Google Pixel USB-C Earbuds (Mini) Review

Posted on October 28, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Google, Mobile, Music + Videos with 11 Comments

Google’s inexpensive new Pixel USB-C Earbuds are a great option for those who don’t want the outside world to be silenced as they walk, run, or relax around the house. But they’re borderline useless during loud bus or train commutes, or on an airplane.

Which is just fine for my purposes: I don’t commute, and I already have excellent Bose noise-canceling headphones for nosier trips, especially on planes. What I do have a need for, what I have in fact struggled with, is something lightweight I can wear on my hour-long walks each morning. Something that will not block out the sound of a runner coming up behind me. And the Google Pixel USB-C Earbuds fit the bill perfectly.

As I noted in my first impressions article, the Pixel USB-C Earbuds were quietly launched on the same day that Google announced the Pixel 3 and 3 XL. I ordered a pair of the $30 buds immediately, and have used them every day for the past two and a half weeks.

This usage came on the heels of some experiments with Bluetooth wireless headphones, none of which I found suitable for my needs. Yes, wireless is inevitable. And yes, I’ve had serious problems with the USB-C port on my Pixel 3 XL (which sadly lacks a traditional headphone jack). But I still prefer wired for the sound quality and because these headphones always work; no charging required.

But what I’ve found walking around the quiet wood of Lower Macungie, Pennsylvania in the early mornings is that most headphones mask too much ambient sound. This isn’t normally a huge problem. But having been startled one too many times by a jogger, I started looking around for something that would let me hear both the audiobook or podcast I was listening too and the outside world.

And as noted, the Pixel USB-C Earbuds work very well in this regard. They are also mostly comfortable, though I was worried over the first several days that the hard plastic would result in ear pain. I did feel that, dully, at first, but it went away quickly, and now I have no issues using them.

That they weigh less than a USB-C charging cable and take up less space in a bag helps, too: I can bring these buds with me on trips as a backup, though they would indeed be useless in an airplane thanks to the din.

I’d never used in-ear cable loops before, but I find this system superior in some ways to having multiple rubber ear-pieces from which to choose: You can adjust them quickly and easily, and you never have to remove anything. And they have so far stuck to the correct size nicely.

As you may recall, I pointed out in my first impressions post that the Pixel USB-C Earbuds were not universally compatible: I wasn’t able to get them working with my OnePlus 6, for example. But as some readers pointed out, however, you can enable a setting (Settings > System > OTG storage, for some reason) on that handset that will allow them to work. So it seems the issue is OnePlus, not the buds.

That said, I’ll be using the Pixel USB-C Earbuds with, well, a Pixel, so no worries on the compatibility front. And the sound quality has been excellent. As noted, I pretty much only need the buds for audiobooks and podcasts—mostly voice, in other words—but I’ve listened to Google Play Music for testing purposes as well, and they sound great, surprisingly crisp, clear, and clean. They’re no Beats from a bass perspective, obviously. But that’s not what I want.

In a surprising move, Google has enabled some sophisticated Google Assistant capabilities in the Pixel USB-C Earbuds: You can press and hold on the in-wire control module to summon the assistant, after which you can use your voice to issue commands. And more impressively, you can use Google Translate to have discussions with someone in a different language.

I don’t find the former capability particularly necessary, but I could imagine using the latter on a trip overseas. That said, I’ve not really been able to test it yet, and it’s unlikely I’ll be able to do so effectively for several months. No matter, I was just looking for some decent headphones.

Put simply, the Google Pixel USB-C Earbuds absolutely meet my needs: Whether they meet yours will depend, of course, on your particular situation. I can, at least, recommend them highly to anyone looking for USB-C headphones that sound great and don’t block out the environment sound around you.

Google’s Pixel USB-C Earbuds are available from the Google Store and cost $30.

 

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