It seems that most true wireless earbuds these days feature active noise cancelling (ANC), so when the Google Pixel Buds A-Series was released it quickly became a competitor for one of the few still-relevant, non-ANC true wireless earbuds, the Apple AirPods (2019). The Google Pixel Buds A-Series looks quite different from the Apple AirPods, but let’s see how similar the two actually are.
Is the Pixel Buds A-Series a better design than the Apple AirPods?
Pretty much the only design elements the Apple AirPods (2019) and Google Pixel Buds A-Series have in common is that they are both true wireless earbuds, and they both have portable charging cases that will easily fit in your pocket.
Related: What makes a good set of in-ears?
The AirPods has a stemmed design which helps secure the buds in your ears, though it does not come with silicone ear tips or support the ability to install them. This makes the AirPods one-size-fits-most, but not all ears are the same so you’ll likely experience instability or discomfort when wearing the buds. The AirPods doesn’t have any kind of IP rating, so we don’t recommend using it for exercise.
Unlike the AirPods, the Google Pixel Buds A-Series doesn’t have stems, opting for the more traditional true wireless earbuds look. However, its wing attachments are not removable, which could create issues similar to the AirPods, due to its assumption that one size will fit most ears. The Pixel Buds A-Series comes with a selection of differently sized silicone ear tips so you can customize the fit to some degree here. The Google buds are IPX4 certified, so this is the better option for working out.
Does Apple or Google offer more connectivity options?
The Apple AirPods and Google Pixel Buds A-Series use Bluetooth 5.0 and support the same Bluetooth codecs, SBC and AAC. All smartphones support SBC as the default codec. While both Android and iOS devices support AAC, only iOS can efficiently encode and decode the codec, whereas performance varies on Anrdoid depending on the connected hardware. If you want to enjoy consistent, high-quality audio from either the AirPods or Pixel Buds A-Series, your best bet is to pair it with an iPhone.
Is it easy to connect the AirPods to an iPhone? What about to an Android phone?
Connecting the Apple AirPods to an iPhone is an entirely different experience than connecting it to an Android phone. With an iPhone, you’ll simply open the AirPods case and a card will pop up on your phone prompting you to pair the device. Once you’ve paired your AirPods with one device, it will automatically pair to every device connected to your iCloud account. This is thanks to the Apple H1 chip embedded in the AirPods. The connection strength is pretty reliable when hooked up to an iPhone, and it’s unlikely that you’ll experience any stutters when listening to music.
To connect your AirPods to an Android phone, open the charging case and hold down the button on the back. This will put the AirPods into pairing mode and you’ll then be able to select it from your Android’s Bluetooth menu. The connection strength is not as pristine as it is on iPhone—the range is a bit shorter and you might experience connection breaks. When reviewing the AirPods, we noticed asynchrony between the left and right earbud, which is irritating to say the least. The poor performance on Android compared to iPhone can be attributed to the fact that the H1 chip does nothing for Android.
How can you connect the Pixel Buds A-Series to a phone?
The Google Pixel Buds A-Series is less exclusive when it comes time to connect it to a smartphone. Regardless of the operating system, you’ll connect the buds by opening the case and pressing the button on the back. The Pixel Buds A-Series maintains a stable connection but unfortunately doesn’t support Bluetooth multipoint or anything like the AirPods’ automatic iCloud pairing.
What software features does each pair of earbuds offer?
Like most aspects of the Apple AirPods, the experience of controlling them is different depending on if you’re paired to an iPhone or Android phone. With either you can pause, play, skip tracks, and answer calls with the touch controls, but only on iPhone can you simply remove an earbud to pause and replace it to play your music. Also, only with iOS can you access your smart assistant Siri with a simple “Hey Siri,” though on Android you can double-tap the side of your AirPods earpiece to access Google Assistant. The AirPods doesn’t have any onboard mechanism for controlling volume which is frustrating since this is one of the most common controls people want to use.
As for additional software features, the Apple AirPods offers Audio Sharing, which lets you stream the same audio to two separate pairs of AirPods. It also is compatible with Apple’s Spatial Audio feature, which mimics surround sound, though the AirPods doesn’t have the head tracking functionality of the AirPods Pro or AirPods Max. All of these software bells and whistles are only available on iOS.
The Apple AirPods (2019) is best used with an iPhone and the Google Pixel Buds A-Series is best used with an Android phone.
The touch controls on the Google Pixel Buds A-Series let you play, pause, skip forward a track, skip back a track, and access your smart assistant of choice. You unfortunately cannot adjust the volume via the earbuds. When you pair the Pixel Buds A-Series to an Android device you’ll be instructed to download the Google Pixel Buds app in order to access software features. Through the app, you can track your Pixel Buds A-Series’ location, switch between the default sound profile and the Bass Boost one, and activate in-ear detection. On Android, you’ll also be able to use the Google Pixel Buds A-Series to translate languages, though this mandates a few requirements.
