Google Pixel USB-C Earbuds (Mini) Review

Posted on October 28, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Google, Mobile, Android, Music + Videos with 10 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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Comments (10)

10 responses to “Google Pixel USB-C Earbuds (Mini) Review”

  1. dcdevito

    I bought them and I like them. They're the only earbuds I've ever owned that don't ever fall out. And they're comfortable.

  2. lyrrad

    Just curious why you bought these when they were boxed with the Pixel 3? Did you have a review unit?

  3. Ed

    I tried them on my galaxy s9+ for music and they worked well; skip, pause, and volume controls worked just fine. They do not work for phone calls though on the Galaxy.

    I do like the adjustable loop, no extra pieces to lose or fiddle with.

  4. ReformedCtrlZ

    Paul, have you had problems with the pixel 3 xl port as well? Or is that a typo for the 2?

  5. joeparis

    Paul, you say:

    "And yes, I’ve had serious problems with the USB-C port on my Pixel 3 XL (which sadly lacks a traditional headphone jack)."

    Did you mean your Pixel 2 XL? Or have I missed your reporting on USB port issues with your Pixel 3?

  6. Lucas

    I have a pair. The sound quality is great. BUT, they are battery killers. After plugging these in I can literally watch the battery in my Pixel fall a percentage point a minute. If I remove the headphones power consumption returns to normal.

  7. SvenJ

    I got a pair with my Pixel 3 and agree with everything Paul has said. It seems like Google has made an effort to make them to whatever standard governs these. They work on my Pixel 3, of course, my PixelBook, not surprising, and even my Surface Go, nice. Surprisingly they also work with my original Pixel, which has a headphone jack and predates a lot of the headset jack avoidance. I had wondered if the Pixel USB-C port even supported headphones as I had picked up a couple of adapters to try, that didn't work.

  8. Sihaz

    Try some bone conducting headphones if you want to remain connected to the outside world Paul. Aftershokz are great though a bit pricey.

    • mestiphal

      In reply to Sihaz:

      I had no idea that even existed, but they look pretty cool. at least a lot safer for bike rides, and also available water proof to swim. I'll need to give them a try