Google Could Be Cooking Up Its Own Version of Apple’s Powerful ‘Find My’ Network for Android

Illustration for article titled Google Could Be Cooking Up Its Own Version of Apple’s Powerful 'Find My' Network for Android

Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP (Getty Images)

With the release of Apple’s AirTags, we’ve all seen just how powerful and useful the company’s Find My network can be to find misplaced items around our homes or lost items out in the world. Google apparently also took notice and appears to be cooking up its own version of the network for Android devices.

Advertisement

In recent days, XDA Developers did an APK teardown of the latest beta version of Google Play Services and noticed references to a possible Google “Find My Device” network. It’s not clear if that’s a possible name for the network, and was referred to as the “network title” in the code. XDA Developers also found a purported description of the Find My Device network.

“Allows your phone to help locate your and other people’s devices,” the description stated.

As pointed out by the outlet, Google is the only other company that could possibly build a device tracking network as large as Apple’s Find My network. Apple says that close 1 billion Apple devices are connected to Find My. In the case of AirTags, when one of those billion devices comes near an AirTag, Find My communicates the location to the owner of said AirTag in an anonymous and private way.

Now, if Google wants to build a similar network, XDA Developers points out that it can utilize the Google Play Services app, which is on nearly every Android device. Google Play Services is used to update Google apps and apps from the Google Play store. In addition, Google states the app provides services such as authentication, synchronized contacts, access to the latest user privacy settings, and higher quality, lower-powered location-based services.

That’s not to say that Google doesn’t already offer users a way to find their lost devices. It has the Google Find My Device app in the Play Store, but this app can only find phones, tablets, or watches that are logged into your Google account. According to XDA Developers, if Google does indeed create its own Find My Device network, this will presumably give Android users the ability to help other users locate their devices, as Apple’s Find My network does now.

This concept was spotted in the latest beta of Google Play Services, so it’s not by any means a done deal. We’ll have to wait and see. Nonetheless, just the indication that Google is working on this is a good thing for those of us who lose devices. If the worst does happen, we’ll have more chances to find them.

Advertisement

The Best Android 12 Features We’ve Found So Far

Screenshots of Material You theming on Android 12 Beta 2.

Material You theming isn’t entirely live, but you can see how the system extracts color from your wallpaper of choice.
Screenshot: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

Material You is not quite you just yet, but there’s much more of it in the second beta compared to the first. You won’t get the full array of customization that we’ve seen in renders, but you will get to see the color-stripping part populate across the interface.

To see the Material You theming in action, long-press on the Home screen and select Wallpaper & style. Then, choose a photo from your files or any of the stock options offered by Google. Once you select an image and whether you want it displayed across both the Home and Lock screens, Android will pick a color that matches the background.

The color-matching is very subtle in the current iteration, and it’s not entirely clear how the OS makes its choice. It’s also unclear whether you should choose your icon style and font type before choosing your wallpaper. But you can play around with it to get a glimpse of how Material You will extract color in the final build.

Google Is Dropping 6 New Android Features Ahead of Android 12

Lead image for upcoming features headed to Android 12 this summer.

Image: Google

Android 12 isn’t expected to be ready for its official release until later this fall, but in the meantime Google is rolling out six new features to Android devices this summer.

Advertisement

The new features range from updates to Google’s custom emoji system in Gboard to new personalization options in Android Auto and even the expansion of an emergency alert network. Let’s dive in.

For people trying to keep better tabs on their chats, Google is adding the ability to star individual messages in the Google Messages app. Once you star a message (which you can do by tapping and holding on a specific text), the message will show up in its own section (sorted by category) so you don’t need to scroll through long chat logs just to find a specific photo or an address you wanted to save.

A preview of what the new starred messages feature in Google Messages will look like.

Here’s a preview of what the new starred messages feature in Google Messages will look like.
Illustration: Google

It’s not a revolutionary change, but it should be a handy upgrade for heavy texters, with Google saying starred messages will begin rolling out “broadly over the coming weeks.”