One of the most notable features of the Google Pixel Buds A-Series, Adaptive Sound is available only on Android through the Pixel Buds app. Adaptive Sound senses the level of environmental sound around you and automatically adjusts the volume to mask the background noise. It’s debatable whether or not this feature is actually useful because it can be annoying to have your volume level constantly changing. Furthermore, it’s not healthy for your eardrums to blast music so loud it drowns out ambient noise. The feature is most helpful for phone calls, and you can disable it anytime in the app.
Does the Apple AirPods (2019) or Google Pixel Buds A-Series have better battery life?
The Apple AirPods (2019) charges via Lightning USB and Qi-certified charging mat. It lasts 4 hours, 7 minutes on a single charge when connected to an iPhone. On Android, the AirPods lasts 3 hours, 29 minutes (the H1 chip improves power efficiency when the AirPods are connected to an Apple device). With the additional charge that the case holds, the AirPods can last up to 24 hours of listening time or 18 hours of talking time. The AirPods also supports quick charging, providing 180 minutes of listening time after 15 minutes in the case.
The Google Pixel Buds A-Series charges via USB-C and does not support wireless charging. It lasts 4 hours, 44 minutes on a single charge when continuously outputting 75dB audio. To quick charge the Pixel Buds A-Series, pop the buds in the case for 15 minutes for 180 minutes of listening or 90 minutes of talking. The charging case also holds additional juice giving you a total of 24 hours of listening time or 12 hours of talking time.
Which headset is more effective at isolating sound?
Neither the Apple AirPods nor Google Pixel Buds A-Series has active noise cancelling, and neither headset has very effective passive isolation either. Because the Apple AirPods (2019) doesn’t have any mechanism to create a seal to your ears, your music will be audible to others and others will be audible to you. While some could consider this a safety feature because it ensures you’re aware of your surroundings if you’re using the AirPods outdoors, many people find it annoying because it messes with the quality of the headset’s audio. However, if you hate the clogged-ear feeling of conventional earbuds, the absence of silicone ear tips may be just what you’re looking for.
The Google Pixel Buds A-Series’ isolation is not quite as bad as the AirPods’, but it still isn’t good. Low-frequency sounds will be almost fully audible, but this tends to be the case with many non-ANC buds. Higher-frequency ambient sounds will be muted a bit more but these earbuds are definitely designed to keep you more aware of your surroundings than not.
Which pair of earbuds has better sound quality?
Due to the AirPods’ lack of isolation, we recommend taking the frequency response with a grain of salt. The AirPods places a decent amount of emphasis on the bass frequencies but without proper isolation, these tones can get drowned out through auditory masking from environmental noise. The midrange frequencies are also boosted which helps emphasize human vocals in both music and over phone calls. The high frequencies are only slightly louder than mids, so you won’t find high notes painful to listen to.
The Google Pixel Buds A-Series offers two frequency responses: the default setting and a Bass Boost setting, selectable within the Google Pixel Buds app. The default frequency response is peculiar and under-emphasizes bass frequencies while emphasizing high frequencies a decent amount. While this frequency response is not ideal for most modern genres of music, it works very well when used for phone calls—the quiet treble reproduction reduces sibilant sounds (harsh ‘s‘) and the sub-bass notes are simply not necessary for human speech. The Pixel Buds A-Series’ Bass Boost frequency response is more suitable for listening to music and more closely follows the SoundGuys‘ house curve.
Learn more: What is frequency response?
It’s also worth noting that the Pixel Buds A-Series has volume issues when paired with certain Android smartphones and Windows computers. On these devices, the Google buds’ maximum output volume is roughly one-fifth quieter than your average pair of true wireless earbuds. The issue is fixable if you go into your Android’s developer settings, but it would be much nicer if the issue didn’t exist at all.
Which headset is better for phone calls?
The AirPods microphone is fine and will get you through both casual phone calls and the occasional conference call. The Google Pixel Buds A-Series houses two microphones in each earbud to help with speech clarity. The Pixel Buds A-Series’s mic array also rejects background noise pretty well, though it sometimes mutes vocals along with the background noise. You can determine for yourself which headset’s microphone sounds better:
Apple AirPods (2019) microphone sample:
Google Pixel Buds A-Series microphone sample:
Should you buy the Apple AirPods (2019) or Google Pixel Buds A-Series?
The Apple AirPods (2019) and Google Pixel Buds A-Series are pretty on par as pairs of true wireless earbuds. They come at a similar price, and while neither of them isolates sound very well, some people look specifically for that feature. If you’re partial to a certain earbud design—stemmed or non-stemmed—you may see a clear winner of this versus. Otherwise, some notable differences between the two are that the Pixel Buds A-Series has an IP rating where the AirPods does not, though the Pixel Buds A-Series still has the volume hiccup with certain source devices. The Pixel Buds A-Series’ battery life is better than the AirPods’, but the AirPods support wireless charging and the A-Series case doesn’t.
If you have an iPhone, it’s probably a better idea to get the AirPods than the Pixel Buds A-Series. You’ll get access to multipoint connectivity, a stronger Bluetooth connection, more efficient battery life, and more. If you have an Android device, you’ll probably want to go with the Google Pixel Buds A-Series, especially if you want access to features like Adaptive Sound, hands-free voice assistant access, or real-time translation.