True wireless headphones are one of the most influential trends in audio today, with significant headphone brands trying to claim a lot of the action after the launch and subsequent achievement of Apple AirPods. And while the Samsung’s Galaxy Buds are the South Korean company’s next big game in the real wireless earphone market, they are not Samsung’s first attempt at being truly wireless: The company has manufactured two generations of the Gear IconX. This is our Samsung Galaxy Buds Review.
What classifies the Galaxy Buds from the IconX, though, is that the latter abolishes Gear branding and these earbuds are part of the Galaxy family alongside the new Galaxy S10, Galaxy S10 Plus, and Galaxy S10e – three handsets that offer a neat trick with the Buds, but more on that later. Almost a year after their release, a new pair of Samsung genuine wireless earphones are on the horizon. The Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus is set to improve the battery life of their predecessors and will come with exceptional support for iPhone users in the form of an iOS app.
We expect the new wireless earbuds to be launched on February 11th at Samsung’s Unpacked event – where we’ll also see the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S20.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Review – Design
Overall, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds look very attractive, with a slick all-white design (comes in all-black color too) consisting of two earplugs and a charging case. The earplugs themselves look sleek and compact, with gentle rubber wingtips for a secure fit in your ears. You get small, medium, and large earplugs and wingtips in the box, so you can easily find a combination that fits your ear perfectly. Although the tips feel rather graceful when you put them in for the first time, and there is a risk of them falling out, they are surprisingly stable and quite comfortable to use.
The lack of cables pulling them down means they stay in the ear due to a surprising amount of head twisting or bobbing, and we found that they have survived gymnastics sessions and runs and have a healthy amount of rocking. A new design feature is the use of a mother-of-pearl material on the outer casing of the buttons, which reflects light beautifully and has an almost holographic effect. The housings not only look good, but also act as touch controls, allowing you to play/pause your music, change tracks, answer/end phone calls, and launch Samsung’s voice assistant on compatible devices.
You can also customize the long-press action for the Galaxy Buds via Samsung’s Galaxy Wearable app (Android only), choose volume (top right, bottom left), or launch Bixby (long press on one of the buttons). Since our first review, a Samsung Galaxy Buds update includes hands-free Bixby voice control, plus improved touch control and the ability to always keep the ambient sound function. The touch control is convenient, but you need to be extremely precise with your taps, applying enough pressure to the flat part of the buds to register your action.
On several occasions, we missed the mark or didn’t apply enough pressure, so we have to try again (sometimes several times). Although this is only an inconvenience when sitting at a desk, it becomes more of a problem when you’re moving, and your hand is less stable – for example when you’re in the gym or on the run. The good thing is that over time, with use, you’ll be more attuned to the system and eventually get better – although we still don’t have a 100% success rate.
Now on the charging case, it is incredibly compact and can easily be slid into your pocket when you are listening on the go. If you have used the Samsung Gear IconX, you will notice that the whole package here is much smaller than the latest generation of earphones. It is 30% smaller, and that certainly makes a difference if you keep it in your pocket. The case generally feels pretty solid, with a snap-shut lid, and magnets that hold the earplugs in place when not in use.
On the outside of the case, you will find a small LED that indicates how much battery the case has, while an LED on the inside of the case shows how much charge your earbuds have left. There is a USB-C charging port on the back of the case – the Galaxy Buds comes with a USB-C cable so you can charge the case. The buds have a battery life of six hours, while the charging case provides an additional seven hours, which is pretty good for truly wireless buds.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Review – App
The Galaxy Wearable app tells you how much battery the Buds have left when you pull them out of the case. Still, it doesn’t tell you how much charge the case has left. Unlike the Apple AirPods, you have to rely on the LED indicators on the outside of the case to know how much battery you have left. One of the most attractive features here is that you can charge these headphones wirelessly in their cases.
That means that if you have a Qi-compatible wireless charging pad – if you have one for your phone, it’s probably just that – you can turn it on and then charge them. It’s especially useful when you consider that the new Galaxy S10 Series comes with two-way wireless charging. That means you can set the function on your Galaxy S10 phone and place your headphones on the back of the device to charge them, too. It’s smart, and we found it worked seamlessly in our short testing time.
If you have the Galaxy S10, Galaxy S10 Plus or Galaxy S10e, pairing the buttons is a seamless experience, similar to the way the Apple AirPods connect directly to iPhones. Connectivity seems to vary between different users; several writers in our Compsmag team have tested the buds, and while some have not experienced connection failures, others have experienced them regularly.
