Pixel Buds: First Impressions

NOTE: If you can’t read my writing, a transcription is available below the images.

Thoughts on Pixel Buds

Hey, Kids! Here’s an ink blog with my thoughts on the Kinda Blue Pixel Buds I got yesterday to accompany my “panda” Pixel 2 XL.

Setup could’ve been better. Quick start guide said to charge the buds for 10 minutes, then open the case in range of the phone to complete pairing according to the notification that would pop up. No notification popped up, nor could I manually pair via Bluetooth settings (couldn’t see the buds in the device list). The quick start guide has no alternative way to pair listed, unless I completely missed something. It also doesn’t say what the LEDs in the case mean. I mean, I figure the 3 white LEDs indicate charge level, but I wasn’t sure what the blue pulsing light means. I did see there is a button in the case, so I held it down, hoping it would put the buds into pairing mode, which it did. Lucky guess, having experience pairing other BT devices. Not sure why the guide isn’t more helpful in troubleshooting. :-/

Once setup was completed, they worked fine. It felt awkward to place in my ears, but it’s probably because I’ve been using over-ear headphones for a few years now, and was previous using Shure earbuds before that which seat differently in one’s ears. Well, the cord loop mechanism to help keep the buds in your ears is also something to get used to. It didn’t help that I kept accidentally pausing or otherwise activating controls on the right earpiece while getting it situated in my ear. I tried holding the bud by the edges to avoid that, but that made it harder to get the thing seated properly. Hopefully with time it gets easier.

Sound quality is okay, if a bit overly bassy, or dare I say, somewhat muddy? I don’t know if this is because I’m more used to the sound of my Skullcandy over-the-ear headphones & am thrown off by the more open earbuds (they let in more of the outside world). It just doesn’t sound as clear to me. I’m not an audiophile by any means. But I was surprised how these buds sounded more “far away”. Perhaps the sound will be better after a break-in period? I specifically kept switching between the Hesh 2 wireless headphones & the Pixel buds to listen to a bit of vocals on one song & noticed a difference in clarity. Hmm. We’ll see how they sound later.

Going back to the ear loops, I just reeled them in completely so I wouldn’t have to deal with them. The loop also kind of made my right ear fold sore. I reeled it in to be smaller at first, but then I was like, whatever, reel them both in. Then they’re just like normal earbuds to put in, kinda. I feel like they should have some kind of rubber or silicone coating to feel a little nicer against your ears’ skin. The earbuds otherwise felt decently comfy to wear for long periods of time (though admittedly I’ve only had these for a day). I wore them today for at least 3 or 4 hours, listening to podcast, music, & game audio. I wanted to try wearing them for a long time, but also because they seemed fiddly to put on, I just left them in. :P

It was nice to be able to trigger some Assistant commands & queries using the ear buds, but I did feel compelled to say, “Hey, Google,” before the commands (I didn’t actually [say them], just felt the habit from dealing with my Home devices). Another thing to get used to.

The charger case is cool and gadgety, but it is slightly fidgety to open. the lid of the case is, I guess, a little bigger than the bottom so it has a lip to grab on to open it. But the case is not something you’ll easily be able to open one-handed. Even if sitting on a table, it’s hard to pry it open against the strength of the magnetic closure. The edges of the lid also have a bit of a sharpness to them compared to the overall rounded, soft-corner shape, which seems a little off to me, design-wise. I thought looping the buds into the case would be bad/annoying, having had experience with those super-annoying reel cases from old Sony, Panasonic, or whatever earbuds from the 90's… But the mechanism to wrap the buds into this case isn’t bad. My problem is that it assumes the ear loops are sufficiently extended. If you decide to pull the ear loops tight, then the extra slack has to be folded over somehow so that the case will latch close. :-/ The cord is stiff enough to make this a slight challenge.

From my write up, it may sound like I have a negative opinion of the Pixel buds. The jury’s still out. Like I said, I’ve only used them for an afternoon. I’ll continue to test them out with different audio, play around with the Assistant more, etc. My first impression is that they’re a bit fiddly. Although I’ve not used Apple’s Airpods before, they seem to be less fiddly — completely wireless, so no draping or tucking of cords, and the case seems easier to pop open one-handed. However I know that as far as digital assistants are concerned, Siris is inferior, IMO, to Google Assistant. I don’t know how audio quality or comfort compares. I never liked the feel of Apple’s earbuds in the past, and these don’t seem different, except for the lack of wires.