AirPods Pro vs. Pixel Buds Pro

The long wait is over. Google, with the Pixel Buds Pro, now has a real competitor for Apple’s AirPods Pro. Both are earbuds. Both are “Pro.” And if you’ve read our Pixel Buds Pro review, you by now know that they’re an excellent option for anyone who wants some serious audio piped into their ears.

But that brings us to the obvious question: How do you choose between the AirPods Pro versus the Pixel Buds Pro? There’s a lot here that’s the same. There’s a little bit that’s different. And the answer might not surprise you in the slightest. Or maybe it will.

Only one way to find out — let’s put these things side by side and see.

airpods pro and pixel buds pro.
Apple’s AirPods Pro, left, and Google’s Pixel Buds Pro. Phil Nickinson/

The cases for the cases

Put the cases for the AirPods Pro and the Pixel Buds Pro next to each other and there’s very little doubt which belongs to which. Apple has done white and glossy from the start. Google has gone with an off-white matte job since the early days.

Both cases use USB for wired charging, and both support wireless charging. I use both. And given that neither has a huge battery in terms of capacity, any difference in charging time is pretty negligible.

The bigger differentiator here is on paper. Google says you’ll get 11 hours of listening time before you need to charge with ANC turned off, and seven hours if you have it turned on. There’s less of a delta in Apple’s numbers — it says you get 4.5 hours on a single charge, or up to 5 if you have ANC and transparency turned off.

Popping the buds back in the charging case will get you a total of 31 hours of listening time for the Pixel Buds Pro, with ANC turned off, and 20 hours if you have ANC turned on. Apple says to expect “more than 24 hours” of listening time for the AirPods Pro if you recharge via the case.

airpods pro case, left, and pixel buds pro case.
Two shapes, same purpose. The cases protect and charge the AirPods Pro and Pixel Buds Pro. Phil Nickinson/

Those are all just numbers on paper, though. It’s almost certainly not how most people are using them. (Seriously, don’t use earbuds for an entire day at a time. That’s bad.)

Both Pixel Buds Pro and AirPods Pro say they get you an hour of listening time with just five minutes in the case. And having scrambled to charge things up on my 20-minute drive to the gym, I’ve found that to be plenty for a 90-minute session.

I’ve found it to be ever so slightly easier to get the AirPods Pro out of their case, compared to the Pixel Buds Pro. That’s very much me picking nits, though. And if that’s the sort of thing that sways you in one direction or the other, more power to ya.

The winner: It’s a push. Both cases are fine. Both are prone to collecting dust and lint and earwax. I use Nomad leather cases on my cases for some added class. And it’s not like you have any alternatives anyway.

Fit and feel

For me, this has been the biggest difference between the AirPods Pro and Pixel Buds Pro. They have different designs and feel very different in my ears. With the default tips, the AirPods Pro feel like they sit a little lower in my ear canal, with a tighter seal. They just feel like they’re in there better. That’s not to say they don’t wiggle loose, however. Whatever my face does mid-set at the gym (I’m not going to find out what that looks like, and neither will you) occasionally changes the pressure and loosens things up. And there are times when a half-hour on the elliptical is an extra-sweaty affair and I’m constantly pushing a bud back in.

Muscle memory is a hard thing to break, and in the few days I’ve been using the Pixel Buds Pro at the gym I’ve found myself reaching up to push one back in — only to find that it was seated just fin