By: Paolo Lacuna
When investing on premium 200 plus dollar earbuds, you’d expect to see (or hear) premium features like active noise cancelling, touch controls, super long battery life, in-ear detection, and superior audio experience. So when the new Google Pixel was announced at S$269, it was fair to have high expectations.
Then it was announced to have no active noise cancellation and a middling 5-hour battery life. I was a bit disappointed but still wanted to give it a go, since it was, after all, a Google product.
I’ve been rocking the Sony WF-1000XM3 for a while now, and they are my favourite earbuds. So I’ll be making some comparisons.
The first thing that surprised me about the Pixel Buds is its finishing. The buds and the case feel fantastic to touch. The matte white surface feels so much like the Pixel 4 smartphone’s back surface. Singapore only gets the Cleary White for now, while other markets would get the Almost Black, Quite Mint and Oh So Orange colour variants.
Google sticks to a pretty minimal design with its egg-shaped case while Sony WF-1000XM3 opted for a more classy two-tone look. Sony WF-1000XM3’s full kit weighs 30 grams heavier and bulges in your pocket, while the Pixel Bud’s smaller egg shape is so pocketable, it fits your jean’s coin pocket perfectly.
Pairing the Pixel with my Android phone was very easy; all it took was to flip open the case and follow the instructions on my phone. It will prompt you to download a lightweight Pixel Buds app. But it’s a far simpler process than having to deal with putting your buds in pairing mode, manually pairing it with your phone and downloading an app.
The Pixel Buds app is also a simple affair, no equalizer at all, but it will have the essentials. Simple settings that you need to customise your Pixel Buds experience can be found in the app - like your touch controls, adaptive sound and in-ear detection. Unlike the Sony WF-1000XM3’s Headphones app, where you’d have all the tools you need if you were an avid audiophile.
The buds themselves are relatively tiny and fit snugly in your ear thanks to prongs that ensure a nice tight fit. It was comfortable for me, even for long periods. But might not be for others. I must admit that they fit my ears better than the Sony WF-1000XM3, and the buds don’t feel like they could pop out anytime! The Pixel buds even look weirdly cute in-ear, like an ear full of mentos.
The touch controls are simple and easy to learn. Just swipe back and forward for volume control, and tap once to play or pause, twice for the next track and triple tap for the previous track. What’s great, is that you can do the same touch controls on any bud, left or right unlike the Sony WF-1000XM3, where you have to remember that the left bud touch controls different things from the right, which can be confusing sometimes.
The Pixel Buds does support wireless charging, unlike the Sony WF-1000XM3’s earphones, which only supports charging via USB-C. But, the Sony will give you an hour more use than the Pixel Buds.
The Sony WF-1000XM3, without a doubt, sounds way better. A fuller, rounder sound than that of the Pixel Buds, which feel kinda treble-ly. The equalizer in Sony’s app allows you to customise your experience, and active noise cancelling is a welcome feature. But this is what you’d expect from Sony, especially with a nearly S$300 pair of buds.
This isn’t to say that the Pixel Buds don’t sound good. They do. But you’ll have to settle with not having extra features. The passive noise isolation is adequate, but it still doesn’t isolate sound like your active noise cancelling earbuds. Adaptive sound looks good on paper, but I haven’t noticed much of a change when moving between different environments, indoor or outdoor.
The real winning feature of the Pixel Buds is the Google Assistant. It’s effortless. Just say the words, “Hey Google”, and the assistant activates and listens intently, ready to respond to any command (that’s allowed by Google of course). I find myself setting alarms, asking about the weather more often than I should.
It’s a running theme with Pixel Buds - everything is just simply easy. It’s the most straightforward headphones to pair with your Android phone, easy touch controls on any earbud, no complicated app and features, and a Google Assistant that works. It’s not the earbuds for audiophiles for sure. But for the rest of us who want premium, quality earbuds that work, the Pixel Buds is an easy choice.
The Google Clearly White is available at the Google Store, at a retail price of S$269.
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