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Google Pixel Buds - are they worth the hype?

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Last week Google introduced its new Pixel earbuds, and everyone’s talking about them - though in their own language only for the moment. The phone gadget, which will be released in the UK on November 22 of this year, will supposedly enable monolingual people to speak foreign languages without having to learn them. Are we being told everything, though?

About a year ago Google, introduced the brand new Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones. Totally unaware of the unwanted gaffe they would be subject to twelve months later, the company confidently reassured its potential buyers that the two phones had been both equipped with a headphone jack, and mocked Apple for dropping it in its newly launched iPhone 7.

Now, with the recent launch of the Pixel earbuds, Apple can certainly have its last laugh. In fact, the product comes as a complementary gadget for the new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL phones, which, guess what? are not provided with a jack either. At the moment, the wireless earbuds are only compatible with these two phones and they’re sold at a price of £159. Which is not exactly cheap. Especially considering its flabbergasting ability to act as “your own personal translator with you everywhere you go” is an imprecise and misleading description of the product.

In fact Pixel Buds are just simple headphones, with the addition of a feature that allows users, through touching the right bud, to activate Google Assistant without having to unlock their phone.

But let’s move onto the feature that has earned the Pixel Buds their popularity: their translation feature. The buds alone cannot translate anything, they weren’t created like that. In order to be able to use them, you would have to buy a Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL smartphone, each sold at around £600. 

In fact, the only way the buds can simultaneously translate a conversation between two people speaking two different languages is by using the Google Translate app. The app, which can be easily downloaded from the Google or App Store, is free and can be used on any phone. After having selected the language you want it to translate from and the one you want your translation to be in, you can speak in front of your microphone and the app will record what you’re saying and immediately translate it.

On the plus side, though, we have to admit Pixel Buds will save a lot of time for users. Is it worth the hype, then? Pixel Buds is a product tailored to fit a possibly busy, constantly multitasking working person. And they would probably find it very useful. The average user’s reality is different, though.

According to a Daily Mail article, “the average person checks their device 85 times per day, spending a total of five hours browsing the web and using apps.” That means we spend a great portion of our daily lives tapping on our phones. A pair of headphones is not going to change that. You can’t update your social media without physically accessing them on your phone, nor can you take pictures to be later posted on Instagram or make a story on Snapchat without using your hands.

Do you still need to study languages, then? Oh, yes, of course, you do. Whether you buy the Pixel Buds or not, you won’t be able to get a 100% accurate real-time translation from Google Translate - the software isn’t sophisticated enough to recognise idiomatic expressions yet and might make translations a bit funny or hard to figure out sometimes. But one thing’s for sure: Google has certainly reached a very good point in the language recognition study, and, though not exactly accessible in terms of price, the Pixel Buds are a proof of what we can do with our phones at present. And nothing tells us that one day, maybe not so far in the future, our dreams of some spotless simultaneous translation buds will come true.

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