Google’s new Pixel Buds headphones feature real-time translation, so we decided to put it to the test to see whether learning foreign languages could become a thing of the past. Read on and watch our video to find out what happened.
The Pixel Buds are Google’s new premium wireless earbuds, launching just after the Google Pixel 2 smartphone. Their big selling point is real-time translation with Google Translate, exclusive to Pixel phones.
We enlisted the help of three foreign-language-speaking colleagues from Italy, China and Norway, to put the Google Pixel Buds translation through its paces. See how well it performed in the video below:
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As you can see, the Pixel Buds’ translation performed surprisingly well. In most cases, you’ll be able to understand what the other person is saying, even if the translation isn’t quite perfect.
It performed well in Italian with few errors, and our Italian speaker even said she thought it sounded too Italian. The two Norwegian dialects prevented it from sounding quite right to our Norwegian speaker, and with Mandarin Chinese – a more difficult test compared to the European languages – it also performed remarkably well, although it didn’t always have natural-sounding phrasing.
So while it’s not going to fool anyone that it’s human, the Pixel Buds translation feature seems to work well enough in day-to-day conversation to get by, for example if you’re on holiday and the taxi driver fails to turn up at the airport.
How the translation process works
When you speak, the Pixel Buds hear your voice, and your Pixel phone’s speaker plays the translation of what you said out loud to the person you’re talking to. When they speak back, your smartphone hears it and the Google Pixel Buds play the translation of what they said directly into your ears.
It all takes place using the Google Translate app on your Pixel phone. The Pixel Buds have a touch-sensitive pad on the right earbud that you hold down to cue the Google Assistant. You then say the language you want to translate, like this: ‘Help me speak French.’
The Google Translate app then pops up, and you’re ready to go. Just hold down the Pixel Buds’ touch-sensitive pad while you’re speaking, and let go when you want it to play back the translation.
And to hear the translation of the person you’re speaking to, hold down the microphone icon in the Google Translate app while they’re speaking. At each stage, you’ll see a transcript of what’s being said on the app screen.
Other Pixel Buds headphone features
The Pixel Buds are Bluetooth wireless earphones, Google’s answer to Apple’s popular Airpods and Samsung’s Gear IconX 2018. All of them work with carrying cases that also charge them, allowing their batteries to last throughout the day, despite the diminutive size.
To make them even smaller, Google has opted to have a cord linking them (handy if you fear losing Apple’s Airpods). The touch-sensitive pad on the right earbud allows you to play and pause music, change volume with a swipe and activate the Google Assistant voice assistant to perform a task with a long press.
To read our first impressions when we tried them, read our full Google Pixel Buds first look review.