Google Pixel Buds bring wireless audio — and instant translation

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Google Pixel Buds
Pixel Buds bring Google's AI smarts to your ears.
Photo: Google

The most impressive feature of Google’s new Pixel Buds might not be their audio quality. As demonstrated during the Pixel 2 event today, they work as a real-time translation tool when combined with one of Google’s new phones.

“With Pixel Buds, I can use real-time Google Translate to have a natural conversation in 40 languages,” Google hardware product manager Juston Payne said during the event. “We’re letting you connect with the world around you in a more natural way, by rethinking how a headphone should work, connecting it to cloud-based machine learning and giving you access with the touch of a finger.”

The $159 Pixel Buds seem primed to compete with Apple’s runaway hit AirPods. As is typical with Google products, they come with the company’s AI-fueled smart features like Google Assistant baked right into them. However, key features differentiate the two products.

Google Pixel Buds vs. Apple AirPods

Unlike Apple’s AirPods, a thin wire runs between the Pixel Buds. So they are not “true wireless” earbuds (although some people prefer such a connector, which can keep wireless headphones from getting lost).

“From getting the right fit, to keeping them charged, Pixel Buds are really simple to use,” Google’s Pixel Buds product page says. “They’ve got a unique fabric loop, making them comfortable, secure, and quick to adjust without having to swap out pieces.”

While similar wireless headphones typically place controls on the connector, you control Pixel Buds by tapping an earpiece.

“We put all the audio controls into a touchpad on the right earbud, so there aren’t any buttons hanging on the cord,” Google says. “Just swipe forward or backward to control volume and tap to play or pause your music.”

Google Assistant powers Pixel Buds

What should really get Apple worried is the addition of Google Assistant into the mix. At present, Siri is no match for Google’s AI assistant. And Pixel Buds showcase Google Assistant’s powers.

“Pixel Buds bring Google smarts right to your ears, with answers and intel that would make James Bond jealous,” Google says. “Touch and hold the right earbud to ask your Assistant to play music, make a phone call, or get directions, all without pulling out your phone. If you have an upcoming meeting or you’re waiting on a text from a friend, the Assistant can alert you to a calendar event or incoming message, and even read it to you if you can’t look at your phone at that moment.”

Pixel Buds charging and pairing

Like AirPods, Pixel Buds come in a charging case and are designed to pair quickly and easily.

“Charging and storing them is easy — they nestle right into a pocket-sized charging case that gives you up to 24 hours of listening time,” Google says. “And pairing them is a cinch. Just open the charging case near your Pixel or Android phone running Android 7.0 Nougat or higher with the Assistant, and your phone will automatically detect them and ask you if you want to connect.”

Pixel Buds will come in Just Black, Clearly White and Kinda Blue (to match the Pixel 2 colors). Google says they will be available in November for $159, with preorders starting today.