Should you buy the 2020 Pixel Buds or the new A-Series?

This week, Google announced its newest earbuds, the Pixel Buds A-Series. They’re explicitly mid-range and don’t have all the bells and whistles of last year’s Pixel Buds, but their MSRP is also a lot lower: $99, compared to $179 for the 2020 model.

If you’re interested in a pair of Pixel Buds but don’t know which, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s what you need to know.

How are they different?

Actually, not in as many ways as you’d expect. There are two key differences between the 2020 and A-Series models: wireless charging and volume controls.

While you can plop last year’s Pixel Buds on a wireless charger for a quick top-up, that feature was removed from the A-Series. The cheaper earbuds can only charge over USB-C. The A-Series also lack on-earbud volume controls — swiping forward or back will adjust the volume up or down on last year’s pricier Pixel Buds, but the mid-range model doesn’t have any way to tweak volume without taking your phone out (unless you count the Google Assistant).

A couple of smaller differences: the less expensive A-Series don’t have the 2020 model’s motion sensors that detect when you’re talking, which could mean more background noise in phone calls. They also only have a single charging indicator light, as opposed to the 2020 model, which had separate lights for the earbuds themselves and their case.

There’s also the matter of color options. The 2020 Pixel Buds are currently available in black, white, and mint green. All three colors share the same black-and-white case. The A-Series, on the other hand, come in either white or olive green, and the insides of their cases match.

In my time with the A-Series, I’ve noticed improved Bluetooth connection strength and less interference versus last year’s model, but it’s entirely possible your mileage may vary on those fronts.

What’s the same?

Well, everything else. The Pixel Buds A-Series and the 2020 Pixel Buds sound exactly the same, have the same five-hour battery life, both connect to Android devices with Fast Pair, and both have always-on Google Assistant hotword detection (the thing that lets you activate the Assistant by saying “Hey Google”). They’re also both IPX4 rated for protection against sweat and rain, and each feature “spacial vents” on the buds that let in ambient noise and help regulate pressure inside your ears.

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It’s a little surprising for two pairs of earbuds with such vastly different price tags, but your experience with either pair will be very similar. Last year’s model just has some extra nice-to-have features.

So which should I get?

If you’re looking at buying one of these two pairs of earbuds at MSRP, I’d recommend the A-Series all day. It’s 90 percent of the Pixel Buds experience for a little more than half the price.

But while Google isn’t currently eyeing a permanent price cut for the older, more feature-rich Pixel Buds, they’ve been on sale with increasing regularity lately. We’ve seen them as cheap as 90 bucks, which, for those keeping score, is $9 less expensive than the new A-Series. If you can find a deal like that, it might be a better buy — more features for less money. Just be aware that quality control seems a bit tighter on the A-Series, so you might experience more connection issues on the older pair.

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For more info about the Pixel Buds, check out our full reviews of the 2020 model and the A-Series (and heck, the ill-fated first generation, too).

Where to buy Pixel Buds 2020:

Where to pre-order Pixel Buds A-Series:

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