At $299, Google’s Pixel Buds Pro are a little like the equivalent of the AirPods Pro, except made for Android. Are they worthy of your ears?
You might automatically expect every maker to dive ears-in into the world of active noise cancellation earphones, but that’s not quite what has happened. Some brands have taken their time getting there.
Google is certainly one of those. While the maker of Android is no stranger to producing headphones and speakers, getting its feet wet with microphones and noise filtering hasn’t been something we’ve really seen.
There have been great speakers in the Google Nest range, and even some highly improved earphones. Let’s not talk about the original Pixel Buds, but Google has been improving in leaps and bounds since then, though it has been late to the noise cancellation party.
We’ve seen noise cancelling earphones for over three years, and in that time, Google has skipped on the feature in each and every release.
In the Pixel Buds Pro, the technology is finally here, delivering a similar design as the regular Pixel Buds, but with ANC and a little bit extra thrown in. Is it everything we’ve been hoping for?
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Design and features
Sporting a design that is a little different from what’s out there in the world of ANC earphones, the Pixel Buds Pro stand out. These are not your ordinary noise cancelling earphones, and while they have a typical earphone tip, they don’t have the typical earphone design that forces you to more or less screw the earphone in.
Rather, they kind of just slip in, with a smooth surface and smallish angular shape, missing out on the regular wings or special bit of plastic or silicone that would normally try holding to the ridges of your ear. These just go in, and it kind of works.
On the outside of the design is a touchpad, with more or less dominates the exterior. It’s decent chunk of a circle with the “G” from Google, and that’s there for your finger to touch and swipe, actually working with minor gestures for volume, while the touches handles playback.
Inside each is an 11mm custom driver with some hardware that works with three microphones on each earpiece to cancel out the world and even let it in if transparency mode is switched on.
There’s support for Bluetooth 5 in the Pixel Buds Pro, and they should work with any recent phone, tablet, or computer, though Android is clearly the platform of choice because, you know, they’re made by Google.
You’ll find support for wireless charging in the case, though they can charge on Type C USB, as well, and the earphones come with a degree of water resistance, rated for the sweat resistant IPX4, while the case is a little lower at IPX2. Short answer, don’t go swimming with either because neither part of the Pixel Buds Pro package will survive.
Throw the earphones in and they’ll switch on automatically, though finding a comfortable fit will depend on your ears. That’s more or less the case for any pair of truly wireless earphones these days, though we were surprised just how easily comfortable Google’s Buds Pro were.
In our ears, they slipped right in, needing barely much more than a light twist to be comfortable. Using the Google Pixel app on Android afterwards even showed this light touch had delivered a solid fit, with isolation evident in the app.
We don’t expect everyone will be like that, though. The design seems simple enough, but like how not every ear appreciated the original AirPods, we suspect the feeling will be the same here.
Using them is a little easier, though still a touch messy at times. A touchpad is what Google has opted for here, with swipes forward and backward acting for volume up and down, while taps will get you media playback control. You can tweak those with the Android Pixel app, which is nice, but good luck finding any tailoring if you happen to be on an iPhone.
Regardless of the platform you choose to use the Pixel Buds Pro with, how they sound is most important, which is why we’re running the earphones through the Pickr Sound Test, which you can listen to for yourself.
As usual, that starts with electronic, where we see some fairly balanced sound across Tycho and Daft Punk, are beginning tracks on the Pickr standard sound test, offering smooth mids and highs, and some decent bass. We can feel the punch of the drop in Tycho’s “Glider”, which isn’t something every earphone nails, while the balance is solid in Daft Punk’s “Contact”, as well.
It’s a similar feeling for balance in pop and R&B: we found Carly Rae Jepsen’s sweet pop sounds delivered a great balance, as did Ariana Grande’s punchy tracks. It wasn’t quite as thick on the bass from Mark Ronson, but it was still strong, with solid balance in most of what we threw in, whether it was Maroon 5, Charlie Puth, Marvin Gaye, or whatever.
Rock delivered a solid sound, as well, with a genuinely lovely sense of space and depth, though lacking in a hefty bass sound when the guitars and bass guitar were cranking. It’s a similar feeling with the guttural sub-bass from FKA Twigs, which is also lacking slightly.
But for the most part, the balanced sound on offer from the Pixel Buds Pro makes them more than capable for most people, and it arrives alongside a decent amount of noise cancellation, even if it’s set in stone and lacks any sense of control or customisation.
On the other side, the transparency mode is actually quite decent, with the sound from the mics appearing as if it were just normal sound going in and out of our ears. That’s great, and works alongside the acceptable ANC, which is acceptable enough for the day to day, though clearly not the best in the business.
Keep that acceptable active noise cancellation on, and the Pixel Buds Pro will give you a max of 7 hours of listening, with the case offering up to two more charges, hitting around 20 hours.
That’s not the best battery life we’ve seen for a pair of ANC earphones, but it’s also not too shabby, and it comes with a case that can be wirelessly charged, which is useful, too.
