The second-generation Google Pixel Buds, released in early 2020, got a lot of buzz for offering a well-rounded experience with good sound quality, an easy pairing process for Android users, and wireless charging. And for $179, they even undercut more popular alternatives like Samsung’s Galaxy Buds and Apple’s own AirPods and AirPods Pro. With the new Pixel Buds A-Series, Google sets out to undercut competitors once again, but for $80 less at just $99.
These earbuds, the first ones in a product line that usually consists of cheap Pixel phones, offer a very similar experience to the more expensive Pixel Buds minus a couple of key features. To be honest, though, these cheaper buds probably offer the wireless earbuds experience you’re looking for. Unless you absolutely need swipe controls for volume and wireless charging, you may as well save your money and go for the less expensive model.
The Pixel Buds A-Series sound good, have all the basic features people want in earbuds, and cost under $100. What more do you need?
The Pixel Buds A-Series look nearly identical to the more expensive Pixel Buds, which is to be expected. The case is still shaped like an egg, the earbuds themselves have stems with silicon tips for a more secure seal in your ear canal, and extra tips come in the box. Compared to the standard Pixel Buds, you’ll notice the body of the A-Series is made of a glossy plastic instead of matte. The buds are also only offered in two colors instead of three: Clearly White and Dark Olive.
I opted for the Clearly White version which, while bland, can pair with any look and are a safer bet if you aren’t sure green earbuds fit your style. In my ears, the Pixel Buds A-Series are comfortable for up to around two and a half hours of listening. It’s then they begin to feel uncomfortable and slide out of my ears as a result.
The extra tips are a convenient addition to the experience, but I stuck with the pre-installed ones which fit perfectly fine.
The case the Pixel Buds A-Series come in is really nice. It has a smooth matte finish and satisfying “clunk” when you close the lid, and the LED indicator light is helpful. The standard Pixel Buds come with a second LED for wireless charging detection, but the A-Series obviously doesn’t need it.
When you open the Pixel Buds A-Series for the first time, you’ll wanna have your phone near you since they’re compatible with Android’s Fast Pair setup process. The lid sends a prompt to your phone and lets you tap through a few steps to get everything connected and talking to one another. This is one of the advantages of not just buying Pixel Buds, but buying certain earbuds for an Android phone. Google has opened this setup process to third-party manufacturers, whereas Apple is keeping their Fast Pair equivalent for themselves.
On the flip side, if you want to customize the buds, you’ll have to have an Android phone because the necessary Bluetooth settings aren’t available on iPhones and iPads. Settings like EQ, Adaptive Sound, firmware updates, and more are located in the Settings app on Android phones which, unfortunately, doesn’t translate over to iOS. Of course, Google could build an app for Pixel Buds that would let you adjust settings and such, but it’s clear the company wants to hone in on Android users with their earbuds.
That being said, the earbuds work fine on iPhones. I’ve been using them a lot with my iPhone 12 Pro and I haven’t had any major issues or complaints. The pairing process is a bit more involved and you obviously don’t have control over any of the settings, but they work perfectly fine nonetheless.
After setting them up, I began testing the Pixel Buds A-Series’ sound quality. There’s plenty to like here. The sound stage Google presents through the 12mm drivers is bright, clear, and lively. The mids and highs get a lot of attention, and I appreciate the more balanced approach the company took. Normally, earbuds lean toward low-end frequencies due to their small stature and consumers’ obsession with bass, but that’s what Google’s Bass Boost mode is for.
In your ears, the Pixel Buds A-Series don’t create a perfect seal, but they fit snugly enough that it blocks some outside noise. Still, you can definitely hear your surroundings while wearing these headphones. Google doesn’t include any sort of active noise cancellation which is a shame, but you do get Adaptive Sound that can automatically turn music up if the earbuds think your surroundings are too loud. I’ve been using this feature since the day I got the buds and I’ve learned it’s not the greatest feature in the world. It can take up to five to 10 seconds for volumes to readjust themselves after cranking up in loud conditions, and it tends to drain your battery. I’ve since relied on simply increasing the volume when I wanna hear my music a bit better.
Speaking of which, turning up the volume of your headphones is something that has to be done with either your phone or your voice via the Google Assistant. That’s because Google dropped the swipe gestures I mentioned earlier from the original Pixel Buds for the A-Series. Is this a huge deal? No, but it does mean adjusting the volume isn’t as convenient as it could be.
As far as gesture controls go, you’re stuck with simple taps on either earbud to control playback. Luckily, the gestures work really well and don’t require a forceful tap in order to be read, but it feels a bit limited. It’s better than nothing, I suppose.
Talking to the Google Assistant is easy and hassle-free thanks to the high-quality mics Google includes. I used the earbuds for a handful of voice calls, and the person on the other line said I sounded nice and clear.
Battery life on the Pixel Buds A-Series has been pretty good. I’ve been getting the four to five hours of usage on a full charge like Google says in its documentation. I can usually get through a full week of usage thanks to the extra 15-16 hours of charge in the case before I need to plug in. The earbuds come with a USB-C to USB-A cable for recharging which you’ll need since there’s no wireless charging. Like the swipe gestures for volume, wireless charging is a mere convenience that some will miss while others don’t even notice it’s gone. I fall in the camp of missing it since I’m used to recharging my earbuds wirelessly, but it’s not a big deal since I have USB-C cables lying around anyway.
I’d also like to mention that the Pixel Buds A-Series are pretty good for working out. The buds are rated at IPX4 for water and sweat resistance which is nice to see. They managed to stay in my ears while doing things like jumping rope, and I only noticed them slipping out toward the end when I was good and sweaty. By no means are they as secure as dedicated fitness earbuds, but they’re not bad.
Also, there’s no multi-device support, but that wasn’t included in the 2020 Pixel Buds so you shouldn’t expect it in the A-Series.
Google made a really nice set of headphones with the Pixel Buds A-Series. They check a lot of boxes in terms of their feature set, and they don’t stray far from the pricier Pixel Buds very much at all. This translates to a solid experience that more than justifies the $99 asking price.
If all you want is a good pair of earbuds for your Android phone, I’d strongly recommend the Pixel Buds A-Series. The lack of wireless charging and swipe controls for volume are more inconveniences than dealbreakers, and I think they’re both features that are easy to dismiss given the amount of good stuff Google includes.
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