After spending a few days with the Google Pixel Buds A, we were genuinely shocked to find out that they’re only $99. These true wireless earbuds hold their own against the pricier AirPods and Galaxy Buds 2 in terms of sound quality and comfort, and pack some seriously useful Google Assistant tricks for folks with Android phones. They also look pretty neat.
So what’s the catch? The Buds A are pretty light on features compared to the competition, and the charging case has a few design quirks that hold it back. If you’re wondering if those trade-offs are worth it, here’s what we think after living with Google’s budget buds for a while.
The Pixel Buds A sound as good as more expensive rivals, feel comfortable for hours and offer some really neat Google Assistant functionality for those with Android phones.
The who, what and how
Who it’s for: The Google Pixel Buds A are ideal for Android users seeking a great pair of earbuds that cost less than $100. They’ll still work great with an iPhone, but you’ll miss out on many of their voice-activated features.
What you need to know: The Google Pixel Buds A are a no-nonsense pair of budget buds, packing great audio quality and strong battery life into a comfortable and attractive design. They also let you access the Google Assistant while paired to an Android phone, making it easy to check the weather, hear your notifications or even translate entire sentences with simple voice commands.
How it compares: The Pixel Buds A’s sound quality holds up to similar, slightly more expensive buds, including the $149 Galaxy Buds 2 and standard AirPods (which often drop to between $109 and $119). There’s no active noise cancellation like you’ll find on the $99 TCL MoveAudio S600, though its nifty Google Assistant controls help set it apart. If you want similar functionality on an iPhone, you’re better off with standard AirPods.
An attractive and unassuming design (with some small caveats)
The Google Pixel Buds A don’t do much to stand out, and that’s part of what makes them great. These no-nonsense buds look nearly identical to the previous Pixel Buds, filling your ears with a pair of small circles that are comfy, attractive and likely won’t draw much unwanted attention.
We really like how low profile the Buds A are — each Google-branded bud sat flush with our ears, creating a look that’s less conspicuous than the long-stemmed AirPods or chunkier Jabra Elite Active 75t. Our Pixel Buds A came in an attractive and unassuming white, though there’s also a Dark Olive option if you prefer something grayish. Unfortunately, some of the more fun color options from the previous Pixel Buds haven’t made the cut this time around.
The Pixel Buds A are very pleasant to wear, with a lightweight and comfortable design that made it easy to forget about them during long walks, subway rides and full workdays at our desk. However, despite the built-in ear wings they have for added support, we found ourselves wishing they were just a bit more secure in our ears. We occasionally found ourselves adjusting them throughout the day, even with the largest of the three included ear tips attached.
Google’s touch controls work pretty well here — they’re more reliable than the overly sensitive Galaxy Buds 2, but they’re not quite as rock solid as the AirPods. We had no issues controlling our music playback or summoning Google Assistant with taps and holds, though there were a few rare occasions of our inputs not registering.
We also like the look of Google’s compact, egg-shaped charging case, which fits in our pockets with ease. However, the case’s matte plastic surface is very smudge-prone, and got pretty dirty after just a few days of basic use. More worryingly, the case is magnetic.
Why is this a problem? Well, it would often latch on to a large keychain we kept in the same pocket, which would sometimes cause the Buds A case to accidentally go flying every time we took our keys out. This is a somewhat specific scenario, but if you carry any large metal objects in your pocket, you might want to keep them separated from the Buds A. Also, this case doesn’t charge wirelessly — that’s not surprising at this price, but it is a notable downgrade from the standard Pixel Buds.
Great sound quality for the price
The Pixel Buds A sound ridiculously good for a pair of $99 earbuds. Google’s budget buds pumped out bright, balanced sound throughout weeks of jamming out to different genres, easily holding their own with pricier competitors in many cases.
