The idea of a tiny touchpad sitting in your ear might seem off-putting, but operating the Pixel Buds is a breeze. Quick swipes forward and back control volume, a tap pauses whatever you're listening to and... well, that's mostly it. It would've been nice to have, say, a double-tap that changes the currently playing track, but that gesture is currently used for reading notifications when they land on your phone.
Here's the best part: to activate Assistant, you just long-press the right bud and lift your finger when you're done. Not only does that better isolate your command from the noise around you, it also removes the social awkwardness of having to say "OK, Google" to yourself in public. Thankfully, Assistant is very well-suited to sitting in your ear all the time -- I asked it a couple random questions and got correct answers in mere moments, just like when I talk to my phone instead. Of course, Google's built-in translation is a show-stealer, but we couldn't really test that out. Something to save for the review units, I guess. Even so, it's a very powerful differentiator for the Pixel Buds -- if AirPods claim to fame is convenience, then the Pixel Buds' is sheer usefulness.
Sadly, being in a corner of room slammed with hungry journalists made it difficult to get a sense of how they really sound. The music I piped through was perfectly audible and even pretty pleasant -- even though the Buds don't seal your ear canal the way in-ear buds do -- but the nuances were pretty quickly drowned out. The bass came through nice and punchy, though. We'll circle back on this when we get to test the Buds more thoroughly.
This isn't the first time we've been able to wear Google Assistant -- that came with smartwatches running Android Wear 2.0. It is, however, the first time wearing Google Assistant actually feels natural. I can count the number of times I've used Siri via AirPod on two hands, but I could actually imagine chatting with my Pixel Buds and getting value out of it. Here's hoping the final versions are actually worth listening to -- we'll find out when they go on sale this November.
Follow all the latest news from Google's Pixel 2 event here!