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Google Pixel Buds 2 vs. Google Pixel Buds: Are the new wireless buds better?

On October 15, 2019, Google officially announced the Pixel Buds 2, its follow up to the Google Pixel Buds, its first wireless earbuds. Unlike the Pixel Buds, the Pixel Buds 2 are a set of true wireless earbuds, making them a lot more like Apple’s AirPods than the first generation. But ditching the cord isn’t the only difference between the new and the old Pixel Buds. We still don’t know all of the details — Google’s announcement was more of a tease than a launch — but here’s what we’ve been able to gather so far, and we’ll be updating this post as we learn more.


Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Google’s new Pixel Buds 2 will be $179 when they go on sale in 2020, making them $20 more expensive than the Google Pixel Buds which hit retail at $159. The price jump isn’t a surprise given that true wireless earbuds are usually more expensive to make than tethered earbuds, but we were surprised to see Google announce a price for the Pixel Buds 2 that would put them above Apple’s AirPods, which start at $159 for the non-wirelessly charging case.


The biggest difference between the Google Pixel Buds and the new Pixel Buds 2 is the design. As mentioned above, the Pixel Buds 2 use a true wireless design which matches a set of earbuds with a charging case — a model that has become an industry standard. The earbuds themselves are also smaller, fitting nearly flush with your ear, as opposed to the Pixel Buds which are larger and stick out prominently.

The Pixel Buds 2 employ a conventional earbud design, but with a twist: A small air duct — called a spatial vent –incorporated into the main sound channel lets some ambient sounds in, reducing the extent to which the in-ear buds isolate the user from the world around them. We expect the result of this design is a set of earbuds that fit securely and stay put. This stands in stark contrast to the Pixel Buds, which use an almost-in-the-ear design that we found disconcertingly un-snug.

Battery life

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Somewhat surprisingly, battery life for the new Pixel Buds 2 is about the same as the Pixel Buds: Five hours of continuous use on a single charge, with the charging case providing up to 24 hours of additional time. This puts the Pixel Buds 2 on par with Apple’s AirPods, but well behind many other true wireless earbuds, some of which now offer up to 10 hours of use on a single charge.

Extra features

One of the cool aspects of the Pixel Buds, when they were announced, was Google’s real-time translation feature. This has been preserved in the new Pixel Buds 2. However the performance of this feature — as well as call quality and the ability to talk to the Google Assistant — should be significantly better in the Pixel Buds 2, thanks to its beam-forming microphones, which focus on your voice while voice accelerometers detect speech through your jawbone.

The optional Adaptive Sound feature will further enhance these functions as it dynamically adjusts the volume based on how noisy your surroundings are. It’s not quite as fancy as active noise cancellation, but it’s still a nice upgrade.

But perhaps the most notable feature change on the Pixel Buds 2 is the ability to summon the Google Assistant with just your voice. On the Pixel Buds, you need to tap one of the earbuds before saying, “Hey Google,” but now you can just say it and you’ll get an immediate response.

More to come

We still don’t know if the Google Pixel Buds 2 will have any kind of IPX protection from water. Google said the new Pixel Buds are sweat- and water-resistant, but just how resistant is still uncertain.

And, of course, we don’t know how the new buds sound. We weren’t exactly blown away by the audio performance of the Pixel Buds, so we’re hoping that Google has made some strides in this department. The company said the Pixel Buds 2 deliver “excellent sound quality,” and there’s no doubt that the new design should help, but we won’t know if Google succeeded until we try them out.

So check back with us over the next few weeks and months. We’ll keep this comparison up to date with all of the latest details as soon as we get them.