The Buds A preserved all of the emotional indie rock punch of Julien Baker’s “Faith Healer,” as the swinging drums, bouncy bass, shimmery guitars and pleading vocals all swelled triumphantly without overpowering one another. The heavier punk of Touche Amore’s “Lament” hit just as hard, as the track’s menacing bass line sounded especially clear and thick as it backed up the moody guitar riffs and gruff yelling vocals. The clean and balanced soundstage we enjoyed on Google’s buds brings the standard AirPods to mind, and is less bass-heavy than the Galaxy Buds 2, which can sometimes overwhelm on the low end.
The Pixel Buds A have been reliable for calls in our testing, as we got no complaints about our voice quality during work chats lasting upward of an hour at a time. The voice recordings we took on Google’s earbuds had a bit of a robotic quality to them when we played them back, but we could still clearly hear everything we were saying.
The Google Assistant features are awesome — if you have an Android phone
Here’s the key to getting the most from Pixel Buds A — you’ll need an Android phone to really get the most out of them. When paired to a device running Android 6.0 or later, the Buds A allow you to tap into Google Assistant for a variety of useful hands-on and hands-off controls.
After connecting our Buds A to a Google Pixel 5a, we were able to summon Google Assistant to give us a quick brief of the time and our latest notifications by simply tapping and holding on the buds. We also found it easy to control the buds hands-free, as a quick “Hey Google” voice command allowed us to check the weather, play a specific track on Spotify, adjust our volume and hear a breakdown of our daily calendar without lifting a finger. The buds were even able to translate entire sentences via Google Assistant, allowing us to learn how to say basic phrases like “I’m going to the store today” in Spanish.
While these features work out of the box on a Pixel phone, we had to download a separate Pixel Buds app in order to take advantage of them on our Galaxy Note 10. It’s a small extra step for the same functionality, and really makes us wish that the same app was available for iOS so that we could use the Buds A to their fullest on an iPhone.
Google Assistant tricks aside, these buds are pretty no-frills in terms of features. You can tweak the Buds A slightly via the settings menu, with a bass boost option (which makes a noticeable difference) as well as a more subtle Adaptive Sound feature that adjusts the buds’ volume based on how noisy your surroundings are. You can’t customize the Buds A’s touch controls, though you can disable them entirely if you prefer to use your voice or phone.
There’s no active noise cancellation (ANC) for blocking out noise, nor is there a transparency mode for letting external sound in when you need it. This is all to be expected on a pair of $99 earbuds, though you can find ANC on the $99 TCL MoveAudio S600, and a handy Ambient Noise mode on the often-discounted Galaxy Buds Plus.
These earbuds will last you awhile
Whether you’re preparing to go back to the office or just need laser focus at home, the Google Pixel Buds A will get you some seriously good battery life for the price. When using Google’s buds on and off while walking our dog, riding the subway and hanging out at home, we were able to go upward of three days before we even had to charge the case.
And when we hunkered down during a busy work afternoon, the Buds A lasted a solid five hours of listening to music and taking calls before we had to pop them back in the case. That largely lines up with Google’s own estimates, which include up to five hours of listening time from the buds alone and up to 24 hours with the case.
The Pixel Buds A pack a ton of value at $99. They sound as good as more expensive rivals, feel comfortable for hours and offer some really neat Google Assistant functionality for those with Android phones.
There are some notable trade-offs at this low price, namely the lack of now ubiquitous features such as ANC and a transparency mode for staying on top of your surroundings. The Buds A are especially no-frills when paired to an iPhone, as Apple users will miss out on the ability to ask the Google Assistant for the weather or their favorite song without lifting a finger. There are also some quirks to the charging case, which gets dirty very easily and can get stuck on metal objects if you’re not careful.
Folks seeking affordable ANC should consider the Jabra Elite Active 75t or Galaxy Buds 2, and iPhone owners who want dependable voice controls should go for the Siri-enabled AirPods. But if you’re on a sub-$100 budget — and especially if you own an Android phone — the Buds A are some of the best earbuds you can buy at this price.