Gif: Google

If you prefer to communicate with emoji rather than words, Google also has an update to the Emoji Kitchen in Gboard that will allow Gboard to serve up contextual emoji creations immediately after you’ve typed a new message. The idea is that by creating a new emoji combo based on your messages, you’ll have the right emoji for the situation at your fingertips, instead of always having to make them yourself. And when combined with a recent change that stores your most recently used stickers in their own section, you shouldn’t ever be at a loss for custom emoji.

Advertisement

The update to Emoji Kitchen is available today in the beta version of Gboard, and is scheduled to be added to the official public version of the app later this summer with support for messages in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

It wouldn’t be a meaningful Android feature drop without new Google Assistant tricks, and now the assistant supports additional phone controls. Along with being able to answer questions, the Google Assistant will also be able to do specific tasks in apps, like pay your credit card bill or see how many miles you’ve run this week.

Advertisement

New support for voice commands will allow you to ask the Google Assistant to perform specific tasks in third-party apps like Strava.

Image: Google

While it’s currently unclear how many apps will support this kind of integration, in Google’s announcement post, the company specifically mentioned Capital One and Strava. And to find more interactions like this, Google says you can simply ask the Google Assistant for more info by saying, “Hey Google, shortcuts.”

Advertisement

As vaccinated folks get ready for summer travel, Google is also tweaking Android Auto with new customization options, including the ability to personalize your launcher screen, new tabs for media apps, and even a handy “back to the top” button.

On top of that, Google has also added the ability to use EV charging, parking, and navigation apps inside Android Auto, so you can more easily plan your trips without flipping back and forth between multiple apps. You’ll even be able to open messaging apps like WhatsApp or Google Messages from the launcher screen—just make sure you pull over first or let your co-pilot do it. (Don’t text while driving, folks!) The new features in Android Auto should be available now on phones running Android 6 and above when connected to a compatible car.

Advertisement

Gif: Google

Finally, as a follow up to a new feature from last year, Google is expanding its Android Earthquake Alert System to a number of new countries, including Turkey, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Advertisement

By leveraging the power of the internet, Google can turn Android phones into mini seismometers, so in the event of an earthquake, Google can send out alerts seconds before the earthquake reaches your area, potentially giving you an important early warning.

Google says it’s hoping to make its Earthquake Alert System available in most countries by the first half of 2022, starting with the countries with the highest earthquake risk before moving to those with more moderate concerns.

Advertisement

Google Releases Second Android 12 Beta With New Features

Illustration for article titled Google Releases Second Android 12 Beta With New Features

Image: Google

Google released the first Android 12 beta at Google I/O back in May, but that version didn’t have all the new updates and features that will be included in the final release later this year. Today Google is releasing the second version of the Android 12 beta, which adds a new Privacy Dashboard, updates to wifi controls, and more.

Advertisement

With privacy and security becoming a higher priority for Google, the company is planning a number of changes in that vein for Android 12, including the new Privacy Dashboard. The goal is to give people a better way of seeing what kind of data their apps are using. So not only will the dashboard show you every app that’s accessed your microphone, camera, or location info in the last 24 hours, people will even be able to request additional details about why a specific app may have tried to view sensitive info.

Here’s a preview of what the new Privacy Dashboard in Android 12 will look like.
Gif: Google

More privacy-related features include new indicators that will show up in the corner of your device’s display anytime an app is using your microphone or camera, similar to what Apple added in iOS 14. This is designed to make sure people know when an app may be recording the user or their surroundings in real-time, allowing people to change or revoke permissions for a specific app if needed.

And for those times when you want to be super sure your device isn’t recording anything, Google has also added microphone and camera toggles to Android 12’s Quick Settings menu, so you can completely disable either component with a single tap. If you’re worried about random apps potentially spying on stuff in your clipboard, the Android 12 beta also supports a new notification that will alert you anytime an app tries to read data from your clipboard—another privacy feature Apple added in iOS 14.

