When I upgraded from my Nexus 5X to a Pixel 2, I didn’t worry about living the headphone #donglelife. I figured I would just replace my current headphones with a cheap USB-C pair, because I usually buy my earbuds from airport kiosks for $20 or less. I had ruled out Bluetooth earbuds, because I loathe the idea of charging yet another gadget, and I tend to lose things. I thought finding earbuds for Google’s flagship phone would be easy. I thought wrong.
Here were my basic requirements: in-ear headphones with a microphone that cost less than $25 and that could plug directly into my Pixel 2 with no dongle. I lost Google’s included Pixel dongle about 18 hours into unboxing my phone, and found its huge size annoying and disruptive to the neat headphone-wrapping trick Dieter taught me. I don’t have particularly high audio quality standards for earbuds, because I mostly use my phone to listen to podcasts and talk to my family.
I started at the obvious place, Amazon, thinking I would have tons of choices. That was not the case; there were a few pairs under $30 from brands I’d never heard of, like Viotek, Sunwe, Smart&Cool, New Bee, and Morjava, but most were rated 3.5 stars or fewer and none had built-in microphones. Rltek was advertising a $13 pair, but it turned out to be normal earbuds with a bundled USB-C dongle. Back to square one.
I turned to The Verge’s resident headphone reviewer, Vlad Savov, to ask if he would recommend a pair. He replied “None!” but kindly polled his audiophile followers. One came back with the Libratone Q Adapt, which are Made for Google certified but cost $149, which I refuse to pay. LeEco’s have no photo, are out of stock, and possibly never existed. A few people mentioned that Xiaomi introduced a pair earlier this year that might or might notwork with the Pixel 2. It was worth a shot, I thought, even though they were over my budget at $44.
I had to buy Xiaomi’s noise-cancellation in-ear earphones Type-C version from a site I had never heard of called GearBest.com. It scored an “F” from the Better Business Bureau and sent me a promotional email with the subject line “Trick or Treat, These Deals Are Leet.” Nonetheless, my order shipped the next day and arrived seven business days later, well within the five- to 15-day estimate.
To my relief, Xiaomi’s earbuds do in fact work with the Pixel 2. They come in a little plastic box that stores different sizes of ear cups, and include a cloth carrying pouch. The built-in controller can successfully adjust volume and pause or play music from apps like Spotify. Enabling active noise canceling on the controller does make a difference, though it can’t quite drown out the New York City subway. The audio quality is decent, but I wouldn’t say they sound $20 better than I am used to.
The earbud casing is a cheap-feeling plastic, not the “high hardness and durable” titanium plating advertised on GearBest. They are huge compared to my old earbuds — presumably to accommodate active noise canceling — which I do not love. According to my mom, the microphone sounds better than speakerphone but still a bit muffled, and I was getting some echo talking to her on the phone. The USB-C plug itself is tiny and hard to grip and remove from the Pixel 2, tempting me to yank them out by the cord and wear them out faster.
Two weeks after starting my cheap Pixel 2 earbud search, I finally have a working pair — but they cost almost twice the amount I wanted to spend, and don’t feel very premium. If I lose or break them, it’ll cost me almost $50 and another 10-day wait. The next time I upgrade my phone, they may not be compatible. Even the Apple Store sells $29 Lightning EarPods. Google needs to do a lot better by its Pixel owners than a single $149 USB-C option. Even better, just give us back the damn headphone jack.
Have you found the unicorn of good, cheap USB-C earbuds with a built-in microphone? Leave a comment.