Comprende? How Google’s pixel earbuds helped users speak 40 languages in real-time
By Sreedevi Jayaraj

You needn’t be a fan of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to fall in love with Google’s Babelfish. The sleek earbuds named Pixel Buds which the tech giant brought to market back in 2017 is still rated among the best innovations of the year. Why? Because just like the Babelfish, the tiny being which could translate any language in any Galaxy in Douglas Adams’ world, the Pixel Buds too can translate a slew of languages in real time. Forty to be precise.

The Pixel buds connect with any Android device which is assistant enabled and has a data connection. However, the fast pairing feature works only with devices with an Android Marshmallow or above. The buds connect with Google Assistant, the company’s own virtual assistant, in order to translate. A live demo back in 2017 launch of the buds showed the buds perform almost real time conversation, fast enough to allow the user to have a proper conversation (mind boggling, right). However, this isn’t to say that it works as smoothly in the real world, taking into account all the background noises, accent changes and verbal crutches and the likes. 

So why are the Pixel buds so amazing?

There are many answers to this question. Google has been honing its translation services for years now. Soon enough, it brought to our the first babel – a breakthrough piece of technology back then which caught on soon with the tech giants who created similar ear buds. 

However, what’s truly fascinating is the tech behind the buds. The translation is powered in Google’s AI data hubs where all the processing goes one. The words are converted to text and translated to the language of your choice converted back to sound and sent to the user in almost real time, enabling the user to smoothly engage in a conversation. 

The final part of the translation process usually involves pre-recorded words or phrases sent to the user. What’s cool is that Google’s DeepMind AI research lab has created a system called the Wavenet  – which generated human sounding voices  and is programmed into the Google Assistant. This means that the words in that exotic language who listen to is being made up in real time by the assistant-almost like a living, breathing language translator whispering softly into your ear as you speak. 

When it comes to appearances, the buds are pretty deceiving. They come in tiny, unassuming oyster shell like black boxes. But open it and try it on you can cruise through any part of the world with no trace of language barriers. 

Using the buds 

The buds need to be charged for a minimum of 10 minutes. Following this, the user has to connect them to their phones and this can be done in multiple ways. 

The first option is to fast pair your device with the buds. However not every gadget will be compatible with the device for fast pairing. If you need to know if your device does fast pair with the buds, open the case after charging the buds and place them next to the device. Within a couple of seconds, a pop up will appear on the display of the device you’re attempting to connect with the buds. The pop up will have the device name, a photo and a virtual button to enable the connection. 

Fast pair is only possible if the device has Android Marshmallow or above and the latest version of the Google app installed. 

If the fast pairing option does now work, the user can even try force fast pairing the device. How do you do this? You need to press and hold the button inside the Pixel Buds case for upto 3 seconds. There will be lights blinking when the button is pressed and the notification will appear on the screen to pair the device with the buds. 

The buds can even be connected to other devices such as older android phones and IOS devices. However this is a much more time consuming process as they can only be paired manually. In this case too, the button inside the box needs to be pressed and held for thee seconds. Next, the user needs to open the Bluetooth and select Pixel Buds in the list. Following this, the user needs to navigate through the set of prompts and pop-ups to complete the pairing process and connect the device to the buds. 

How does it feel to use the Buds 

The buds, according to users, sit well on the ear without sliding into your canals. It also functions as other earbuds, letting you listen to your favourite music, podcasts and whispering audiobooks into your ear as you move around. An update that Google made following the launch of the product was the double tap function – this let you tap your bud twice to skip the current track your listening to. 

The buds are entirely voice and touch enabled. To play, pause or take a call, you can single tap on the bud’s back. To raise the volume, swipe forwards and reverse swipe for vice versa. Double tap also works when you want to check your notifications or get to hear the calendar events in the coming weeks. 

Lastly, calling the Assistant is also pretty fun. Put a finger on the right earbud and simply start talking. The Assistant picks up the commands and begin processing. Simply put, the buds are like a translator genie living inside your ear. All you need to do is rub, summon and its yours to command! 

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