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Google Pixel Buds: Real-time language translation in your ears

Google’s Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are phenomenal phones. They have almost everything I want in a smartphone…except one crucial port: The 3.5mm headphone jack.

But Google has a solution. They’re a pair of wireless earbuds called the Pixel Buds and although these buds look like your normal Jaybird or Jabra buds, these puppies have one kickass feature that may just give us a glimpse into the future: Real-time translation right in your ear.

OK, they’re not truly wireless earbuds ala Apple’s AirPods. They’re more like neckbuds that have a cable connecting the two bits that go into your ear so it becomes less likely for you to lose just one side.

They’re very Google-y in their design with a pastel-coloured cap on each earbud (the right one is also a touchpad) and a sexy braided cable running between both buds. This cable also loops around each bud to form a little ear that you can actually adjust so it fits your ear better.

One thing you should know about the Pixel Buds, though, is the fact that they don’t have rubber tips that can seal the sound into your ear like Xiaomi’s Mi In-Ear Headphones Pro do. Instead, they’re a lot more similar to Apple’s AirPods when it comes to fit where they just kind of sit there. This means you won’t get the sound isolation you’d normally get from a pair of in-ear headphones with rubber tips do.

There are both pros and cons to this. I’m someone who has weird ears so I can almost never find a pair of headphones that fit me properly. I’ve only ever found one and have been stocking up on them ever since. If you’re someone like me, then you might appreciate the Pixel Buds lack of in-ear rubber tips. Otherwise, the lack of sound isolation is a little bit of a bummer.

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Being Bluetooth earbuds, battery life is always a concern. Google says the Pixel Buds can last up to 5 hours on a single charge of its 120 mAh battery, which isn’t much. However, the charging case it ships with also doubles as a wireless charger and has a battery capacity of 620 mAh, so Google claims with the case you can have up to 24 hours of total listening time. The case charges via USB-C.

Music aside, the thing that’s supposed to separate these Pixel Buds from your regular earbuds is that they come with the Google Assistant, and all of its infinite wisdom, built right in. This means that while you can interact with the earbuds via the touchpad on the right of the bud, you can also control it with voice commands via Google Assistant.

But that’s not the magical part. The magical part was when Google demoed the Pixel Buds piece de resistance: Real-time translations.

OK, I’m not 100% sure you can call this real-time, but it’s way more real-time than it has ever been. The idea is, users can have a conversation in two completely different languages without missing a beat.

In their demo, the first person (who had the Pixel Buds in her ear and a Pixel 2 in her hand) was speaking in Swedish while the second person spoke to her in English. When the first person spoke in Swedish, the Pixel Buds picked up the audio, pushed it through Google Translate and played the translated text in English through the speakers on her smartphone. Then when Person 2 replied in English, the audio was picked up, translated and played through the Pixel Buds in Person 1’s ears in Swedish.

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The whole process was pretty seamless, with only brief delays between both sides of the conversation, which is pretty impressive. It’s not quite the TARDIS, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

Google’s Pixel Buds will retail for USD159 (around RM672) and comes in three colours — Just Black, Clearly White, Kinda Blue — that match Google’s new Pixel 2 smartphones.