Illustration for article titled Google Releases Second Android 12 Beta With New Features

Image: Google

Aside from a number of updated dev tools, the last notable new feature that’s been added to the Android 12 beta is a revamped UI for network connections. Going forward, the new Internet Panel will serve as a home to all the different ways you connect to the outside world, allowing you to quickly toggle mobile data on or off, select from available wifi networks, and even help troubleshoot issues in case your connection is acting a bit wonky.

Advertisement

As with the previous versions of the Android 12 beta, you can test it out yourself by downloading an over-the-air update across a range of eligible devices (see the full list of approved devices here) or install it manually if you are so inclined. Just maybe don’t install it on your primary phone or tablet, because even though Google’s public Android betas are typically relatively stable, you don’t want to risk something going awry on your main device.

Official Stadia Support Finally Comes to Chromecast With Google TV and Other Android TV Boxes

Illustration for article titled Official Stadia Support Finally Comes to Chromecast With Google TV and Other Android TV Boxes

Photo: Alex Cranz

Stadia always seemed like a perfect fit for Google’s homegrown smart TV OS, and now, more than 18 months after Stadia’s initial debut, Google is finally adding native support for Stadia to a range of Android TV and Google TV devices on June 23.

Advertisement

When Stadia was first released, the best way to stream games from the cloud to your TV was to hook up a Chromecast Ultra, as Google had yet to add official support for Stadia to Android TV devices. (Technically, you could sideload the Stadia app on Android TV devices, but stability was often hit-or-miss). And even after Google released its own first-party streaming TV dongle in the Chromecast with Google TV last year, Google said built-in Stadia support wouldn’t arrive on Google TV until sometime in 2021.

But, in just a couple weeks, it seems Google is finally ready to make good on its promise by adding official support to the Chromecast with Google TV and other Android TV devices on June 23.

According to a new blog post, the list of Android TV devices getting full support Stadia are as follows:

  • The Chromecast with Google TV
  • Hisense® Android Smart TVs (U7G, U8G, U9G)
  • Nvidia® Shield TV
  • Nvidia® Shield TV Pro
  • Onn™ FHD Streaming Stick and UHD Streaming Device
  • Philips® 8215, 8505, and OLED 935/805 Series Android TVs
  • Xiaomi® MIBOX3 and MIBOX4

While this clearly isn’t every single Android TV box on the market, Google says that if the device you have isn’t listed above, you’ll still be able to stream games with Stadia by opting into an experimental support feature. Google also says that starting June 23, all you’ll need to do to get Stadia support is to download the Stadia app from the Google Play Store (and hit the “Continue” button to opt-in if needed).

As usual, once you get the Stadia app installed, you’ll need to make sure you have a supported gamepad, which can either be an official Stadia controller or one of many compatible third-party Bluetooth controllers.

While it may have taken longer than expected, Google finally adding built-in support for Stadia to Google TV and Android TV devices is a big milestone for Google’s game streaming service as Stadia will soon be available to play on a lot more devices.

Advertisement

Oh, and as an extra bonus, today AT&T announced a new deal that gives both AT&T wireless and AT&T fiber internet customers a free six-month Stadia Pro subscription, with customers who redeem the offer also eligible to buy a discounted Stadia controller/Chromecast Ultra bundle for just $20 (which is down from its normal retail price of $100).

Apple and Google Go All In On Digital Car Keys

Illustration for article titled Apple and Google Go All In On Digital Car Keys

Screenshot: Apple

Apple today announced expanded support for digital car keys in iOS 15 during its WWDC keynote. Combined with Google’s recent Android announcements at its own developers conference, it’s clear that the big transition to digital car keys will begin in earnest later this fall.

Advertisement

While Apple first announced support for digital car keys last year, today the company expanded its efforts with new updates coming to Wallet in iOS 15 that will allow iPhones to connect to nearby cars via UWB. The addition of support for UWB mirrors a similar announcement Google made during Google I/O that regarding support for digital car keys via UWB or NFC depending on the specific model of car in Android 12.

