Google Pixel Buds A-Series Review: Buy it for the convenience, not just for the sound
Google usually has a very neat and uncluttered portfolio, with just a few options. The company broke tradition when it introduced the A series with the Pixel 3A and it was essentially a more affordable, toned-down version of its flagship phone. The product was a success thanks to a lower price tag and the fact that it came with Google’s software. While the hardware wasn’t great, Google was handling the software directly which meant users would get Android updates for three years and the same sort of camera processing found on the more expensive sibling. Google continued this trend with the Pixel 4a, the Pixel 4a 5G, and now more recently, the Pixel 5a (5G).
Since this business strategy of launching an affordable product with a few thoughtful compromises seemed to work for Google, they carried it over to their earbuds as well. The Pixel Buds were launched alongside the Pixel 4 and were Google’s flagship pair of earbuds. They came with all the bells and whistles that you’d expect from a pair of premium TWS earbuds like ANC, Google Assistant integration, wireless charging, etc. They were quite pricey though at $179. In an attempt to make them more accessible and tap further into the audio accessory market, Google announced a cheaper version of the earbuds, the Pixel Buds A-series for $99.
The Pixel Buds A-series, much like the smartphones in this line-up, carry the same core features as their flagship counterparts with a few omissions and compromises that may not drastically impact the end-user experience. Or do they? That’s exactly what we tried to find out while using the Pixel Buds A-series. Are they worth the asking price? How do they compare to other options around the same price range?
Pixel Buds A-series: Specifications
|Specification||Pixel Buds A-series|
|Dimensions & Weight||Earbuds|
|Speaker and Mic|
|Compatibility||Works with both Android and iOS|
About this review: Google India sent me a pair of the Pixel Buds A-series for review and the earbuds were used for about two weeks before this review was written. Google did not have any input into the contents of this review.
Build and Design
One look at the case of the Pixel Buds A-series and you can instantly see how it would camouflage in a tray of eggs. The white exterior of the case looks simple and feels good when held in the hand due to its matte texture. The case feels solid to hold and there’s no flex or wiggle on the lid or around the hinge. The Pixel Buds A-series are well built and feel premium, which is what you would expect from a product made by Google. The magnetic lid can be opened with just one finger which gives you easy access to the buds.
While the case is slightly on the chunky side, it’s still quite compact and can easily fit into your denim’s pockets. There’s an LED on the front that glows every time you open the case to indicate battery percentage. A USB-C port resides at the bottom and is the only way you can charge the case. The Pixel Buds had wireless charging but the A-series do not. There’s a solitary button on the rear of the case that can be used to pair the earbuds for the first time.
Fit and Comfort
Moving onto the earbuds, they’re slotted in at an angle inside the case which makes it easier to remove from their groove. The earbuds have a circular exterior with angled ear tips and are quite small compared to some other TWS earphones. The design is quite minimalistic and there’s no stem, which means they don’t protrude out of your ears as much as some other earbuds I’ve tried. The buds almost sit flush with your ears which is certainly a good thing.
The angled ear tips ensure that the Pixel Buds A-series stay put inside your ear canal but there’s one distinct addition to these earbuds that completely changed the way I perceive the fit on a pair of TWS earbuds. Each earbud has a rubber hook on the side that’s designed to rest inside your ear based on its natural shape. Personally, this little hook is a game-changing addition as it makes the earbuds sit comfortably in my ear and I know they’re not going anywhere even with the most rigorous of head shakes.
However, the hook may not fit the way it’s supposed to in everyone’s ears. It’s designed to be a one-size-fits-all, so if your ears are shaped differently, the hook may actually be a little bothersome. If it doesn’t rest in the area it’s supposed to, it may start to feel irritating after a while and may even cause your ears to hurt when worn for a prolonged period. ‘Fit’ is extremely subjective. I’m someone who isn’t really a fan of in-ear style earbuds solely because they don’t stay in my ear for longer than a minute. The Pixel Buds A-series, on the other hand, just failed to come off until I manually took them out of my ears.
I tweeted out my reaction after unboxing the PixelBuds A-series and wearing them for the first time, and it should give you an idea of how much I appreciate the ear hook on these earbuds.
If there’s an award for the best fit on a pair of TWS earphones, please give it to the Pixel Buds A already.
— Sumukh Rao (@RaoSumukh) August 24, 2021
You get three sizes of silicone ear tips inside the box and you can try all of them out to see which one suits you the best when paired with the ear hook. I wish the hook was removable to allow someone who didn’t find it comfortable to use the earbuds without them. For instance, the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ came with two sets of ear hooks: one small size and one plain/non-existent, and you could swap between the two. A situation like that on the Pixel Buds A would have been very much appreciated.
