Google’s New $99 Pixel Buds A-Series Take Aim at Entry-Level Hearables Market
Google has begun pre-sales for the latest in its line of wireless hearables. The new $99 Pixel Buds A-Series are half the price of the Pixel Buds 2 hearables Google launched last year, despite including nearly all of the same features and functions as the more expensive variant.
That the Pixel Buds A-Series shares a lot of DNA with the last version of the hearables with a lower price fits with the name as A-Series is how Google designates the lower-cost members of its various device families. The style of the earbuds and their case is familiar, with a touch-control area on top of the buds and a rounded, smoothly polished case, although the inner parts of the new case are shinier. The differences are found more in the unseen elements that haven’t been kept for the new hearables. For instance, the case for the A-Series can’t charge wirelessly, and there’s no way to change the volume by touch or gesture. The wearer needs to use a connected device’s buttons or ask Google Assistant. Google touts its Adaptive Sound feature as an option, but while the earbuds adjusting volume based on outside noise might be useful when the sounds are consistent, rapidly rising and falling decibels, like near a road in a city, might be more annoying than its worth.
The touch-sensitive areas can pause or play audio, skip tracks forward or backward, and, interestingly, read out notifications. Google Assistant will read out the message, and say when it arrived, then offer the option to dictate a reply. Google Assistant’s Voice Match feature to confirm the one wearing the earbuds is the one who is getting and responding to the messages. The message notification alert can be turned off as well, should it be more annoying than it’s worth. The voice assistant is integral to the earbuds, so there’s no need to have the app open if you aren’t using a Pixel smartphone. If the Google Assistant app is on the device connected to the earbuds, the wearer can use the “Hey, Google” wakeword to alert the AI.
“Google Assistant is built right into the Pixel Buds A-Series. You can get quick hands-free help to check the weather, get an answer, change the volume, or have notifications read to you with a simple “Hey Google,” Google product manager Austine Chang wrote in a blog post about the new device. “You can do more than just ask questions, though — for example, you can get real-time translation in more than 40 languages right in your ear while using a Pixel or Android 6.0+ phone. Say “Hey Google, help me speak Japanese” to start a conversation.”
Hearables are popular, and the market is only getting more competitive. Voicebot’s data from last October showed ownership of hearables rose 23% over two years among U.S. adults. All of the major voice assistant developers are competing now. Apple AirPods and Apple AirPods Pro are at the front of the pack, but that could change. The list gets longer all the time. Amazon recently rolled out the second generation of Echo Buds, but Samsung’s bean-shaped Galaxy Buds Live, the Baidu XiaoduPods, and Microsoft’s Surface Earbuds all have their selling points. That’s before even considering third-party creations by Bose or JBL. Google is likely to come back to the higher end of hearables soon enough. Perhaps the next generation will have the ‘Wolverine’ hearing enhancement feature.