Google Pixel Buds

THE FIRST GOOGLE HEAD­PHONES PROM­ISE SCI-FI LIKE REAL-TIME LAN­GUAGE TRANS­LA­TION. SO DO THEY TALK THE TALK?

TechLife Australia - - WELCOME - [ DAN GAR­DINER ]

DE­VICES WITH NEAR-MAG­I­CAL lan­guage-trans­la­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties are one of those tropes that’ve been a sci-fi sta­ple since the orig­i­nal Star Trek’s Univer­sal Trans­la­tor — Google even named its first on­line trans­la­tor ‘Ba­bel fish’ af­ter the small yel­low fish from The Hitch­hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which, when in­serted into a user’s ear canal, spat out alien lan­guages in the na­tive user’s tongue. Well, the search gi­ant’s now taken that homage to an­other level with its first set of Google-branded head­phones, the Pixel Buds.

These are lar­gish ear­bud-style head­phones con­nected to­gether via a braided cord and, un­like most of to­day’s in-ear head­phones, they don’t come with de­tach­able rub­ber tips to get the right (tight) fit for your ear. In­stead, they’re de­signed to ‘hang’ in the same man­ner as reg­u­lar ear­buds, although the braided cord also has a small loop sec­tion, which is meant to be re­sized and tucked into your ear to help keep them in place.

While the fact that these aren’t in-ear mon­i­tor (or ‘canal­phones’) style buds means they don’t iso­late out­side noise as well as oth­ers, they do de­liver nice crowd-pleas­ing au­dio that of­fers a warm and phatt lower-end but main­tains enough clar­ity that you don’t feel like you’re miss­ing any de­tail.

The right bud also houses touch-sen­si­tive con­trols, which some­what helps jus­tify their rather bul­bous de­sign. You can swipe up or down to change vol­ume, tap to pause or re­sume play­back, and tap twice for a Google As­sis­tant-pow­ered gen­eral info update. Lastly, you can tap and hold to is­sue com­mands to As­sis­tant, elim­i­nat­ing the need to speak the usual “OK, Google” com­mand phrase... although that doesn’t en­tirely re­move the stigma at­tached to is­su­ing com­mands to your phone in pub­lic.

We had a some­what mixed ex­pe­ri­ence with the Buds when it came to fit. While the left bud didn’t pose us any se­ri­ous prob­lems, we con­stantly had trou­ble get­ting the right-hand bud to sit prop­erly, re­quir­ing a lot of fid­dling each time we put it in to get au­dio pro­ject­ing into our ear cor­rectly.

To its credit, Google has got a few things very right with these buds. The mag­netic carry case is par­tic­u­larly ex­cel­lent, mak­ing it quick and easy to both neatly stash the Buds away and get them out again; it’s also how you charge the ear­buds, and there’s a backup bat­tery in­side that’s good for an es­ti­mated 24 hours of ex­tra run­time.

So what about those real-time trans­la­tion smarts? Well, they’re ac­tu­ally pro­vided via the Google Trans­late app — and you’ll also need to be us­ing a Google Pixel hand­set (any of the four avail­able mod­els) for this fea­ture to func­tion prop­erly. So does it ac­tu­ally work? Well, while it’s not go­ing to elim­i­nate the need to learn a new lan­guage just yet, it will let you have func­tional, if stilted, con­ver­sa­tions across 40 lan­guages. With the Google Trans­late app open, the Buds-user taps and holds the right bud and speaks a phrase in their na­tive lan­guage, with the Trans­late app on your Pixel phone au­to­mat­i­cally trans­lat­ing and then speak­ing out the for­eign-lan­guage equiv­a­lent (or as close as it can get) through your smart­phone’s speaker. In­versely, it can also de­code a for­eign lan­guage spo­ken into the phone’s mic, and play the spo­ken trans­la­tion back through the Pixel Buds. With any other set of ear­buds, this fea­ture doesn’t seem to work, with all au­dio blar­ing through the phone’s speaker.

The Pixel Buds make trans­la­tion a less awk­ward and more re­ward­ing process, but nev­er­the­less, they’re some­what stilted by Google’s own Trans­late app, and the unique­ness of this fea­ture is some­what un­der­mined by the fact that you need a Pixel phone to use it. That makes the au­di­ence for these rather nar­row — and, frankly, there are bet­ter-sound­ing and cheaper in-ears out there (like the Jay­bird Free­dom 2’s we’ve re­viewed on page 53), which are much eas­ier to rec­om­mend.

WITH THE GOOGLE TRANS­LATE APP OPEN, THE BUDS USER TAPS AND HOLDS THE RIGHT BUD AND SPEAKS A PHRASE IN THEIR NA­TIVE LAN­GUAGE, WITH THE TRANS­LATE APP ON YOUR PIXEL PHONE THEN AU­TO­MAT­I­CALLY TRANS­LAT­ING AND THEN SPEAK­ING-OUT THE FOR­EIGN­LAN­GUAGE EQUIV­A­LENT

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