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Pixel Buds: $159 wireless headphones do real-time translation (hands-on)

With touch controls and integrated access to Google Assistant, the $159 Pixel Buds mark Google's entry into the already very crowded headphone market.

The Pixel Buds are available in colors that match the new colors of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL.

Google

Everybody else is doing a headphone, so why not Google?

The Pixel Buds, the company's new $159 (£159, AU$229) in-ear headphones, will be available in November in color options that match the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL phones.

They have a few distinguishing design traits. For starters, they have an open, non-noise-isolating design (you don't jam the buds into your ears) and the adjustable loop at the top acts as a kind of fin to help keep the buds securely in your ears.

Also, there's a touch pad on the right earbud that allows you to control music playback, adjust the volume, and answer calls. With a touch of that surface you can also access Google Assistant and issue voice commands to play music, send a text, or get walking directions. Double-tapping on the right earbud after hearing a notification alert tells Google Assistant to read the new message to you.

Google is also highlighting that Pixel phone owners will exclusively be able get real-time translation with Pixel Buds and Google Translate. "Your earphones hear you and your Pixel's speaker will play the translation in another language," the press release states. "When the other person speaks, you'll hear the translation right in your ear."

Now Playing: Watch this: Pixel Buds translate languages in real time
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The Pixel Buds battery life is rated at 5 hours, which isn't bad, but it's also not great. The earbuds charge in a charging case, but these aren't totally wireless earphones like the AirPods. Rather, the wireless buds are tethered together and the cord wraps around the inner rim of the charger. It's also worth noting that charging case features a USB-C connection, not microUSB, so you only have to carry around one cable for your Pixel phone and Pixel Buds.

pixelbuds-incase

The Pixel Buds in their charging case.

Google

So, how well do the Pixel Buds work? We couldn't really judge audio quality in Google's noisy demo room, but we were able to get Google Translate to convert a few sentences from Japanese to English and vice versa.

We had to try a few different sentences to get the desired result, as Google's service choked on a few of the phrases we used -- and there was sometimes a bit of a delay -- but we got the impression we could ask for directions and carry on a basic conversation as long as our partner was patient. 

As far as fit, CNET's Sean Hollister liked it -- though he normally has trouble wearing bulky earbuds, the adjustable loops kept them secure. 

But CNET's Lexy Savvides, who has less pronounced ear ridges for the loops to catch on, had trouble keeping them in at first. We'll have to test more. 

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