My Painful, yet Beautiful First Week with the Google Pixel Buds

I had read all of the 3 star reviews for the Pixel Buds before I asked for them for my birthday. I knew what to expect. But I just have a really, really big thing for the Google Assistant. I have a Google Home that plays rain sounds for me when I can’t fall asleep, and a significant part of the reason I upgraded my phone was to get a faster response from the Assistant (I’m very much convinced that “OK Google, call 911” is going to save my life some day).

So here I am, a week later- how’s it going?

My grading system is going to be split into 3 parts- design aesthetic, function, and real-life use.

Design Aesthetic

Solely taking into account aesthetics, it’s beautiful. The fabric case feels nice, the package is modern, clean, and minimal. Google has been all about the accent colors- the power button on the Pixel, and the little orange knob on the braided wire of the Pixel Buds. I love those details- and am putting my money on accent colors on electronics being a trend in 2018.

The one thing that I think detracts from the design… tell me that when it’s in its case, the cord doesn’t don’t look phallic. I think about it every time I put them away. Not sure what Freud would have to say about that.

Function

This is where things start to slip.

Case- I read one review where someone said they were able to open them up and put them on with one hand. HOW?! In the gif above, I never actually closed the case. It’s not meant to be opened with one hand. Additionally, the right and left buds look exactly the same minus the R and L on the back. I’m always putting them in the wrong socket and in the wrong ear. The whole process takes time and requires two hands. And that’s too much to ask for these days.

Pixel Buds- I like the braided cord. The buds can dangle around your neck, the cord doesn’t get caught in your hair, and I feel less likely to lose a bud. Though if you have long hair like I do- it’s yet another step to deal with, pulling your hair back so that the cord goes underneath. The biggest problem over all categories is that the buds hurt. They stay in my ears, but they don’t feel good. They also stick out of the ear- so there’s no putting your ear on a pillow without copious amounts of pain. Even pressing the touch control hurts a little.

Touch Controls- Finicky. They’re not fast enough, prone to errant touches when I put my hair behind my ears. Sometimes they straight up don’t work and I don’t know what I did wrong. When they do work- it’s great.

Audio- Gets pretty loud- if anything I wish I could make the volume get lower. The lowest setting is still too loud to have a conversation or focus intensely on something. If anyone can find a directory of the sounds and what they mean- send it my way. It’s always giving me sounds and I don’t know what it’s trying to say. The worst part is that there is this tiny static sound always popping up that sounds like the speaker/microphone is turning on. I hear it a lot- and I hate it.

Real-Life Use

These unbranded, wired headphones are what I’m coming from. They’re my gold standard. They’ve NEVER NOT ONCE fallen out, they don’t hurt my ears, and you can put them on with one hand. That being said- the audio in one bud is failing and they’re less than ideal in the gym (and there’s no Assistant).

Working out- With testing our fitness app- I spend a lot of time in the gym, and the wires of my old earbuds got in my way constantly. The Pixel Buds are undeniably a big improvement. Being able to move without my phone being attached to me is a game-changer. Pairing them with a service like Aaptiv would be revolutionary. I also love that I can just say “workout time” and the Assistant starts playing my workout playlist on Spotify. However, one bud fell out once- though it was while doing a side plank so I can sort of forgive that.

Assistant- I feel like a freak talking to it in public, but in private, I use it all the time- to ask questions, set timers, set reminders, play music, to have her read notifications for me, etc. As confirmed by someone on the Google support team, she can’t send SMS messages yet (though the Assistant makes it seem like you can- and I actually sent one successfully once, but haven’t been able to since). She can respond to Hangouts messages- though there were multiple speech-to-text errors with words that sounded alike, so I didn’t catch them when she read them back to me to confirm.

Screen Time- There’s a study that found that the mere presence of a smart phone can reduce your ability to preform cognitive tasks. As much as I wish I could lock my phone away when working, I need it in case my business partner needs me, or if we get a user messaging us on social media, etc. With the Pixel Buds, I can chuck my phone across the room and hide it out of sight, but still be able to field notifications if they pop up. A big plus for my productivity.

Etc- I’m doing this thing this month, where I record a 5-minute mini-podcast on Anchor every day, and in a since-deleted episode, all you could hear were the sounds of my pocket since apparently the mic on the Pixel Buds wasn’t on. Is that an issue with the app or the Pixel Buds? Not sure, but it was nonetheless frustrating.

The Rating

Aka 3.5/5 stars

HOWEVER….

I’m in love with the thing. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for how cool they look. Maybe it’s because I haven’t used other wireless earbuds and don’t know what I’m missing. They absolutely feel prematurely shipped and that they really could have used an extra few months of development.

Mostly though, I think I’m very optimistic for the future of the Pixel Buds. A majority of the issues can be fixed by software updates, and I expect them to be- though it is possible my judgement is clouded by my infatuation with the Assistant and my unwavering, though likely misguided, adoration of Google.

Already excited for V2.