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The only thing that's been missing from Google's product portfolio of late has been a pair of decent, modern in-ear headphones that can go toe-to-toe with the Apple AirPods. At a recent event to unveil its second-generation hardware, Google plugged this particular gap with the Pixel Buds, its first-ever pair of truly wireless buds.

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Design and build

Before the eagle-eyed among you point out that it looks as though there's a wire connecting the two earbuds, you're (at least technically) wrong. It's actually a small length of cord, which is mainly there for aesthetic purposes.

You could actually cut it and the headphones would still work. Google chose to design them this way so users have flexibility in terms of how they're worn. The small cord loops on both buds are Google's version of the plastic wings that are designed to help keep in-ears in position.

Because the Pixel Buds don't slot completely into your ear canal (Google calls them a 'semi-included' design), you need the loops to help keep them stable. Unfortunately, in our brief time with them, we found the whole process of adjusting the loops a bit fiddly and it was quite tricky to get a satisfactory fit.

There could be a certain technique to getting it right, but we couldn't master it in our 15 minutes with them at the launch event.

MORE: 13 truly wireless alternatives to Apple AirPods

More after the break

Features

The right earbud acts as the master, and playback is controlled by the disc on its outside. Tap to play or pause, swipe forwards to turn up the volume or backwards to turn it down.

This is in contrast to a few pairs of in-ears we've tested - more commonly, changing track is achieved using the earbuds but volume has to be adjusted via your source. If you want to change track using the Pixel Buds, you have to press and hold the disc - then ask Google Assistant to skip tracks for you.

We find the swiping to change volume works pretty consistently, but the tap to pause function didn't want to play ball while we were demoing them.

Like the Apple AirPods, the Pixel Buds come with their own compact carry-case. It's magnetic and comes in the one finish pictured here. It features a micro-USB slot for charging, and Google claims a single charge of the headphones will provide around five hours of listening.

The carry-case should give you four additional charges, which should be enough for a total of over 24 hours'  listening.

One of the features we didn't get to try was the real-time translation. Arguably the biggest news to come out of the whole Google event, the Pixel Buds, in combination with Google's new Pixel 2 smartphones, can translate around 40 languages.

Ask the Google Assistant to help you speak a language and as you start saying a sentence in English, you can hear the translation come out of the phone's speakers in real-time. Any reply will be translated and played through the Pixel Buds.

Sound quality

We weren't huge fans of the Apple AirPods when they launched - and since we reviewed them, rival wireless in-ears such as the Sony WF-1000X have set the benchmark at this kind of money.

We have a minute or two trying a couple of different tracks and, although they were from artists we aren't exactly familiar with, it is enough to suggest the Pixel Buds might have their work cut out.

They don't seem to favour an especially thick or bass-heavy sound, and it sounds like they're delivering a half-decent level of detail. They're meant to allow some ambient noise through and, in the noisy environs of the Google event, they do just that. Whether they're going to be able to deliver the pure audio quality expected at this level remains to be seen.

MORE: Best wireless Bluetooth headphones

Initial verdict

It's a brave move to jump straight in the wireless headphone market at this sort of level - the competition is fierce and there's nowhere for Google (a company with no real pedigree in this market) to hide.

They're going to have to fight hard to be heard if a) performance isn't up to scratch and b) the design doesn't deliver a satisfactory user experience. As soon as we've established whether or not they pass the test, you'll be the first to know.

MORE: 13 truly wireless alternatives to Apple AirPods

The Competition 

Apple AirPods

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Price from £149

Sony WF-1000X

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