More interesting is what happens if you leave the noise cancellation off, with the Pixel Buds Pro able to run for a maximum of 11 hours without ANC, with again almost two more charges in the case, hitting close to 30 hours.
We’ve seen better with ANC, with the best truly wireless noise cancelling earphones managing around 30 hours without needing to switch noise cancellation off, something Google hasn’t quite achieved.
Google’s Pixel Buds Pro fare a little bette on value, with the $299 price not too shabby for what you get, though competition is pretty aggressive at this price point.
At around $300, the choices include LG’s ANC Tone Free, Jabra’s Elite 7 Pro, the slightly older Jabra Elite 85T, and the Beats Fit Pro. You can also find the even older Sony WF-1000XM3 for below this, and there are subtle differences between the hardware on all of these, such as wireless charging, small cases, and easy fits, which may or may not be as good on the rest of the bunch compared to what you find on the Pixel Buds Pro.
For the $299 price point, the Pixel Buds Pro are actually delivering value in a way that works, but not everything works that well in this design.
What needs work?
Similar to Apple’s AirPods Pro, Google has made some strange decisions, almost out of kilter from what you’d expect out of the company.
While Google normally champions platform agnosticism — the idea that it doesn’t matter which platform you use, you can still get the same functionality and experience — that same spirit feels a little lost in translation in the Pixel Buds Pro. It’s almost as if Google has made the same weird platform decisions in line with what Apple did for the AirPods Pro, and that doesn’t sit all that well.
For instance, the AirPods Pro could work on either platform, but only platforms made by Apple supported control changes and device tweaking. You could change the AirPods Pro settings on an iPhone and iPad, but not so much on Android, even if you could use the AirPods Pro there.
In the Pixel Buds Pro, Google has made the same decision, but reversed for Android customers. Android owners can grab the Pixel app and make changes, do the ear fit test, and so on, but folks on the iPhone and iPad can’t, and there is no Pixel app for iOS.
It’s the sort of maddening platform difference that bugs us, especially when Google notes in its specifications any Bluetooth device can play, but “full access to features” requires a Google Assistant-enabled companion phone running Android 6.0 or newer. You can get Google Assistant on an iPhone, and yet you can’t get the Pixel app on an iPhone.
We weren’t fans of the lack of customisation compatibility for the AirPods Pro on Android, either, and it’s something Apple’s other sound arm does better, with Beats offering an Android app for its sound devices. Honestly, we’d expect Google to be better here, and it’s a touch unnerving that it is not.
This sort of thing is a shame, too, because the touch controls can be a little fiddly already, and an app that supported changes on both platforms could go a long way to resolving that.
Likewise is that the noise cancellation can’t be tweaked, but premium noise cancelling earphones do tend to offer that, whether they’re tailoring how much sound you’re letting in or where the noise cancellation is working differently. For a good idea of this, check out Sony’s WF-1000XM4.
And we have one more issue: spatial audio.
It’s a feature you can find on other $299 ANC earphones, such as the Beats Fit Pro, but one you can’t find on the Google Pixel Buds Pro. Yet.
We need to say “yet” because spatial hasn’t rolled out on the Buds Pro at the time we wrote this review, but it is coming, we’re told. Spatial audio is part of Android 13, but when we tried the Buds Pro with Android 13 on the Pixel 6 Pro, it wasn’t there yet.
In fairness to Google, Apple didn’t launch spatial audio with the AirPods Pro, either. The technology came later, and staggered, appearing first for spatial in movies and then a year later for spatial in music, as well. But it’s missing in action on the Pixel Buds Pro, just merely on the way, giving us something to look forward to reviewing, if only to see whether Google’s take on the technology compares with what Apple has made.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
There is clearly no shortage of truly wireless earphone options, particularly those with noise cancellation. You don’t need to look very hard to find them, and we frankly have more on our reviews desk than we can count. However, it’s nice to see Google joining the club, finally finally.
Overall, it’s not a bad effort, either. Google already had a solid template from the Pixel Buds A-Series, and in the Pixel Buds Pro, it has kind of just tightened everything up, added wireless charging and noise cancellation, and said “done”. We even have more to look forward to, with the addition of spatial audio later on.
It’s a combination that works enough and basically results in the Android the equivalent of Apple’s AirPods Pro, complete with similar foibles. That’s really what these boil down to. These are Android’s AirPods Pro.
That’s not a bad thing, just more an Android equivalent of something Apple launched three years ago. They’re good, yes, and more than capable for many Android owners, but there’s also just so much competition in this space it’s hard to call them the best noise cancelling earphones, because they’re not.
The Pixel Buds Pro are reliable and great, but they’re hardly the best, and there’s not a lot that’s exceptional about them. In a year when the second-generation AirPods Pro are expected, that might not be enough to win Google accolades. They’re great, but unexceptional, and there’s also a lot out there that already qualifies.
Google’s Pixel Buds Pro are worth looking at, but so are so many others.