Currently, NFC and UWB are slated to be the two main methods for implementing digital car keys, both of which have their pros and cons. NFC typically has a much shorter range than UWB, which means you often have to be right next to your vehicle or even tap your phone on a certain spot on your vehicle in order to unlock its door or start the car. However, because NFC is already built into all but the cheapest budget phones, it remains a relatively easy way to transition from traditional physical keys to newfangled digital car keys.

On the flip side, UWB boasts a potential range of more than 100 feet, which means users might be able to start their car or turn on the heat/AC remotely from inside their home, just so long as they have a relatively clear line of sight to the vehicle vehicle. The downside is that because UWB is still relatively new technology, it’s only available on a handful of devices right now, which means you might need to upgrade to a new phone to get support for UWB.

Here’s how Google’s digital car key interface is expected to look in Android 12, with Apple’s take visible in the image above.

Here’s how Google’s digital car key interface is expected to look in Android 12, with Apple’s take visible in the image above.
Image: Google

Among Android phones, the two main devices that support UWB are the Galaxy S21+ and Galaxy S21 Ultra, but not the standard S21Samsung says support for UWB was not included to help keep its price down. And in the future, it seems like Google is poised to add UWB support to Pixel 6. Meanwhile for iPhones, Apple started adding support for UWB starting with the iPhone 11. Though Apple is currently ahead when it comes to UWB support, anyone still using an iPhone XS or older is sadly out of luck.

Aside from Tesla, the automaker currently leading the charge for digital car keys is BMW, who has already partnered with Apple, Google, and Samsung to support the initiative in select BMW models, though other manufacturers like Hyundai and more recently Ford have been working to support digital car keys as well.

Advertisement

The arrival of digital car keys has the potential to make life a lot easier. However, it also presents a couple problems, the most worrying being that simply losing your phone could turn into a real disaster. That’s because in addition to losing your primary method for calling or messaging people, the rise of digital car keys and smart locks means that if you don’t have access to your phone, you also might not have access to your home or vehicle, too, which could leave you truly stranded in an emergency.

For some, that possibility may be enough to make them think twice about digital car keys, and even though many manufacturers still provide a physical key or card key as a backup, it will be interesting to see how fast the public embraces digital car keys once they become more widely supported this fall.

Advertisement

But either way, between existing automakers like Tesla and wider support coming soon in iOS 15 and Android 12, it seems both the tech giants and car makers are finally ready to bring car keys into the 21st century.

10 Tips to Get the Most Out of Android Auto

Illustration for article titled 10 Tips to Get the Most Out of Android Auto

Image: Google

Google’s Android Auto is more than six years old now, and it’s changed a fair bit in that time. The latest version is baked into Android, if you’re running Android 10 or later, but you can download the stand-alone app if you don’t already have it. More and more automobiles and car stereos now support Android Auto (as well as Apple CarPlay), so if you’re just getting started with the technology, here are some of the tips you need to know.

Advertisement

You can actually use Android Auto without connecting to a car dashboard at all—just launch the app on your phone and fix your phone to the dashboard or windscreen. The tips below apply to the wired version and to the wireless version of Android Auto that runs through your car’s actual hardware.


1. See Traffic While You Drive

You’ll most often use Google Maps in Android Auto in navigation mode when heading somewhere specific, in which case current traffic conditions show up automatically. However, it’s also useful to have Google Maps up when you know where you’re going or you’re just exploring. In this mode, tap the cog icon (lower left) and then turn the Traffic toggle switch on to make sure you can see any delays coming.


2. Customize the Home Screen 

You don’t have to settle for Android Auto’s default dashboard look. From the main list of apps, tap Customize, and then switch to your phone. You can then decide which Android Auto-compatible apps show up on your car dashboard, and in which order. It’s a good idea to get rid of the apps you’ve never going to use in your car, as it means fewer icons to scroll through when you’re trying to find the shortcut you need.


