The uneven distribution of “Her” / by Mike Hudack

I've experienced the future in the form of Her. and it's awesome.

The Pixel 3 comes with a white pair of USB-C earbuds that have Google Assistant fully integrated. You don't have to press a button and wait for a beep like with other headphones. You just talk. And you get an answer immediately. It's a truly conversational interface.

With Assistant-enabled headphones you can seamlessly ask questions like:

  • How long until I get to my destination?
  • What time is my flight?
  • Call Best Buy Union Square (it'll look up the number on the internet and connect your call)
  • What's the score in the Yankees game?
  • How far am I from home?
  • What gate does my plane leave from?

When a notification comes in from an app you've pre-approved to interrupt you via audio your music will duck for a second while Assistant reads you a summary of what just happened. If it's a message you can reply by voice if you want. It's super slick.

I haven't tried it yet, but the headphones are also capable of acting like a babel fish. Just tell them "Help me speak Chinese," and off you go.

The software is incredible but the hardware is flawed. I think only a few headphones support Google Assistant in this way: The USB-C Pixelbuds, the Bluetooth Pixelbuds, the Bose QC 35 II and a pair or two of JBL headphones.

The USB-C pixel buds hurt my ears after a while, don't isolate outside sound well and sound poor. The QC 35 IIs are great headphones for when you're on a plane or at your desk, but not for walking around a city. The Bluetooth Pixelbuds are buggy and don't offer outside sound isolation (they hurt less than the cheap plastic USB-C freebies though). I haven't tried the JBLs.

Almost all Bluetooth headphones claim to support Google Assistant, but don't believe them unless you see the Assistant logo. The ones without the logo basically just support Google Now: press a button, wait for a chime, say something and hope for a reasonable answer. Hardly a seamless experience. Don't bother.

I don't understand why there aren't more headphones with true Google Assistant integration. The experience is pretty phenomenal and it should be a big selling point. But most people (including gadget reviewers) don't seem to understand the functionality. They openly ask why some headphone makers advertise Google Assistant integration in the first place, noting that "all Bluetooth headphones can summon the Assistant."

They just don't get it. We are living in a Her-like feature, but it's poorly understood and unevenly distributed. It's time for Google to step up its product marketing game.