Most connectivity issues appear to have been addressed by software updates sent by Samsung. Still, as with most true wireless buds, you may experience connection failures when using them near other Bluetooth devices. Since the most recent update, we have not experienced any significant Bluetooth outages.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Review – Performance
Where Samsung’s previous true wireless buttons, the Gear IconX, were impressed, the Galaxy Buds seem to shine; with warm, deep basses and excellent separation, the music sounds great when played by these tiny buttons. This is no surprise, given that they have been tuned by audio experts AKG. We started listening to Radiohead’s ‘Daydreaming’ and were impressed by the detail and clarity of the vocals, which were complemented by soft cascading piano arpeggios and smooth detuned synths.
Grained chopped and screwed vocals, layered with digital interference pan coherent from left to right, while violin and cellos sounded above and below the mix. However, the Galaxy Buds shine when it comes to bass frequencies, which becomes even more apparent when listening to bass players like Billie Eilish’s “Bury A Friend.” On tracks like these, the use of air shifting dynamic drivers allows you almost to feel the sub-bass pounding in your chest – unusual for real wireless earbuds.
We’ve also tested real wireless buttons on the soundtrack for indie-puzzle platformer Fez, by composer Disasterpeace. Listening to ‘Puzzle,’ we were impressed by the lively treatment of sound by the Galaxy Buds, with distorted sine waves that ebb and flow, while screaming synths tickle through the mix. The rotting organ-like arpeggios and bubbling chimes also felt vivid in the generally warm sound. As a result of that deep and bassy sound image, the middle frequencies may sound slightly sunken.
It’s not the most pleasant sound treatment, so if you’re an audiophile, you may have a little more appetite for the high frequencies for more accurate replication of your music. If you love your music, you’ll probably like the way these Galaxy Buds sound. It’s true, they won’t offer the same power or sound isolation as decent over-ear headphones, but for true wireless tops, the sound quality is very impressive.
Within the Galaxy Wearable app, there are several additional features, including an equalizer, which enables you to switch between different presets, including the Bass Boost. We didn’t feel that the different presets had a considerable effect on the sound image of these summits, but it’s still a subtle side effect. The app also enables you to turn on the ambient sound function, which mixes background noise with the music using built-in microphones on the buds – a handy feature if you want to use the Galaxy Buds. At the same time, you’re spinning and want to hear some external noise for safety reasons.
It can also balance sounds such as rumbling traffic while amplifying nearby voices, allowing you to stay alert to ambient noise without compromising the quality of your music. While this is a useful feature, we have encountered problems with ambient noise in windy weather. In these conditions, the sound of the wind was amplified, creating an uncomfortably shrill whistling sound.
If you forgot where you had placed your Galaxy Buds, you could also use the ‘Find My Earbuds’ function to locate them. If you enable this feature, the Galaxy Buds will play a constant tweeting sound so you can find them quickly.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Review – Conclusion
It feels like Samsung has finally done well with the Galaxy Buds, and they face serious competition for Apple’s AirPods in terms of design, sound, and ease of use. We loved the pearlescent effect on the outside of the buds and the sleek design of the case, and we thought they felt comfortable and safe. The sound quality of these true wireless knobs is also excellent, with deep bass and a wide-open sound stage. However, audiophiles may want to look elsewhere for more natural sound treatment, as the Galaxy Buds sound very warm.
The specified battery life of six hours for the buds and seven hours for the case seemed about right to us, and although there were connectivity problems before the latest software update from Samsung, these problems seem to have been mostly fixed. The downside is that other features available on the app, such as ambient sounds and the equalizer presets, are useful to have, but did not always work as effectively as we hoped. These features are also quite far away for iOS users, as you can only download the app on devices running on Android 5.0 or later.
That said, if you have a Samsung phone, the Galaxy Buds are a fantastic pair of real wireless earbuds, with a few quality features that ensure they can compete with confidence. If not, you might miss out on these extra features, but the high sound quality, comfortable fit, and attractive design mean these buds can be a smart buy, even for the iOS public.
If you have a Samsung or other Android phone, the Galaxy Buds offer easy connectivity, a comfortable fit, and a warm, bassy sound. If you don't, you may miss out on some cool extra features offered by the Samsung Galaxy wearables app.
- Comfortable, secure fit
- Stylish design
- Easy to pair and use
- Powerful bass
- Ambient sound can be irritating
- Touch controls not always accurate