Despite a few hiccups, Google’s Pixel Buds might just be my favorite true wireless earbuds on the market. The combination of clever, comfortable design with Google‘s unmatched assistant integration makes them a joy to use. But as with anything, they could be improved, and an update from Google today seeks to do just that.

Google is adding a plethora of features to the Pixel Buds today that significantly expand their functionality. The most notable for many will likely be the new bass boost EQ, which should make the bass heads out there happy; this is accessible right from the device’s settings.

A transcribe mode helps fulfill some of the Pixel Buds’ original promise as an in-ear translator. While the earbuds could already be used to aid in conversations between different languages, the new transcribe mode is arguably more useful. In situations where you simply need to translate audio without your own response — say, if listening to a speech in another language — Google can now directly translate the audio into your ears. At launch, the feature supports translating English into Spanish, French, German, and Italian.

Also notable is a new sharing detection feature. Now, the earbuds can automatically recognize when you’re sharing one earbud with someone else. This allows you to set the volume individually for each ear — a welcome change for anyone who’s ever had to share earbuds with someone who has a totally different sensitivity to volume.

Another clever addition includes what Google is calling ‘attention alerts.’ Using AI, Google can detect a few important sounds, including a baby crying, a dog barking, or an emergency siren. Once detected, the earbuds will play a chime and lower your music volume so you’re made aware of the noises you might’ve otherwise missed. Of course, a lot of people play music so they can drown out such sounds, but the feature is optional for each individual type of sound, and alerts won’t retrigger within one minute of the same sound.

And rounding up the news:

  • The Pixel Buds will now record their last known location, which you can access via Google’s Find My Device; this is useful should you have left the earbuds at a coffee shop or some location other than your home.
  • You can now turn touch controls off altogether, should you find yourself accidentally activating them often.
  • You can now ask the Google Assistant a couple of new queries, including “Hey Google, turn on/off my touch controls” and “what’s the battery on my earbuds?”
  • Software aside, the Pixel Buds are finally available in new colors, including ‘Quite Mint,’ ‘Almost Black,’ and ‘Oh So Orange.’

It’s encouraging to see Google doubling down on the software aspect of its headphones, enhancing them with new features long after their initial release. That was, after all, part of the original appeal of the Pixel line-up in the first place; Google is a software company, and many of its best features are based on AI rather than the best hardware around.

The updates begin rolling out to Pixel Buds users today. Now, if the next update could just include a noise-canceling mode…

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Published August 20, 2020 — 16:54 UTC

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