samsung or Huawei smartphone can confidently use the often cheaper Galaxy Buds or Freebuds models and do not have to forego any comfort. If you want real noise canceling, you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot more money than the 199 euros (RRP) that Google charges for the Pixel Buds 2. The Sony WF-1000XM3 are now available at a similar price.
The bottom line is that the Google Pixel Buds 2 are clearly an asset to the market. And to answer the question from the headline: Yes, the Pixel Buds 2 are in principle AirPods for Android and just not the only ones and not the first either.
Google Pixel Buds 2 Pros:
- + Intuitive operation
- + Neutral sound
- + Rechargeable wirelessly
- + Voice control
- + Automatic sound adjustment
Google Pixel Buds 2 Cons:
- – Average battery life
- – Unfortunately lacks a little bass
- – No active noise canceling