Google Pixel Buds — the high tech wireless earbuds revealed by Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) in October — are now available for purchase. However, based on the first round of reviews, you may want to hold off for now. Where Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) AirPods were ridiculed when first revealed, then garnered largely positive reviews, Google’s version is experiencing the opposite trajectory.
They looked pretty cool onstage, but it’s tough slogging to find a positive Pixel Buds review.
Google Pixel Buds Primer
Google Pixel Buds were revealed onstage at the start of October, at Google’s big Pixel event. This was the point at which the company’s hardware ambitions became crystal clear. An impressive collection of new gear including Pixel Phones, Google Home speakers and the ambitious Google Pixel Buds signaled a big move toward making hardware a bigger part of GOOGL stock. With all these products, the company is adopting a more Apple-like strategy, instead of relying so heavily on ad revenue.
The Google Pixel Buds are $159 wireless earbuds that play music. Touch controls on the earbud make control easy and naturally, Google Assistant is onboard. But the feature that really wowed at the Pixel event demo was having the earbuds translate speech from a foreign language, in real time. This seemed like the future.
But good luck finding a Pixel Buds review that thinks Google actually nailed it.
Pixel Buds Review in, Not Ready for Prime Time
Tech publications got their Pixel Buds review units ahead of the release, and most began publishing yesterday. It looks as though Google has work to do before its hardware ambitions catch up to the reality of what it can deliver (something to think about if you’re looking at GOOGL stock in light of its new focus on hardware).
In Ars Technica’s Pixel Buds review “OK Google, go back to the earbud drawing board,” the reviewer points out “inconsistent sound quality, underwhelming voice-assistant features, and glaring use issues.” Even the carrying case design is criticized. Worse, that keynote wow feature showing the Pixel Buds translating conversations in real time? According to Ars Technica, “Google Translate actually works worse with the Buds than by using the app normally.”
CNN Money’s Pixel Buds review concludes “In the end, it’s not worth buying a Pixel phone specifically to get the Pixel Buds. After all, anyone can download the free Google Translate app on Android or iOS and get a similar experience,” after pointing out the earbuds were uncomfortable, the cord connecting the earbuds was annoying and the charge case was poorly designed.
The Verge says “The Future Shouldn’t Be This Awkward.” PC Mag was less than impressed. Here’s its Pixel Buds review bottom line: “Despite the promise of helpful voice assistant features, with its Pixel Buds, Google combines an uncomfortable design, mediocre performance, and a high price tag for an unappealing pair of wireless headphones.” Popular Science? “The best wireless headphones I’ve ever wanted to throw in the river.”
Can Hardware Be Meaningful for GOOGL Stock?
Google is investing heavily in hardware, including hiring most of HTC’s Pixel development team back in September. You don’t add another 2,000 engineers to a growing hardware team unless you’re serious.
But these are still early days in Google’s effort to be a hardware company. Yes, the Pixel Buds review situation has a been rough. The new flagship Pixel 2 XL smartphone has also had a bumpy launch, with its OLED display being especially problematic.
That being said, The Pixel phones do well overall, and their cameras usually place even higher than Apple’s iPhone shooters. Google Home smart speakers, Chromecast streamers and Google WiFi routers all perform well. And even the Google Pixel Buds don’t get universally trashed. Many Pixel Buds reviews include positives like battery life, decent sound for the price and easy access to Google Assistant.
The Google Pixel Buds may not be the hit that Apple’s EarPods have turned out to be, but you can bet Google will come back with a revised design next year that addresses the faults. Revenue diversity and products that lock users into Google services are critical to the future performance of GOOGL stock. So don’t expect a bad Pixel Buds review or two to derail Google’s hardware ambitions.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.