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.