Google Pixel Buds A-Series First Impressions

Posted on September 11, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Google, Mobile, Music + Videos with 20 Comments

After experiencing identical audio problems with two different sets of Samsung Galaxy Buds+ earbuds, it is time for me to move on.

It feels weird to even discuss this, but I actually use three different sets of headphones for various purposes. I use Google Pixel USB-C Earbuds when I walk outside (which is rare these days) because I want to hear any approaching people, animals, or vehicles. I use Bose QuietComfort Earbuds while traveling on loud planes and trains where their Active Noise Canceling (ANC) is as appreciated as it is necessary. And I had been using those Galaxy Buds+ almost exclusively at the gym, where wires would just get in the way.

When my second pair of Galaxy Buds failed—basically, the audio on one side almost disappears, apparently a very common issue—I figured I could just use the Bose earbuds at the gym. And I’ve been doing just that for the past few months. But the aggressive active noise canceling (ANC) of the Bose earbuds, while incredible, makes it awkward to talk to friends at the gym. And the Bose are a bit large and bulky for such regular use, and a bit too easy to knock out when I’m moving around. Clearly what I needed was something smaller, like the Galaxy Buds, and cheaper, and with passive noise cancelation that can block out the gym noise without putting me in an audio vacuum.

There are lots of good choices out there, I know. But as a Pixel fan, I had my eyes on the original Google Pixel Buds since they were first released. And with the release of the less expensive Pixel Buds A-Series a few months back, I may have found the perfect companion to my Pixel 5a at the gym, we’ll see. They’re available in a fun Dark Olive color that nicely matches my Pixel 5a, and they cost just $99, even cheaper than the Galaxy Buds+ on sale. So what the heck.

As its terrible name suggests, the Pixel Buds A-Series seeks to do for earbuds what Google’s A-series handsets—the Pixel 3a and 3a XL, 4a, 4a (5G), and 5a—do for smartphones: Deliver incredible value via lower prices and the right mix of features. And what that inevitably means is that anyone considering this newish product needs to understand what the Pixel Buds A-Series does include, and what it does not. And then use that information to determine whether the compromises align with their needs.

Let’s start with what’s missing. Compared to the normal Pixel Buds, the A-Series buds don’t support wireless charging, which I never use. They don’t have swipe-based volume controls, and if the Bose has such a thing, I’ve never used that either. And they lack an AI-based feature called Attention Alerts that could detect ambient sounds like a dog barking and alert you; I can see where this would be useful, but not for how I’ll use them at the gym. In short, no blockers there, for me.

And then there are the features that do carry over to the Pixel Buds A-Series. They feature automatic ear detection, which I rely on with the Bose Earbuds; you pull out a bud, and playing content pauses, and vice versa when you put it back in. It has hands-free Google Assistant access with real-time language translation. Bluetooth Fast Pair support. Sweat resistance, perfect for gym usage. And it offers only minimal configuration via a standalone app: you can access Adaptive sound and Bass boost toggles (both of which I’ve enabled), but no true EQ configuration. That’s fine: I just listen to audiobooks and podcasts at the gym anyway.

I will be evaluating some key concerns, of course. Key among them is comfort, since our ears are all different, and Google’s one-size-fits-all approach might not work for me. I need to know that they’ll stay in when I’m using them. And yes, I care about sound quality, for the phone and for content.

And battery life doesn’t look spectacular, though I’m getting used to that: I barely made it through the 5-hours flights to and from Mexico City this summer with the Bose earbuds. Google claims up to 5 hours of listening time for the A-Series buds, but the saving grace, as always, is the charging case and how quickly it can provide a charge: here, Google claims 24 hours of total listening time with case recharges, and that the case can provide 3 hours of listening time with a 15-minute charge. For my purposes, that should be fine.

Overall, I like the look of the Pixel Buds A-Series, and I like the small, egg-shaped charging case; the case for my Bose earbuds is humongous by comparison. (And kudos to Google for including a USB-C charging cable in the box.) As for sound quality… we’ll see. I’m off to the gym for the first major test.

More soon.

