Google's Pixel Buds are getting smarter with a new set of updates

The earbuds' Assistant, Translate and sharing tools are about to get more useful.

Billy Steele / Engadget

It’s been almost four months since the Pixel Buds went on sale this year, and Google is rolling out an update today that promises to make them even smarter than they were. This is a bundle of four new tools and one experimental feature that starts rolling out to all Pixel Buds today, along with three new colors in the US — Oh So Orange, Quite Mint and Almost Black. Once you get the updated software, you’ll be able to deactivate touch controls, see your earbuds’ last location on a map and use things like bass boost, sharing detection and transcribe mode for translated speech.

The most interesting of these changes is a new Transcribe mode that builds on the existing translate feature in conversation mode. That’s been around since the original Pixel Buds from 2017 that allowed you to ask the Assistant to “help me speak French,” for example. You could hold down a button in the Translate app or press down on a bud to listen to what the other person is saying, and when you let go Google will send the converted speech to your phone or ear. When you speak, the Assistant will translate what you said to your desired language and play it over your phone for your friend.

With today’s update, Google’s transcribe mode will read the translated speech into your ear as the person is talking so you can keep up and “understand the gist of what’s being said during longer listening experiences.” This is launching for French, German, Italian and Spanish speakers to translate words spoken in English first, and according to Google it works best in a “quiet environment where one person is speaking at a time.” To activate the feature, you can say “Hey Google, help me understand English” in one of the four supported languages, and you can also see a transcript on your phone to follow along if you wish.

Google Pixel Buds 2020
Billy Steele / Engadget

We’re not really hanging out with people a lot these days, but for the days when we get back to social gatherings again, the Pixel Buds are getting a new feature that makes sharing earbuds easier. When you have sharing detection turned on and hand off a Bud to your friend, Google will let each of you swipe on your respective earbud to control the volume of just your side.

Our reviewer (and resident audio expert) Billy Steele noted when he tested the Pixel Buds that while they have decent bass tone, they could definitely use a bit more oomph. If you’ve been feeling the same way, this update has you covered. Google is adding a bass boost/EQ option in the app so you can tweak your audio to your preference.

Not everyone loves these touch controls, especially if you tend to accidentally trigger them when moving about. Now, you’ll have the option to turn these on or off, either via the app or by asking the Assistant to disable or enable touch controls. You can also ask the Assistant to tell you your Buds’ battery level after you get this update.

For the more scatter-brained among us, Google is also expanding its Find My Device to show you the last known location of the Buds. If you’re certain they’re within your vicinity, you can use the already-available tool to make either bud play a ringing sound so you can look for them.

The final update in this release is an experimental tool called “Attention Alerts.” According to Google, this uses AI to listen for “a few important sounds” like crying babies, barking dogs or blaring sirens, and will tell you when it hears these while you have the earbuds in. The Buds already listen out for ambient noise to dynamically adjust your playback volume, so Attention Alerts sounds like it builds upon this feature to make it safer for you to blast music in your ears while you’re out in the world.

If you haven’t received the update, search for Google Pixel Buds in the Play Store to see if you can manually trigger it. For more help, check out Google’s page with more information.