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Facebook Portal review

Facebook has had a rocky last few years. The company seemed to be hit with scandal after scandal around user data and privacy. Some of those questions and concerns still remain with Facebook, and it’s the main reason I keep my account inactive.Despite this, I reactivated everything to take a look at the 10-inch model of the Facebook Portal.I came away with a new appreciation of how well Facebook can make devices when truly focused. Now, don’t take this to mean the Portal doesn’t have a few misses on the docket. Let’s dive deeper with our full review.HardwareFacebook has done a great job of design here with the Portal. It’s sturdy and well built with smooth lines. You do have a bezel, but I think that’s appropriate to move the unit around to get things focused for video without smudging the display.Functionality seems to be the all around main focus of Facebook with the Portal. It didn’t ignore its faults with privacy either. For instance, in the top-left corner, you will find a physical switch that offers two stages of privacy. The first slide cuts off the audio and when pushed a notch further it kills the video as well.This is a concerted effort by the Facebook team to take an obvious concern by users and offer a well-thought-out solution. You can rest assured that while sitting in your home not being used, that the Portal is fully muted for input.Rounding out the front is the 114-degree camera array. Honestly, it’s just impressive. The camera is very similar to what Microsoft has done in the past with the Kinect; it finds subjects in the frame and automatically adjusts to include everyone it can.This really shows up when a single person is joined by another individual. The camera will slowly pan out to include the other person or party of people. It can adjust the Portal view to include at least four people comfortably sitting side by side.In reverse, the camera will zoom back in and focus on the smaller subjects as people leave the camera view. It’s a nice touch by Facebook to keep the users in focus and offer the best video.To be clear, this does lead to a little fish-eye effect when a single person is present at times. It all depends on the surroundings. With that said the feature’s positives far outweigh this negative.Around the rear of the Portal, you will find a fairly robust speaker and a single USB-C port. The USB-C port seems to just be for the occasional data transfer but that’s about it.This port also allows you to use Ethernet to USB-C adapters and video out adapters. Yes, if you want, you can use your TV as the monitor. I’m not sure how many would actually use this but it’s another nice inclusion.Even when using an external display, the sound is still pumped through the Portal’s speaker. That’s not a deal-breaker, though, as the sound produced by the Portal is very good. It has a built-in subwoofer and highs/mids sound fine.Video calls I made with the Portal all sounded great with no issues hearing my family. (Thanks to Facebook, my sister got to play with one as well!)The only other port on the Portal is the power input. I’m really torn on the design of this proprietary power supply. To its credit, Facebook made it functional by turning it into the stand. Also cool, the Portal can be used in landscape or portrait mode.My complaint is that it’s a proprietary and extremely unique port. I’d have loved to see Facebook use its think tank of engineers to find a way to still have the stand mechanism while allowing it to be powered by the universal standard of USB-C.SoftwareFacebook has limited and expanded on software in some predictable ways. You can only use the Portal with Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp to make video calls. While limited, this is understandable as the company’s most used and recognizable chat apps.As mentioned in the hardware section, the calls are crisp, clear, and you can even add AR stickers and Snap-style filters to your calls. It’s a fun addition to have when talking to your friends and family.One other thing that came up a couple of times with calls is that you can stop and start calls via the Portal and transfer to mobile. And vice versa. This is a nice touch for someone who is about to head out the door or who might be just getting home.My sister had a few times where’d I’d call a few minutes earlier than expected and she answered from her phone. It was nice to know that you could transfer the call to Portal by pressing the contact name on the Portal and it then asks to end the call on the previous device and join.A side-note to video chat is Facebook claims that the Portal will eventually be compatible with Messenger Rooms. This is the new Zoom-style plugin for Messenger to allow dedicated conference “rooms” with a group conversation. There’s no timeline to when this will be in place but it’s good to know the company is thinking about it.Other Apps and FunctionsApps are pretty bare. There’s no Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime Video. You’re limited to just Facebook Watch for video content. Spotify and Pandora are both on board, but that’s about it. Additionally, you have a Photo Booth app to send fun AR photos or a selfie to your friends.There is a web browser that looks to be based on Chromium. It allowed me to access some sites like Plex and YouTube, but Netflix was a hard stop, as was Hulu.To round out the software side of things, you have Alexa built atop Facebook’s other offerings. This does not get you Echo video calling but does seem to provide almost every other feature.You can start music via voice, ask it questions, and see your Ring video cameras. Once you connect the device to Alexa it’s a pretty full-fledged option other than the Echo specific video chats.Who is Portal for?I struggled with this question. The Facebook Portal is a great device, but it just happens to be limited. On the other hand, it seems to be by design and I think that might be a good thing.As current conditions have taught us around COVID-19, dedicated apps and devices with specific purposes sometimes shine when they are able to fit their niche. Look at Zoom, for example, and all of the ways people are using it now. The Facebook Portal fills a need, but it just may not be for everyone.I’ve decided that the Portal by Facebook fills a void in the market that Google, Amazon, and Apple aren’t doing right now. It’s mainly just for video chatting. And it works near flawlessly with an account that billions of people already are signed up and using.We’re Already HereIt’s the only dedicated video chat device that I literally had a conversation with my Mom, sister, daughter, and my in-laws. And it didn’t require any of them to download and toil through a new app experience.I can’t do that with Facetime, Google Duo/Hangouts, or Snapchat. I can’t do that with a Google Home or Amazon Echo Show either. For $180 it’s not an impulse buy, but in the times of video happy hours and social distancing, this is by far the best product Facebook offers. Be sure to hit the Portal product page to find the one that fits your needs.

T-Mobile launches “Connecting Heroes”, provides free unlimited service to first responders

Carriers have felt an immense obligation to Americans during the current situation, and have taken many steps in line with the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge.Now, T-Mobile, newly merged with Sprint, has launched the Connecting Heroes program. This program pledges $7.7 billion dollars over the next 10 years towards keeping first responder agencies connected to critical wireless infrastructure.The two main pillars of this initiative are providing free unlimited plans to first responder agencies as well as ensuring that they have network priority. The plan includes free unlimited 5G access, 1 gigabyte of 4G LTE hotspot data that downgrades to 3G afterwards, Mobile without Borders, and 480p video streaming. Individuals can upgrade this plan for $15 to get 20 gigabytes of mobile hotspot, unlimited texting,  international data connections, and free texting + unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi.For first responders to be eligible for this, the agency needs to create a business account and adhere to the criteria laid out on the Connecting Heroes Page. Ineligible first responders can sign up on an individual basis via the Magenta First Responder plans.T-Mobile wants to give thanks to other customers as well, though. Sprint + T-Mobile customers can get a free iPhone SE or a deep discount on a flagship from another brand with an eligible trade-in, with no need to add a line or anything else. This promotion lasts from Friday, May 22 to Monday, May 25.You can watch the announcement from CEO Mike Sievert below.