3. Set Up Shortcuts 

Besides app shortcuts, you can also set up shortcuts to specific contacts and Google Assistant commands on the Android Auto dashboard. From the app drawer on the car display, tap Customize, then open your phone and choose Add a shortcut to the launcher. Just about any command that works with Google Assistant can be added, so you can do everything from open your garage to have your text messages read out loud to you.

Advertisement


Illustration for article titled 10 Tips to Get the Most Out of Android Auto

Screenshot: Google

Advertisement


4. Mute Specific Conversations 

Having alerts pop up while you’re driving can be helpful if something really important comes up, but it can also be distracting if you’re constantly getting pings from all the group chats you’re in. To mute a conversation in any of the instant messaging apps that support Android Auto, tap a notification when it appears, then choose Mute conversation on the next screen. Messages will still be delivered, but the alerts won’t show up.

Advertisement


5. Use Your Voice 

Voice control is of course the safest and easiest way of controlling Android Auto while you’re driving, and depending on your car you might just be able to say, “Hey Google” or press a button on the steering wheel to start talking. Tap Settings on your car dashboard, then Access on phone screen, and on your phone you should see a “Hey Google” detection toggle switch — make sure this is on if you want to use hands-free voice control.

Advertisement


6. Set Your Default Music Provider 

If you want Google Assistant to launch some playlists for you, but are unsure how it will know which of your Android Auto-supporting music apps you want to use, follow these steps: From the Android Auto dashboard, pick Settings and Access on phone screen, then switch to your phone and tap Google Assistant and Music. This will affect the Google Assistant everywhere you use it, but you can also specify music services by name if you need to.

Advertisement


7. Get to Know Your Car 

It’s worth going through the instruction manual that came with your car—or just running a search on the web—to see which Android Auto functions can be operated from your steering wheel. Functions like volume control, Google Assistant activation, and the ability to skip forward and backward through playlists can often be operated through physical buttons on your steering wheel, which is safer than tapping at the Android Auto display.

Advertisement


Illustration for article titled 10 Tips to Get the Most Out of Android Auto

Screenshot: Google

Advertisement


8. Find More Apps 

If you’re wondering which apps are compatible with Android Auto—that is, which ones will appear on your car dash if they’re installed on your phone—then Google provides a full list to check out. You’ll see that messaging apps and audio apps dominate, because Android Auto hasn’t yet gotten to the level of a Tesla dashboard and can’t play video yet. Still, you should find plenty in the list to keep you entertained.

Advertisement


9. Don’t Pick Up Where You Left Off 

By default, if Android Auto was playing podcasts, music or any other audio when you last disconnected your phone from the car stereo, it will resume from the same app the next time a connection is established so you can continue listening. If you’d prefer this didn’t happen, tap Settings then turn the Automatically resume media toggle switch off. You’ll then have to manually start up your audio again the next time you get in the car.

Advertisement


10. Block Out Distractions

For your safety and the safety of other drivers, it’s a good idea to enable Do Not Disturb on your phone while driving to avoid distractions, and Android Auto can do this automatically. From the app drawer on your car screen, choose Settings then Access on phone screen, then on your phone tap Car settings and Behavior. Your phone’s default Do Not Disturb configuration is applied, set through Sound and vibration on your phone’s Setting screen.

Advertisement

Google Will Let You Opt Out of Being Tracked by Apps in Android 12

Google will soon let you opt-out of third-party tracking from any app you download from the Play Store.

Google will soon let you opt-out of third-party tracking from any app you download from the Play Store.
Photo: Florence Ion/Gizmodo

With Apple’s developer conference just around the corner, Google is reportedly planning to follow in its rivals footsteps by letting Android users opt out of being tracked by the apps they download from the Google Play store.