Pixel Buds A-series: Sound Quality
Alright, this is the main reason why you’re buying a pair of earbuds, so it ought to be good. Well, is it? For the most part, yes. The Pixel Buds A-series have a very balanced sound signature which is something I personally appreciate. If you’re someone who enjoys extra thumping bass in your music, these won’t make the cut for you, and you should probably look at the OnePlus Buds Pro instead. On the Pixel Buds A, the vocals are clear, but the instrument separation could have been slightly better. At times, the sound output felt slightly muddy especially in tracks with a lot of low frequencies. For the price though, the Pixel Buds A-series produce audio that most people are going to enjoy, purely because it’s so balanced.The clear vocals make it a great option for watching movies and videos as well. If your primary use case for earbuds is while you’re commuting, you might be slightly disappointed with the Pixel buds A-series due to one major reason — lack of ANC. Don’t get me wrong, the silicone ear tips provide a good amount of passive isolation, but the addition of ANC would have surely helped in cutting out the external noise while you’re on a train. If you’re taking a flight, ANC can help cancel out the sound of the engine or even a crying baby for that matter.
While you won’t be able to experience that with the Pixel Buds A-series, the passive isolation does a decent job. To give you a rough idea, the Pixel Buds A-series with music playing at about 80% volume was able to cut down the sound from my keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switches to about 10% of what it sounds like without the earbuds. Ideally, with a pair of earbuds with ANC, the sound should be completely muted.
If you take a lot of calls, the Pixel buds A-series are highly recommended. The beamforming mics are used to reduce background noise while you’re on a call and it works as advertised. The opposite party had no complaints hearing me with a fair bit of ambient noise from the kids playing around in the park when I went for a walk. I wore the Pixel Buds A-series for a Zoom meeting too and had no issues with them.
Smart Features and Gesture Controls
Upon reading the title of this review, you probably imagined that the Pixel Buds A-series don’t really sound good. That’s not the case though since I mentioned that most people would be happy with the way these earbuds sound. The point I was trying to make was that the key selling point for the Pixel buds A-series is the convenience that you get with all the smart features baked into it. Since this is Google’s product, the integration with Google’s software is done very well.
For starters, you get Google Fast Pair which means you just have to open the case of the earbuds for the first time and they will automatically connect to your phone and sync with your Google account. If you have a Pixel phone, the integration is even more seamless since all the customization options are built right into the UI. If you have a phone from a different OEM, you’ll have to download the Pixel Buds app from the Play Store to access these features.
I have a phone from Xiaomi that’s running the Pixel Experience custom ROM, so it behaved just like a Pixel phone when connected to the earbuds. The initial setup gives you a preview of all the features that are available on the earbuds. This includes tap gestures that can be used to play/pause your music, or even skip tracks. Unlike the more expensive Pixel Buds, the A-series doesn’t have swipe gestures to increase/decrease the volume. Instead, you’ll have to tap and hold the surface and ask Google Assistant to “turn up the volume” or “turn it down” based on your requirements.
Speaking of Google Assistant, you can trigger it with the wake word “Hey Google” since the mics on the earbuds are active all the time. If you grant notification access to the buds, they can even read out your incoming notifications while you’re wearing the earbuds which is extremely convenient.
Let’s say you’re working out with the Pixel Buds A-series and you don’t have your phone right next to you. If you get an incoming notification, the earbuds can read it out to you, including the name of the sender and the content of the notification. You can then decide whether you want to reply to it or not.
If you want to reply, all you have to do is tap and hold one of the earbuds, speak out your reply and the message will be sent. It’s that simple. This is the sort of convenience I was referring to. There are very few pairs of TWS earbuds that offer features like these which make the Pixel Buds A-series a fantastic option if you’re all about making your life smarter. Trust me, once you start replying to your messages via your earbuds, it’s kind of hard to go back to a pair that doesn’t have this feature. The text-to-speech detection is on point and I had very few instances where the earbuds couldn’t detect exactly what I was saying.
The way all of these features work together is a big plus for the Pixel Buds A-series and they’re what differentiates these earbuds from other pairs of TWS earphones in the flooded market.
The earbuds are quite small and don’t have a stem, but despite that, the Pixel Buds A-series last about five hours at a stretch when listening to music at about 80% volume. This can be attributed to the fact that these earbuds don’t have ANC. Five hours isn’t a lot considering some earbuds touch that mark with ANC and the Galaxy Buds+ could achieve an unbelievable 10 hours on a single charge. It’s nothing to complain about either since the case adds an additional 20 hours of usage.
When out of charge, placing the buds inside the case for 15 minutes will give you an approximate playback time of three hours, which is pretty sweet. Given that the microphones are always active and listening for the wake word, the battery life is acceptable.
Verdict: Should you buy the Pixel Buds A-series?
In the US, the Pixel Buds A-series retail for $99, and for the given set of features and the balanced sound signature, you won’t be disappointed if you pick up a pair. Of course, the lack of ANC and the slight struggle with lower frequencies might put some people off, but most general consumers would be more than satisfied with the Pixel Buds A-series.
If you’re open to slightly pricier options and don’t really care about the features and the smart aspect of these earbuds, the new OnePlus Buds Pro or even the Galaxy Buds 2 are better options. They sound better and have ANC for $50 more.
In India, the Pixel buds A-series have been launched recently on Flipkart for a price of ₹9,999. That’s slightly on the expensive side especially when you consider the fact that the previously mentioned OnePlus Buds Pro are available in India for the exact same price. The Oppo Enco X is also priced similarly and has better sound quality as well as ANC. The only two reasons why someone should consider the Pixel Buds A-series are the fit and the convenience that you get with Google Assistant. If your priority is better sound, the OnePlus Buds Pro is the way to go.