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Amazon’s New Buds Make It Easier to Summon Alexa Than Ever

Amazon’s New Buds Make It Easier to Summon Alexa Than Ever

If you’re in love with Alexa, Amazon’s first-generation Echo Buds were a great pair of headphones. Sure, they didn’t have the same sound quality or noise-canceling abilities as premium options from Apple and Samsung, but they were cheap, decent, and worked better with Amazon’s voice assistant than any other pair.

With its second generation, the Seattle-based tech giant refines its buds to something even more competitive. Wireless charging and noise-canceling join a brand-new pair of 5.7-mm drivers and beamforming microphones to create what’s probably the best overall experience in wireless earbuds below $150.

Add to that some of the best app integration available today, and the new Echo Buds are some of my favorite jack-of-all-trades headphones.

New for Gen Two

The new Echo Buds don’t really resemble their predecessors, apart from being made from the same matte plastic. The old case was more flat than tall, with the earbuds sitting at an angle inside, while the new wireless charging case is tall and thin.

They look and feel more streamlined. The buds themselves are now totally round on the outside, and what previously were two shiny, raised touch controls are now indistinguishable from the rest of the headphones, save for the Amazon arrow logo.

Noise-canceling chips, new mics, and better drivers mean the new Echo Buds feel a touch bulky, though they’re still 21 percent smaller than their predecessors. Still, I had no problem with them in my average-sized earholes; they land firmly in the post-Frankenstein’s Monster era of wireless earbuds.

Finding the right fit is a big priority for Amazon. Pop open the case, pair them to the Alexa app on your phone, and it’ll make sure that you’ve chosen the right ear tip size (Amazon includes four options, as well as two sizes of silicone earfins), thanks to a fit test inside the app.

Amazon Echo Buds and ear tips
Photograph: Amazon

I like the Echo Buds’ fit a bit more than AirPods Pro (8/10, WIRED Recommends), because they don’t have the little elephant trunks of the AirPods, but I’ve got to hand it to Apple on noise-canceling. Even with the wrong size of eartips on Apple’s flagship earbuds, they reduce background noise noticeably better than these Amazon buds. Still, the Echo Buds beat AirPods Pro on battery life (5 hours with noise-canceling to Apple’s 4), and they come with a quick charging capability that will get you 2 hours of listening with a 15-minute trip to the wall.

As with most non-Apple headphones, the Echo Buds work better with Android phones than iPhones, though they are compatible with Siri and Google Assistant, in addition to Amazon’s own helper. I spent the vast majority of my listening time using a Samsung Note 20 Ultra 5G that Samsung provided me on long-term loan, and they worked flawlessly. I even paired them to my Galaxy Watch with ease.

Alexa Onboard

If you like Alexa. the best part about the buds is how easy they make it to summon Amazon’s AI assistant. I liked using the Echo Buds to set timers, check the weather before runs, and check my schedule with my hands free.

Obviously, your mileage will vary based on how much you like voice assistants and Alexa in particular, but it’s worth trying the voice-activation feature before you turn it off.

Google’s $99 A-Series Earbuds Are AirPods for Android

Google’s $99 A-Series Earbuds Are AirPods for Android

AirPods are the best-selling wireless headphones of all time because they’re convenient. They pair instantly with your iPhone, iPad, or MacBook, and sound fine for most purposes. It’s why people still buy them in droves, even if the acoustics, fit, and battery life have been dwarfed by similarly priced competitors. Well, Android owners, you finally have an option that matches Apple’s convenience: Google’s new Pixel Buds A-Series.

The $100, no-frills buds pair instantly with your phone and are extremely simple to use, though they sacrifice some features from pricier buds. But when you have a comfortable fit, good sound, and an AirPods-beating sweat-resistance rating for workouts at a reasonable price, you don’t really need much else. The A-Series are the best starter buds for most people and a no-brainer for those on Android.

Sleek and Slender

Pixel Buds Series A
Photograph: Google

In many ways, the A-Series are identical to the higher-tier Pixel Buds from 2020 that Google still sells. Like the company’s Pixel smartphones, the A indicates this model is the affordable option with pared-down features. 

They still come in an oval-shaped and matte-white case that feels like standard issue for Stormtroopers. Flick open the top hatch and familiar round earbuds come into view, this time in either white or a classy olive green. A tiny G on each earbud lets you know who made them. 

Elephant trunk–like earfins pop out of the top of each bud to keep them secure in your ears, and I’ve seen some reviewers complain that they’re not removable. That doesn’t bug me. The earbuds are so small they’re essentially one-size-fits-all, and the earfins are flexible enough for a uniform fit in any ear. 

The buds are technically smaller and lighter than the Pixel Buds that came before but only by a few milligrams. They’re lightweight enough to stay comfortable during rigorous movement. In fact, they’re some of the most comfortable and stable earbuds I’ve tested in awhile, easily holding up to long runs, drumming sessions, and various play sessions with my dogs.

Open the case, pull a bud out, and phones running Android version 6.0 and up will recognize the earbuds, instantly download the Pixel Buds app, and pair with them. I was listening to music in literal seconds the first time I popped them in. It’s worth noting that this quick pairing Bluetooth feature for Android has been available on many recent buds from Samsung, among others, and it’s always a joy to see it work. This is the first time I’ve encountered it in a pair this cheap, and it was flawless.

Several owners complained of Bluetooth connectivity issues with the audio cutting out on the previous Pixel Buds, which sometimes occurs due to interference or weak signal, so you’ll be happy to hear I didn’t run into this problem with the A-Series. I was able to walk 20 to 30 feet away from my phone in my backyard before things got choppy, which isn’t out of the ordinary.

Touch controls on the outside of each bud work well and do exactly what you expect. Tap for play or pause, double-tap to change songs, tap and hold to activate Google Assistant, and so on. Unfortunately, there’s no way to adjust volume without pulling out your phone. Touch buttons usually bug me during workouts because my sweaty hair often triggers them to switch songs or pause music mid-run, but that didn’t happen anywhere near as often on these IPX4-rated buds. They only accidentally paused my tunes once or twice.

Shockingly Detailed Sound

Pixel Buds Series A on mannequin head
Photograph: Google

Acoustically, the new A-Series is very similar to its pricier sibling. The 12-mm dynamic drivers inside do well to provide plenty of bass but never feel mushy or fuzzy down low. It feels odd to say this, given that I don’t have a standard pair of headphones I wear every day, but the sound signature feels very natural. It reminds me of the many great pairs of wired in-ears from Sony, Shure, and others I’ve tried over the years.