Google's Pixel Buds were a tangled mess, but the company is taking another swing with the Pixel Buds 2 – or New Pixel Buds as they're officially named.
The new Pixel Buds are clear Apple AirPods competitors, cutting the cord that tethered the original earbuds and beefing up the tech – including a machine learning chip.
Sadly however, none of the models on display at Google’s event in New York were active, so we couldn’t test out sound quality or the gesture features.
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What we did get was a sense of how they fit and feel. The biggest improvement here is the little nub that keeps them securely in your ear. That's a major improvement, as the original Buds really didn't sit in our ears well at all.
New Pixel Buds: Design and Google Assistant
There are no storks or antennas here either; the New Pixel Buds look like you have a couple of tiny disks in your ears, and that's fine by us. They also come in four colors: orange, mint, white, and black. All will cost $179 when they launch next spring.
And now, thanks to a ‘stabilizer arc’ (basically a short, soft plastic nub that tucks under your tragus – a piece of cartilage in your ear) it remains snugly in place, even with some pretty hardcore head banging (yes reader, we tried).
The ear tips are also removable and replaceable, so ear wax residue is no longer a problem. Gross to talk about, we know, but it's another much-welcome improvement. They're also water-, sweat- and dust-resistant, making them fit for the gym.
Other design features include a spacial vent for ‘audio awareness’, to counteract the noise-isolating silicon ear tips, giving you – in theory – the best of both worlds.
Google Assistant baked in gives you hands-free control, or you can touch and hold the outside of a Bud to activate the assistant instead.
You can also tap once for play and pause, and swipe for volume control. A single tap also answers a call, a double tap rejects it.
New Pixel Buds: Charging and new features
The wireless charging case is lightweight and tiny – much smaller than an AirPod case, and neatly fitting into the coin pocket of our jeans.
The Buds snap in place magnetically, so you don’t need to worry about getting them in the right way; just drop in and they pop into place. Each bud has a 5-hour charge, up to 24 hours when used with the case.
Google also told us there is a machine learning chip in each Bud that can “ingest sounds and take action based on that.” One example of this is the Buds being able to adjust the volume based on the noise around you. Pretty cool, if it works.
One Google rep said there will be more on this in the coming weeks, but confirmed you can use them for Google Translate, an Assistant feature that Google promoted in the first Pixel Buds, but which ultimately proved… disappointing. Here's hoping we're a little closer to the Babel fish dream second time around.
One thing Google is able to be a bit firmer on is the increased Bluetooth range of the new Buds: it claims you can take the earbuds up to three rooms away from the phone and keep a connection. Again, not something we were able to try in New York, but you can bet it's a claim we'll be testing come review time.
With no audio testing, this verdict is purely based on design, and with the Pixel Buds not due to release until spring 2020 it may be a while before we can give these a proper test.
But we like what we've seen so far: the New Pixel Buds are smart, small and comfortable – and already a darn sight better than the first.
How we test