I’m the type of person who always needs a soundtrack. Whether I’m sweating through sets in the gym or walking my dog, I want to have music, an audiobook, or a podcast playing to keep my mind occupied.
That means I’m constantly using headphones, and since I review gear as part of my job, I have plenty of options to choose between. I usually cycle through my various sets of buds and over-ear cans depending on what I’m doing. The headphones I use during workouts in my backyard have different demands than my go-to commuter buds, for example—but lately, I’ve been grabbing one specific set no matter what I have planned: Google’s new Pixel Buds A-Series.
The headphones, a streamlined step away from the more spec-heavy main Pixel Buds line, gives me everything I need for an everyday carry earbud and more. As solid as they are, the Pixel Buds A-Series most attractive feature might just be the $99 price tag.
Walking around using the Pixel Buds A-Series is much less of a hassle than with other buds I’ve used. Typically, I have to reserve a spot in my pockets for oddly shaped cases when I venture out into the world with my earbuds in. This is especially an issue when a case is designed like a treasure chest, with a full lid open-and-shut mechanism. The Pixel A-Series case, which kind of resembles a flattened egg in both size, shape, and color, slides into a side or back pocket with ease. The case’s hinge mechanism, located on the top third of the unit, works smoothly to open and shut; it’s a similar design to Apple’s AirPod cases.
The tiny A-Series buds, which feature a small silicone wing design to keep them stable on the ear, fit comfortably without digging into my lobes (a problem I’ve had with similarly designed buds). At one point, I wore the A-Series buds for stretches of over three hours with no discomfort as I did chores around my apartment. I can’t think of many other buds I’d want in my ears for even half that time. But that comfort isn’t at the expense of a secure fit. I made the A-Series my sole workout headphone throughout testing, and they had no problems with all the moving and shaking that came from weightlifting, running, and even the high-flying kicks and punches of a martial arts punching bag routine. Jostling and jumping don’t affect the fit or the sound.
The audio quality is impressive, especially given the size. You won’t get the same depth of sound with the A-Series as with a quality pair of on- or over-ear cans, but there’s no tinny feedback or sound leakage that sometimes plagues compact buds. I’m also able to totally focus on the narration of audiobooks without being pulled into the outside world. Google’s Adaptive Sound feature, which automatically adjusts the volume to suit your surroundings, works almost imperceptibly and is a godsend for the times I walk my dog along a busy street. Phone calls are seamless, and the buds have specialized beamforming mics to pick up your voice.
All of these features are nice, but what really made the A-Series my go-to buds was the impressive battery life. As I said, I’m a compulsive listener—and at one point, I went almost a week of use before needing to top off the battery. Google estimates the buds provide five hours of continuous playback, with additional charges of up to 24 hours available from the case. I wouldn’t be surprised if those estimates are on the conservative side, given my heavy use. My observations here might be a bit skewed because of how quickly the unit powers up, however; just 15 minutes on its USB-C charger gives about three hours of usage time.
I tested the A-Series using an iPhone. The pairing experience was largely painless and I had no connectivity issues even as I swapped between multiple Bluetooth audio options on the same device. Android users will have an even easier time, according to Google, with a quick single-tap process. There are also some cool Google Assistant features available for Android users, like real-time translation.
The Pixel Buds A-Series doesn’t offer every single feature you might be looking for in a set of high-tech buds, which is kind of the point. Google still offers the mainline Pixel Buds, after all, which offer more audio features, colors, and a wireless charging case.
But the A-Series gives you almost all of the same specs and all-day audio without a major investment at the more accessible $99 price point. That’s $80 cheaper than the standard Pixel Buds—and importantly, $50 less expensive than Apple’s most basic AirPods model (and $150 less than the AirPods Pro). In fact, unless you’re looking at discounted models of older generation tech, you won’t find a better price for a set of buds with these specs and sound quality. Convenient personal audio doesn’t get any better than this.
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