Mar 12th, 2019

Samsung has been making true wireless earphones for a while now, though they’ve never seen major mainstream success. But with the announcement of the Galaxy S10, the Galaxy Buds were advertised as the perfect companion. However, Galaxy S10 owners are not the only ones who should be paying attention.

Overview

The Samsung Galaxy Buds come in three colors: white, black, and a bright neon yellow. White is the easy choice, especially with what Samsung did to make these stand out. The case is a simple pill design, with only a USB-C port and a charge indicator that stands out.

Once you open it, you’re met with a simple but striking baby blue interior and two gorgeous earbuds. The plastic used on the earbuds has this amazing pearly sheen with a satin shine. The flake is greenish. The gloss touchpads, on the other hand, have a blue/purple sheen when the light hits them just right. They really are striking, like two pearls in a clam. Between them is a single charge indicator. As someone who often uses only one earbud, I do wish that there were two charge indicators here.

The earbuds are oriented just right so that you can grab them and put them directly into your ears without twisting them around. This is an oft looked-over design element. There are no magnets holding them in, but the lid is quite secure when closed.

A big issue with the Galaxy Buds are the finicky touch controls. Now I’m not one of those people who hate touch controls. In fact, the touch controls on the Sony WH-1000XM2s are fantastic and accurate. I actually prefer them over buttons. However, Samsung’s implementation is nothing but frustrating.

Single tapping generally works well. Double tapping rarely works on the first try, especially if you have a lot of hair. A mix of a tiny touch area and poor touch recognition means you have to be mindful exactly where you’re tapping and how fast you’re doing it. Triple tapping, forget about it. Works every three or four tries. This is where having a smartwatch for music control helps, as I tended to use it more than the touch controls.

Build quality

Everything on the Galaxy Buds is plastic. No “premium” materials are to be found here. However, this is far from a bad thing, as I’ve been preaching the benefits of plastic for ages. The case is well put together with no creaks or flexes, and the lid is attached firmly and has a great click when unsnapping from the closed position and another when becoming fully open. And with the earphones in the case, they weigh almost nothing

The earbuds themselves are very lightweight plastic with solid construction. The touchpad is made out of glossy plastic, unlike the rest which has a satin finish. There are no obvious gaps or any quality control problems. They are as well built as they get.

My only grievance is that the lid of the case isn’t a perfect color match to the base. The top is a little warmer, or yellower, than the rest. It’s not a big deal but it is noticeable in some light. Whether it’ll fade or not, and whether it’ll get worse, remains to be seen.

Comfort

These are some of the most comfortable earbuds I have ever used. Everything from the thin, soft silicone tips to the slim fit wings make sure they’re a gentle fit in your ear but will never fall out. You can headbang all day and they’ll stay in.

At 5.6 grams each, they’re also ridiculously light. They barely feel like they’re in your ears, unlike some competitors. And unlike the AirPods, they don’t stick out too much so they aren’t super obvious. Whether they’re for the office or gym, they feel great in the ear and you can wear them for hours with no fatigue.

Sound quality

This is where the Galaxy Buds falter. It’s not that they sound bad, but they definitely don’t sound great. I’d characterize the sound as a tad harsh, a tad bright, and not all that detailed. Bass is decently punchy at high volumes but it’s not very detailed either. It’s uninspired and basic, unbefitting of the $129 price tag. There isn’t even aptX support.

There is an equalizer in the companion app, and while I never use equalizers, this is a must. It turns the sound from bland to quite decent. It brings out warmth and detail and I don’t understand how or why. Usually equalizers just muddy the way music is meant to be heard (other than adding a little more bass of course) but this EQ is a must. Leaving it on the center dynamic setting makes for a much better listening experience.

So if earphones are all about audio, does the mediocre sound quality of the Galaxy Buds detract from the product? Not really. Of course, I wish they sounded better, and when I traveled with them, I missed proper sounding earphones. But the utility and overall use cases of these things far outweigh the audio quality. Half the time I had them turned down and the ambient sound mode turned on, meaning quality went out the window anyway.

If you’re looking for something that sounds amazing, look elsewhere. Master & Dynamic and Sennheiser both offer high-end sound in the true wireless format, with some shortcomings the Galaxy Buds don’t have.