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Comments (20)

20 responses to “Google Pixel Buds A-Series First Impressions”

  1. leoaw

    I decided to buy these a couple days after I ordered my Pixel 5a. The sale was still on for $40 off when buying both together, so I contacted Google support and they were able to retroactively give me the discount. I did have to wait and contact them again after the Pixel 5a arrived before they would give me the discount. The Buds came in a couple days before the phone.

    I've only used them a couple of times and I'm still getting the configuration the way I like it. The sound is good. At the moment I'm trying to figure out which situations they'll work best for me in.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Yeah, the sound quality seems good. The passive noise cancelation is almost non-existent though.

  2. yoshi

    I picked up a pair of these when they released and I've been really happy with them. For me, the fit was perfect right out of the box. I never find myself reaching up to adjust them, even during harder workouts at the gym. Sounds quality I find to be good, but I am no means an audiophile. I also have a pair of AirPods and I prefer the Pixel Buds overall.

  3. mattbg

    The AirPods Pro (which I really like) have a passive mode that can be activated with a click and uses the microphones to bring the outside noises in, instead of cancelling them. Don't other high-end earbuds have a feature like that as well?

  4. wright_is

    I've been using the Galaxy Buds+ that I got with my s20+ for over 18 months now and haven't had any problems. I probably use them for 1-2 hours a day on average.

    I do tend to use the ambient sound feature, when it walking the dog, so I can hear cyclists coming up on me from behind.

    • cwfinn

      Knock on wood, zero issues the my Bud+, which was no the case with the original Buds. I use them while biking and walking, no issues. Guess I'm just lucky?! :-)

    • bassoprofundo

      There is definitely some issue with these and the original buds that causes one of the two buds to drop to almost inaudible levels. I went through 3 pairs of the originals (RMA'd them twice before I gave up and handed down to my kids when I got the + version with my N20u) and am on my 2nd pair of the + now. I am very light on my usage (3-4 hrs/week) and extremely careful with my gadgets in general and have had the same issue each time. I will say that my usage scenario for these is the same as Paul's (i.e.- workouts), so maybe it's a sweat thing?

  5. StoneJack


    please take a look at Beats wireless TWC. They are designed for sport activities. I also would second Jabra (I have earlier wireless models Jabra Pace, which work fine with Apple Watch). While I understand your preference for Android in general, a small iPhone SE 2020+Beats TWC would be great for your sport activities.

    • sglewis

      I must be confused somehow. Are you suggesting that rather than use a $99 pair of headphones that serves his purpose, he should buy a $150 pair of headphones and a $399 phone?

      • StoneJack

        What I am suggesting is that instead of using and troubleshooting various combinations of Samsung and Google devices, if he wants something lightweight, affordable and working well combination, Paul can actually use an iPhone (I chose most affordable one) and Beats sports wireless. Yes, the combination is more expensive but he always can sell Samsung and Pixel devices and ultimately the IPhone Beats combination will serve him better and be more affordable. Thats the point. Now because of its Windows affiliation, probably he will never move to the iphone and beats TW combination, but still there is an alternative to troubleshooting Samsung and Pixel and getting something, which (mostly) just works.

  6. DBSync

    I never thought I would see fun & Dark Olive used in the same sentence. What could possibly be fun about that color.

  7. AwkwardSwine

    Give the Jabra 75t earbuds a try. They have great fit, compact size and small charging case. They easily toggle from Noise Cancelling, Passive, and Hear-through mode for easy conversation or ambient awareness. They are also only $99 right now which is a great deal.

  8. ray2048

    This was a timely review as I need some new ear buds. It's amazing that they including the USB-C charging cable at a time when most manufacturers don't include cables anymore. For this price I will give these a try. Are they comfortable in your ear?

  9. Matthew Hair

    The Bose QC buds have adjustable noise cancelation, from 0 to 100% in 10% increments. It's even possible to set a touch control shortcut to cycle through 3 noise cancelation settings.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Yep, I know. But that's not as convenient as it sounds. And they're still big and heavy, and easier to knock out by mistake.

  10. swish41

    I have them also iv had a few problems with them. The charging is meh at times they wont hold a full charge. battery drain on them is massive. usually 2 hours max and there dead. But there was an update on them Friday so maybe that fixed some of my problems overall sounds is great. comfort is great as well i really like that part of them.