Google’s Pixel Buds A-Series Earbuds Are Seriously Impressive For $99

Google’s Pixel Buds A-Series Earbuds Are Seriously Impressive For $99

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CNN —  

After spending a few days with the Google Pixel Buds A, we were genuinely shocked to find out that they’re only $99. These true wireless earbuds hold their own against the pricier AirPods and Galaxy Buds 2 in terms of sound quality and comfort, and pack some seriously useful Google Assistant tricks for folks with Android phones. They also look pretty neat.

So what’s the catch? The Buds A are pretty light on features compared to the competition, and the charging case has a few design quirks that hold it back. If you’re wondering if those trade-offs are worth it, here’s what we think after living with Google’s budget buds for a while.

Value-packed earbuds

The Pixel Buds A sound as good as more expensive rivals, feel comfortable for hours and offer some really neat Google Assistant functionality for those with Android phones.

Who it’s for: The Google Pixel Buds A are ideal for Android users seeking a great pair of earbuds that cost less than $100. They’ll still work great with an iPhone, but you’ll miss out on many of their voice-activated features.

What you need to know: The Google Pixel Buds A are a no-nonsense pair of budget buds, packing great audio quality and strong battery life into a comfortable and attractive design. They also let you access the Google Assistant while paired to an Android phone, making it easy to check the weather, hear your notifications or even translate entire sentences with simple voice commands.

How it compares: The Pixel Buds A’s sound quality holds up to similar, slightly more expensive buds, including the $149 Galaxy Buds 2 and standard AirPods (which often drop to between $109 and $119). There’s no active noise cancellation like you’ll find on the $99 TCL MoveAudio S600, though its nifty Google Assistant controls help set it apart. If you want similar functionality on an iPhone, you’re better off with standard AirPods.

Mike Andronico/CNN

The Google Pixel Buds A don’t do much to stand out, and that’s part of what makes them great. These no-nonsense buds look nearly identical to the previous Pixel Buds, filling your ears with a pair of small circles that are comfy, attractive and likely won’t draw much unwanted attention.

We really like how low profile the Buds A are — each Google-branded bud sat flush with our ears, creating a look that’s less conspicuous than the long-stemmed AirPods or chunkier Jabra Elite Active 75t. Our Pixel Buds A came in an attractive and unassuming white, though there’s also a Dark Olive option if you prefer something grayish. Unfortunately, some of the more fun color options from the previous Pixel Buds haven’t made the cut this time around.

The Pixel Buds A are very pleasant to wear, with a lightweight and comfortable design that made it easy to forget about them during long walks, subway rides and full workdays at our desk. However, despite the built-in ear wings they have for added support, we found ourselves wishing they were just a bit more secure in our ears. We occasionally found ourselves adjusting them throughout the day, even with the largest of the three included ear tips attached.

Google’s touch controls work pretty well here — they’re more reliable than the overly sensitive Galaxy Buds 2, but they’re not quite as rock solid as the AirPods. We had no issues controlling our music playback or summoning Google Assistant with taps and holds, though there were a few rare occasions of our inputs not registering.

Mike Andronico/CNN

We also like the look of Google’s compact, egg-shaped charging case, which fits in our pockets with ease. However, the case’s matte plastic surface is very smudge-prone, and got pretty dirty after just a few days of basic use. More worryingly, the case is magnetic.

Why is this a problem? Well, it would often latch on to a large keychain we kept in the same pocket, which would sometimes cause the Buds A case to accidentally go flying every time we took our keys out. This is a somewhat specific scenario, but if you carry any large metal objects in your pocket, you might want to keep them separated from the Buds A. Also, this case doesn’t charge wirelessly — that’s not surprising at this price, but it is a notable downgrade from the standard Pixel Buds.

The Pixel Buds A sound ridiculously good for a pair of $99 earbuds. Google’s budget buds pumped out bright, balanced sound throughout weeks of jamming out to different genres, easily holding their own with pricier competitors in many cases.

The Buds A preserved all of the emotional indie rock punch of Julien Baker’s “Faith Healer,” as the swinging drums, bouncy bass, shimmery guitars and pleading vocals all swelled triumphantly without overpowering one another. The heavier punk of Touche Amore’s “Lament” hit just as hard, as the track’s menacing bass line sounded especially clear and thick as it backed up the moody guitar riffs and gruff yelling vocals. The clean and balanced soundstage we enjoyed on Google’s buds brings the standard AirPods to mind, and is less bass-heavy than the Galaxy Buds 2, which can sometimes overwhelm on the low end.

The Pixel Buds A have been reliable for calls in our testing, as we got no complaints about our voice quality during work chats lasting upward of an hour at a time. The voice recordings we took on Google’s earbuds had a bit of a robotic quality to them when we played them back, but we could still clearly hear everything we were saying.

Mike Andronico/CNN

Here’s the key to getting the most from Pixel Buds A — you’ll need an Android phone to really get the most out of them. When paired to a device running Android 6.0 or later, the Buds A allow you to tap into Google Assistant for a variety of useful hands-on and hands-off controls.

After connecting our Buds A to a Google Pixel 5a, we were able to summon Google Assistant to give us a quick brief of the time and our latest notifications by simply tapping and holding on the buds. We also foun

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