If you have got Rs 10,000 to spend on a pair of wireless earbuds, I usually recommend the Oppo Enco X blindly. It sounds great and with a basic serving of ANC, you have got enough to make your ears as well as the logic-loving part of you happy. But tech does not stay stagnant and after OnePlus having a go at these with the Buds Pro, Google brings in its Pixel Buds A-Series to try nabbing some share in this space.
The Pixel Buds A-Series costs Rs 9,999, thereby making it the most affordable Pixel branded product you can buy in India. Staying true to the Pixel lineup’s design philosophy, the Buds A-Series looks cute as a button, and it banks highly on the Google Assistant to make a case for itself. But does this combo of minimal yet smart work in an environment of feature-laden earbuds from the Eastern world?
There is only one way to find out.
Google’s product team has a knack for creating some of the most unique looking hardware; be it the Pixel phones or the Nest speakers, they know how to make something look fun. The same idea is carried for the Pixel Buds A-Series. Right from its egg-shaped charging case to the button-shaped earbuds, it stands out.
The matte-white case exterior is more resistant to micro scratches that dominate the face of my Enco X’s glossy surface. The case feels sturdy, and I am sure the hinge will live through the years to see more of my life’s journey. A USB-C port is present for charging and while Google skips any kind of wireless charging here, it does provide a meter-long USB-C to USB-A cable in the box. Naaaaice!
The earbuds don’t have protruding stems but they have got silicone hooks to lodge themselves securely in the ears. I can vouch for a stable in-ear fit even during my outdoor walk sessions. However, the ear hooks proved uncomfortable for my ears for the long sessions and I wish Google made them adjustable. After all, not one size fits all. Your ears may receive them differently.
The all-white aesthetics look fancy but in sweaty Indian conditions, you have got to keep wiping these for maintaining the look. As is the norm, you get three additional eartips in the package.
Google promises rich audio quality with the custom 12mm drivers in the Pixel Buds A-Series. Is that just a marketing gimmick, or there’s an ounce of truth? My answer tilts towards the latter but it’s still no Oppo Enco X in terms of fine balance.
Similar to the standard AirPods, the Pixel Buds A-Series is tuned to go for a flat audio signature; one that’s more neutral towards all audio frequencies. There is no noticeable distortion in high frequencies while the mids are strong. The lack of bass is noticeable but I witnessed nice low-end frequency reproduction. If you care for those intricate instrument work in the background, these earbuds will satisfy highly.
That said, compared to the Oppo Enco X, I found the Pixel Buds A-Series having more emphasis on the low-end frequencies. Moreover, turning on the “Bass Boost” from the Pixel Buds app blows more energy into the audio, wherein that thumping bass is amplified without distorting the balance. If you are in the mood for some Rock music or EDM, I recommend turning it ON.
There’s no active noise cancellation but the passive system is decent, especially for the quieter home/office ambience. With these passive systems, you have to rely on volume adjustment to drown ambient noise, which is where the “Adaptive Sound” feature kicks in. Turning it on automatically adjusts the volume based on the ambience – it dials up when there’s a barking dog nearby and turns it down in a silent room. Don’t worry, you can still adjust it manually according to your convenience.
Of course, you may use your pricey Pixel Buds A-Series to take calls and it does not disappoint there. None of my callers ever complained about a reduction in voice quality or disturbance with volume levels. This is impressive given that the mics aren’t extended nearer to the mouth via a stem. It seems Google’s dual beamforming mics are working in the background as advertised.
But you need to keep an eye on the distance between your phone and the earbuds. Within my 1000 sq.ft apartment, the Pixel Buds A-Series often struggled to grab the connection when the phone stays in one room and myself being in the balcony.
The Google Assistant is one of the key selling points of the Pixel Buds A-Series, and none of those advertised features is gimmicks. While paired with an Android phone, these earbuds extend the advantage of the Assistant to your ears. A simple “Ok Google” command will allow you to check for alarms, or set reminders, or even check notifications. Yes, the Google Assistant reads out notifications from your phone.
You can (and have to) ask Google Assistant to adjust the volume levels, skip to the next track, and even search for some audio track. If you have a couple of smart lights and connected appliances, you can even command them from the earbuds. There’s a live translation feature that lets the earbuds hear the speaker and translate it in real-time. Sadly, it does not support Indian languages yet.
The touch controls are responsive and easy to grasp. I wish Google figured a way to offer volume adjustment with some unique gesture; entry-level TWS earbuds allow you to do that with complex gestures. Relying on the Google Assistant to change the volume while in public areas does attract unwanted attention. I would have also preferred the Bass Boost activation from the earbuds directly.
Google gets its right again with the pairing process, where the Pixel Buds app is involved. The setup process is easy initially as the app registers it your Google account and lets you configure the Assistant to your liking. Out of most companion apps from other manufactures, this is the easiest one to use. All the core settings are easily accessible. You can also use the “Find My Device” service from Google to check the last known location of your earbuds; helpful if you lose your earbuds easily.
You will also need the app for official software updates from Google. Mind this statement.
Because the biggest weakness for the Pixel Buds A-Series is its compatibility. You get to enjoy all of the smart features and quirks of the Pixel Buds A-Series on a new Android phone (Android 6 and above). Almost 90 percent of those features are shelved as soon as you connect to an iOS device. With no companion app on iOS, the Pixel Buds A-Series are just another pair of dumb wireless earbuds.
This translates to no Bass Boost mode and no Adaptive Sound on the iPhones. You can only invoke Siri but for on-device answers. There’s no option to customize the gestures (that’s an issue even for Android users). And, when Google releases any kind of firmware update for bug fixes or improvements, you cannot get any on your iPhone. You need to have an Android phone to get the most out of these earbuds.
Similar to most wireless earbuds at this price range, the Pixel Buds A-Series is strictly a one-week pair of earphones. If you average two hours of music and some calls daily, you will need the charger by the end of the week (provided that you start with a full charge). The earbuds themselves are good enough for up to five hours and they refill quickly once they go back in the case. As for the case, you will have to leave it on the charger for an hour until the power indicator turns from orange to amber (means fully charged).
It is obvious that Google designed the Pixel Buds A-Series for a niche category of users and hence, those seeking the most value are likely to look at the OnePlus Buds Pro and the Oppo Enco X. The Pixel Buds A-Series is representative of an alternate fashion of wireless earbuds; one that focuses on next-gen smartness rather than all about audio finesse.
That’s not to say it disappoints music lovers. The Pixel Buds A-Series sounds nice and with the Bass Boost turned on, you can expect enjoyable moments with your favourite audio tracks. The in-ear fit is good and with responsive controls, the practicality factor is enhanced.
However, you are likely to check out the Pixel Buds A-Series for its smart features, where the Google Assistant plays a crucial role. As the world slowly opens up, popping these earbuds while commuting on the metro trains, or wearing them on your jogging sessions could pamper you with a lot of conveniences. And where there’s no presence of Google services, the Buds A-Series seems no different than a Nothing Ear(1) or a OnePlus Buds Pro (iPhone users should consider the Apple AirPods).
At Rs 10,000, the Pixel Buds A-Series establishes a smart earbuds category that’s all about enhancing the hands-free experience. Unless you are craving pro levels of balanced audio and ANC, the Pixel Buds A-Series is an interestingly fresh experience that you need to try.
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