Advertisement

A Google support page detailing how users can opt out of third-party tracking has generated a bit of buzz. Originally surfaced by the Financial Times, Google will introduce a switch for users later this year that turns off sharing the Advertising ID, which is the device identifier that lets marketers see your activity from app to app. (It’s also one of the identifiers that manufacturers had access to during the covid-19 contact tracing privacy snafu.) Android users can already limit system-wide ad-tracking or manually reset their Advertising ID to help throw off being tracked, but this new setting will let users opt out of any alternative device identifiers that developers also use to track your activity across apps.

Google announced a Play Store policy change in an email to developers. Those who try to access advertising IDs from users who have opted out will only see a “string of zeros” rather than the explicit numerical identifier.

From the Google support page:

As part of Google Play services update in late 2021, the advertising ID will be removed when a user opts out of personalization using advertising ID in Android Settings. Any attempts to access the identifier will receive a string of zeros instead of the identifier. To help developers and ad/analytics service providers with compliance efforts and respect user choice, they will be able to receive notifications for opt-out preferences. Additionally, apps targeting Android 12 will need to declare a Google Play services normal permission in the manifest file.

Unlike on iOS, it’s unclear if the tracking feature will be on by default or if Google will make this a known feature or something that’s buried deep in the settings panel. But we’ll likely have answers by the time Android 12 rolls out publicly. Google is phasing the rollout to apps running on Android 12 devices starting in late 2021, with expansion for more devices coming in early 2022.

Google has been working overtime to change the narrative on how it approaches privacy. The company has added a bunch of granular privacy controls over the years, dating back to permission-selection features introduced back in Android 6.0 Marshmallow, but with Apple using privacy as a key selling point for its devices, there’s a renewed push for Google to answer. The company recently announced a new safety section in the Google Play Store a few weeks back.

Advertisement

Privacy has clearly become a company-wide initiative, considering Google’s move to create a new tracking alternative—one that binds your activity directly to its servers.

And the more features that Google can push out to make its platforms and the services integrated into it seem safer, the more it maintains consumer trust to hold on to that top spot on the market share leaderboard.

Advertisement

Being an Android user has always been about choice. It’s nice that Google is adding an option to make Android users feel better about being on the platform after the security features Apple introduced to iOS. This is certainly the first feature I’m choosing to take advantage of once I update to Android 12.

Philips Hue Finally Has a Good App

The fourth-generation Philips Hue app is a huge visual improvement over its predecessors.

The fourth-generation Philips Hue app is a huge visual improvement over its predecessors.
Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

It took four generations, but the Philips Hue app is finally a delight to use. In a significant update to its iOS and Android apps, which control its expansive lineup of smart lights and bulbs, Hue now has an overhauled interface and better automation engine, plus a few other subtle tweaks that make the entire experience more enjoyable overall.

Advertisement

I used the new Philips Hue app on a Pixel 5. From the first screen, the most notable change is the tinge on the interface. The buttons feature prominent shading to stand out as actionable against the relative flatness of the rest of the Android interface. Beyond that, the Hue home page remains unchanged in terms of content.

Tap on a room, and that’s when you’ll notice the real difference. The Hue app sports a new tile interface with quick access to pre-set scenes and the option to add on and customize your own. The Hue Scene gallery had existed before, but it was a bit of a mess. It looks better categorized in version four and a little less overwhelming to navigate.

Routines have also been revamped. They’re now called Automations. The Hue app will suggest a few to get you started, from setting the lights to sleep at night to having them gradually turn on before you come home. The feature uses geolocation, which you can set up through your device, though it will require configuring the Philips Hue hub for remote access. If you’re using an Android device, you’ll also have to enable the app to access location permissions and run in the background.

The rest of the Automation setup process is more helpful than the previous iteration. If you’re setting up your lights to turn on as you arrive home, for instance, the app will ask whether you want to run the automation every time or just in the evenings. The options were there before, but this time the onboarding process walks you through your choices, rather than tapping around the app to figure out what’s possible. You can then choose which rooms and which lights are affected by the automation. The Hue app will consider if someone is home already, so it doesn’t double up on automations or, say, turn off the lights for everyone else.

