Google Pixel Buds were announced today bringing to market the first credible competitor to Apple AirPods. AirPods have been a hit for Apple both in terms of sales and user reaction. The company has had them on backorder nearly continuously since launch (read my AirPod review here), but they are now shipping within a week.
AirPods are wireless earbuds that pair instantly with an iPhone and other Apple devices and include easy access to Siri while on the go. Android users have not had a comparable solution for audio content or access to Google Assistant until today’s announcement. While the hardware design may not be as impressive as AirPods, the features may make up the difference. This comes down to more manual control options on the earbuds and the capabilities of Google Assistant.
Inspired by AirPods
For anyone familiar with AirPods, you may notice that Pixel Buds look very similar from a side view but with a button instead of a post attached to the earbud. That button houses some of the circuitry and offers touch and swipe control. The latter feature is a step up from AirPods which only offer touch and voice controls.
The key deficiency compared to AirPods is that Pixel Buds are tethered by a cord that goes around the back of the neck. It appears that most of the circuitry is in the right earpiece and the left earpiece transmits audio through the wired connection. Some people might consider this corded connection a feature as they are concerned about jarring an AirPod and losing it. However, there are not many complaints about losing AirPods due to falling out and they do allow you to utilize just one at a time. Each can work independently and that is a boon to battery life, continuous use and use case flexibility. It also makes AirPods more complex to manufacture which has led to the notorious shipping delays.
Translate 40 Languages
The big wow feature for Pixel Buds comes from Google Assistant. Pixel Buds claim to be able to translate 40 languages between users in real time. Here is a great video demonstration of a conversation translation between English and Japanese by CNET’s Sean Hollister.
The catch is that Google’s help page confirms that this feature is currently only offered today when using Pixel Buds with a Pixel device. In addition, Pixel Buds are only available for use with Android OS smartphones. The latter requirement won’t be an issue because it is Android users that have been waiting for a smart wireless earbud product. The Google translate solution will likely roll out to other Android devices, but Google started this process last year of rolling out some high end features on Pixel first and then making them more widely available on other Android devices at a later date.
Google Pixel Buds will Ship in November for $159
Pixel Buds will ship in November and are priced at $159, the same price as Apple AirPods. Google claims a battery life of five hours with four additional full charges available from the carrying case that doubles as a portable charger. With the introduction of Pixel Buds and Google Home Mini, Google has quickly amassed the most extensive voice interactive product portfolio of any of the large tech players focused on voice technology. The one gap is a home-based assistant with a screen similar to Amazon Echo Show. At the pace Google is moving, I’d expect that in the first half of 2018.