Connection

The Galaxy Buds use Bluetooth 5.0 and rarely have connection issues. They’re one of the better true wireless earphones in this regard, as many cheaper models tend to have a flickering connection when the phone is in my pocket. You’ll occasionally hear cutouts if you press the phone against a wall or cabinet, but the last few updates have made the connection even better. I rarely had issues with a dropped connection.

Samsung phones get a bunch of special features too. Popping the case open next to a Samsung phone will give you a quick connection prompt, much like AirPods will with an iOS device. You can also use the Galaxy Wearable app to switch between different Galaxy devices on the fly, a useful feature if you want to switch between your phone and tablet.

Battery life

The AirPods feature a five-hour battery life on a single charge, setting what is essentially the gold standard for true wireless earphones. Many quality models have reached this level, while many have fallen way below. Sure three hours may be enough in many cases, but what about when it isn’t? Charging them in between listens sucks.

These earphones take it a step further and feature a massive six-hour battery life on a single charge. And it’s not just marketing, as you’ll be able to hit that figure with lower volumes. This gives you almost an entire workday of listening without having to put them back in the case. It’s fantastic, especially for travel.

And if you do need to charge them, a 15-minute charge will give you another 1.7 hours of play time. So a quick break can get you through a workday, easy.

Unfortunately, the case does lack the battery life we see from competitors. It only provides an extra 7 hours of charge time or a little more than a single charge. The AirPods case can provide almost four charges, totaling over 24 hours of battery life. Even the Master & Dynamic MW07, with a fairly average or even poor 3.5 hours of battery life, manage to get 14 hours total thanks to the case. This is a necessary sacrifice to get the case down to its tiny size, but it is a downside if you’re away from a charger for a long time.

Thankfully, this is where the synergy with the Galaxy S10 comes into play. These not only charge via USB-C (where microUSB charging is simply no longer acceptable), but also support wireless charging. This isn’t necessarily useful at home, but if you need a top up, the Galaxy S10 family of devices feature Powershare, which is basically reverse wireless charging. Slap the case on the back of your phone and they’ll start charging. This is also the case with the Mate 20 Pro. It’s a neat trick, but you’re likely not going to use it often.

Features

Samsung has packed a bunch of features into the Galaxy Buds via the Galaxy Wearable app. From there you can view the individual earbud’s battery life, customize the touch controls, enable and disable ambient mode, mess with the equalizer, manage notification controls, and update the firmware.

Ambient mode is a notable feature, as it pumps outside noise into your earphones giving you better situational awareness. With the music turned down, it’s almost like it’s being played by a speaker. There’s also a toggle to focus on voices, giving you the ability to chat with people. While the sound sucks (it’s extremely bright and harsh), it’s an invaluable feature to have and I love it. You can also hold one of the touch pads to enable quick ambient mode, if this feature is enabled. Unfortunately, as of writing this review, the last update seems to have disabled the use of ambient mode when only one earphone is in use.

As far as the microphones, these earphones have both inner and outer microphones for superior sound. Callers say I sounded very good and very clear, with no complaints about audio quality.

Conclusion

The Samsung Galaxy Buds don’t get everything right, but they get enough right to get a glowing recommendation from me. For everyday use where sound quality isn’t critical, you just can’t beat the combination of comfort, compact size, and battery life. You can throw them in your pocket and take them everywhere. This is what gives them the same sort of versatility and “magic” as the AirPods have long had.

If you’re a Samsung phone owner, these are a no brainer. The extra features offered put them above most other products. If you own any other smartphone, they’re still a great buy. But if you need audio quality on the go, you can do much, much better.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Rating: star_fullstar_fullstar_fullstar_fullstar_50 (4.5 / 5)

The Good

  • Ridiculously comfortable
  • Amazing battery life
  • Ambient mode is a nice addition
  • Good price point
  • Tiny case

The Bad

  • Sound quality isn’t great
  • App can be slow to load
  • Case battery life isn’t the best
  • No pause on removal
  • Touch controls, but the bad kind

The Bottom Line

Samsung took everything good about wireless earphones, packed them with better battery life than anyone else, and put them out at a fantastic price. They may not sound great, but everything else they do is top notch.