Ronald Geerlings, the Hue app’s global product manager, said during a press event that the team had made more than 100 improvements: The interface and automation changes were the “big” changes, while the “small” features are more prevalent in the settings. For instance, you can now manage multiple Hue bridges. The Entertainment Area has also been updated so that it’s more accurate at configuring numerous lights. It’s a handy feature if you plan to use Hue lights to frame your TV viewing experience. The new app includes a 3D view, where you can freely move lights around the room and even select their height and whether they’re bumping up or shining against an object. The Hue app will take care of the rest, like the color of the lights and how they sync up with what you see on the big screen.

Advertisement

Smart home apps can sometimes feel like an afterthought. The app can enable all the necessities for controlling a gadget, but the interface can leave much to be desired, which is exactly what was happening with Hue. It’s why when you do a search for the app in either the iOS or Android app stores, a bevy of third-party apps appear alongside the official one. The Hue app was always capable of basics, like getting your smart lights online and changing the scene, but it lacked any visual interest. It also didn’t have the best reputation for smart home tinkerers who rely on routines and automated commands.

The new Philips Hue app is a significant improvement, and it’s a good indicator that the company is watching and learning what its users need to keep buying into its vast device ecosystem. The update is available for download now, and the app will also be updated later this summer with dynamic scenes, which will allow lights to cycle through different colors throughout the day.

Advertisement

Google’s New Pixel Buds Are a Perfect Example of What It Does Best

Illustration for article titled Google’s New Pixel Buds Are a Perfect Example of What It Does Best

Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

There was a time not too long ago when it felt like a lot of Google’s devices lacked an identity. But since the release of the Pixel 3a, Google has really carved out a niche when it comes to making simple but still affordable gadgets that are big on value. Google is now applying this approach to wireless audio with the new Pixel Buds A-series, which distills the best elements of last year’s Pixel Buds into an even cheaper package that starts at just $99.

Advertisement

Just like its predecessor, the Pixel Buds A-series come with an included charging case that looks and feels like a futuristic space egg. There’s a hidden indicator light that lives in the middle of the case, and its matte finish is a joy to touch and makes you want to cradle it like an unborn chick even more. Around back, there’s a handy pairing button that sits flush with the case, so you don’t press it by accident. And while the Pixel Buds A-series do come in two color options (white and olive green), it’s hard to tell just by looking at the case unless you peep the thin band that runs around the bottom of the lid.

Average Battery Life, No Wireless Charging

The one main difference with the case is that instead of supporting both wired and wireless charging, the Pixel Buds A-series only feature wired charging over USB-C. Now I totally get that as part of the process of turning the Pixel Buds (which launched at $180) into something more affordable, difficult decisions had to be made, so I can’t blame Google for axing wireless charging in order to hit that $99 price tag.

But even so, there’s a part of me that wishes Google had managed a way to include Qi wireless charging for convenience sake, because the ability to simply drop your earbuds on a charging pad and know they’ll be fully juiced up when you return is incredibly handy—even more so for earbuds than for phones or watches.

Illustration for article titled Google’s New Pixel Buds Are a Perfect Example of What It Does Best

Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Advertisement

While the Pixel Buds A-series live up to Google’s stated claims of lasting around five hours on a single charge (plus three to four more full charges stashed in the case), I find myself wanting just a little bit more in this department too. It’s not bad enough to be a complete deal breaker, but these days, 5-hour battery life for wireless earbuds is pretty average.

To put the Pixel Buds A-series’ battery life into better perspective, five hours of juice is the same as last year’s Pixel Buds, the Galaxy Buds Pro with ANC on, and the standard Apple AirPods. However, other wireless earbuds all offer significantly longer runtimes: the Galaxy Buds+ lasts 11 hours per charge; the Galaxy Buds Live last 6-7 hours; and Sony’s likely soon to be replaced WF-1000XM3 around six hours. They’re all more expensive than the Pixel Buds A-series, so the the A’s battery life, while not great, isn’t terrible for a pair of $99 earbuds.

