Google Pixel Buds // $179
If you don't use an iPhone, you've probably been desperately waiting for something like the AirPods to hit the Android market. When the AirPods first came out, they were immediately ridiculed by the media and people on the internet because of how they looked with the long, protruding stem. That very design, however, soon became the standard for wireless earbud design and as a result, manufacturers everywhere tried making their own copycat versions.
Even more so than design, AirPods nailed the convenience factor. They are so convenient for everyday use, that they become almost a necessity. No longer did you have to play around with Bluetooth settings or try to pair your headphones manually. It just worked, like magic. Plus, they're so compact and pocket-able that you can take them anywhere. To my fellow Android users, we now have our own "AirPods" - maybe even a better version.
Google is a software company at heart, but man they killed it with the hardware on this one. If I had to describe the design of the case in one sentence, I would say it's feels like and is shaped like a flattened egg. It has a matte white finish on the outside with a clean black line across the entire case, and the texture of it is very much eggshell-like. It's great in the hand, has a good weight to it that feels premium, and has a really satisfying clicking sound when you open/close it. The inside is black and houses the two earbuds. Size-wise, the Google Pixel Buds are almost the exact size as the AirPods Pro, and therefore very pocket-able. They also come in 4 different colors: Clearly White, Almost Black, Oh So Orange, and Quite Mint (the case is white on all of them, however). I can't think of any way to improve the case design, frankly.
When you take the earbuds out of the case, you'll notice that they're very small. They have the in-ear type of design and come with different sized silicone tips to ensure you get a comfortable fit for your ear (tip: you ear canals can be different sizes, so you may need to experiment on which size fits each ear independently). The surface of the earbud has the same eggshell texture as the case, and it acts as a touchpad for various functions - more on that later. Each earbud also has a little wingtip, so that when you place it in your ear and rotate it, it stays in place firmly. These work incredibly well and no matter how much I shake my head, I can't get them to fall out. Google being Google actually analyzed thousands of ear types before designing these to ensure they fit most people perfectly.
Sound quality is a very subjective thing, because everyone has different preferences for how they want their sound to be, and of course, everyone has different music tastes. The perfect way to describe the sounds quality of the Pixel Buds is balanced. All aspects of your music - the lows, mids, and highs - sounds very, very crisp and crystal clear. You hear all components of your song, maybe even stuff you couldn't hear with your older pair of headphones. Furthermore, these earbuds contain spatial vents so that you can hear your surroundings at low volumes and prevent that "plugged-up" feeling in your ears.
There are a few drawbacks to the sound quality, namely the absence of active noise cancellation. This is a feature that the AirPods Pro has (which is also $70 more), and it basically lets you block out outside noise electronically, meaning it can be turned on/off. The Pixel Buds only have passive noise cancellation, which comes from the ear tip covering up your ear canal. I think for most situations, the passive noise cancellation is enough, but for something like a flight or a construction zone, that sound may leak in. Secondly, I personally wish the bass was more enveloping, especially for someone who listens to a lot of hip-hop. It's not weak by any means - the bass has plenty of punch, especially when you get the right fit with your ear tips - but it's more of a jab and less of a long swing that you would get with Beats, for example. By and large, the sound quality is fantastic.
Convenience & Functionality
This is an important category, because this is why AirPods became so successful. If you have relatively recent Android phone, all you need to do is open them up near your phone and tap on the pop-up message to pair them for the first time - it takes about 10 seconds. Then, you can see the battery levels of your left and right earbud, as well as the case real-time (again, similar to AirPods). An underrated feature of these in my opinion is being able to use either the left or right earbud independently. That way if I want to keep one ear open, I can choose either side and simply switch ears if the battery in one dies.
Speaking of battery life, it's nothing crazy but I think it's enough for 90% of situations. You get 5 hours of nonstop listening time, and the case gives you an additional 19 hours before it needs to be charged itself. The case has a quick charging feature that will give you 2 hours of listening time from just a 10-minute charge. Oh, also the case has wireless charging (in addition to USB-C) which is very convenient, and a little LED pops up telling you that it's charging.
The earbuds have touch capabilities, so you can tap to play/pause, double-tap to skip a track, and triple-tap to go to a previous track. You can also swipe forward and backward to increase/decrease volume - super useful because I don't need to touch my phone.
Range is incredible on these. I can leave my phone in my room and walk around the entire house without even skipping a beat on my music. Google claims that if you're outdoors, you can walk an entire football field away from your phone without any impact to your music, but I haven't been able to test this.
These also have Google Assistant built in, which in my opinion, is the single greatest feature of these earbuds. It almost negates the need to have my phone on me because the power of Google Assistant, combined with the range these have, allows me to control everything with my voice. I can text people, call people, turn on/off my lights, find out the weather, listen to my messages, change the temperature in my house - the list goes on and on. Last but not least, these have real-time translation capabilities. So, if you're talking to someone who only speaks French, these earbuds can translate what they're saying into English in your ear, almost in real-time. Right now it's more of a fun party trick, but once it's more refined through software updates, I can see this as a seriously useful feature when traveling abroad.
To put it simply, if you have an Android phone and aren't a super audiophile, it's hard for me to not recommend these to you. While you have other earbuds that provide better sound, like the new Galaxy Buds, I think these deliver a more complete package in terms of your overall experience. They feel great, they're easy to use, and they're very, very smart in what they can do. If you have an iPhone, I think it still makes more sense to stick with the AirPods or AirPods Pro because of that great experience. Otherwise, for the price, these are better in a lot of ways.