Advertisement

Simple Setup, Comfortable Fit

Aside from just OK battery life, everything else about the Pixel Bids is simple, straightforward, and easy to use. If you’re using a Pixel phone or pre-install the Pixel Buds app, pairing the Pixel Buds A-series with your device is as simple as opening the case and tapping a couple virtual buttons on your phone. And if you don’t, the buds will either prompt you to download the app and guide you through setup, or you can simply hold the pairing button in back until the indicator lights starts flashing if you want to do things manually (which you’ll have to do if you’re using an Apple or Windows device).

Advertisement

Google also included built-in touch controls so you can play/pause with a single tap on the buds themselves, tap twice to skip a track, or triple tap to go back. And like with pretty much everything Google makes nowadays, you can summon the Google Assistant with your voice, or tap and hold if you prefer a slightly more discreet wake method. As a small bonus, along with things like reading out your notifications or helping you translate foreign languages, you can even ask the Google Assistant to increase or lower the volume.

Advertisement

Critically, Google didn’t mess with the Pixel Buds’ design, with the Pixel Buds retaining the same ear tips and built-in wings that help the buds stay secure even during exercise, while still being overall some of the most comfortable earbuds I’ve ever worn. Google provides a choice of three silicone ear tips in the box (small, medium, and large), and while fit is always subjective, right out of the box, the pre-installed medium ear tips fit me perfectly. And between the Pixel Buds’ low-profile design and comfortable fit, I sometimes even found myself falling asleep with them on. (I know that’s not a good habit, but hey, I usually watch a video or two at night to help wind down.)

Solid Audio but No ANC

Google even managed to make the Pixel Buds A-series sound the same as their more expensive predecessor, too, which delivered crisp, clear sound similar to Google’s line of smart speakers. When I listened to Pnau’s “Go Bang,” the buds were more than capable of recreating Kira Devine’s shimmery vocals while keeping highs and mids relatively tight and distortion free. And even though the Pixel Buds don’t have a customizable EQ or even other EQ presets, there is a Bass Boost setting that delivers some extra thump.

Advertisement

Illustration for article titled Google’s New Pixel Buds Are a Perfect Example of What It Does Best

Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Now at this point it shouldn’t be a big surprise to learn that the $99 Pixel Buds A-series don’t have any kind of active noise cancellation. However, the nice fit provided by the buds’ ear tips and wings do a good job of passively blocking out sound, with tiny internal vents ensuring that air pressure doesn’t build up uncomfortably, while also letting in just enough ambient noise so you’re still aware of your surroundings. For city-dwellers like me that have to walk everywhere, that’s a big plus when commuting, with Google also providing a handy Adaptive Sound setting that automatically adjusts the volume to suit your environment. And finally, thanks to two built-in beamforming mics, using the buds for calls or video chats result in good voice quality, too.

Advertisement

Are Pixel Buds A-series Worth Buying?

Look, the Pixel Buds A-series aren’t a universe denting product—they’re not going to metaphorically snap their fingers and instantly make people forget about half of all the other wireless earbuds on the market. But for just $99, they don’t have to.

Advertisement

Here’s everything that comes included with the Pixel Buds A-series.

Here’s everything that comes included with the Pixel Buds A-series.
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

For me, they’re way more comfortable (and cheaper) than Apple’s standard AirPods with their stiff, hard-tipped design, and I think they sound better than AirPods, too. I would even say the Pixel Buds A-series are more pleasing to wear and use than the original Galaxy Buds, though the 11 hours of battery life you get with the Galaxy Buds+ is tempting, especially for anyone whose biggest priority is battery life.

Advertisement

But if all you really want are good, simple wireless earbuds, the Pixel Buds A-series have you covered. And for anyone who already owns an Android phone, the Pixel Buds A-series make a great default choice when it comes to wireless audio. So even though they’re not flashy or sexy, the Google’s newest earbuds are another example of how the company is getting pretty good at making great, simple, affordable tech.