Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: Packed with features

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  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good
  • $149.00

Pros

  • Solid battery life
  • Good sound
  • Affordable

Cons

  • ANC isn’t as strong as the AirPods Pro
  • No support for iPhone

On Friday, preorders for Samsung's latest pair of completely wireless earbuds, the Galaxy Buds 2, will start to arrive, and you'll be able to buy them in stores. The $150 earbuds have all of the same features you can find in Apple's high-end AirPods Pro but cost $100 less. Actually, as of right now, the Buds 2 are $130 through Samsung prior to their official launch. Crazy. 

For the last two weeks, I've been using the Galaxy Buds 2, splitting time between a Galaxy S21 Ultra , a Pixel 5 , and for a short period of time, an iPhone 12 Pro  -- even though Samsung won't officially support iPhone users. 

That's right; the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 are for Android users, Galaxy or not. The biggest question about the near earbuds involves whether or not the Galaxy Buds 2 are everything the spec sheet promises. And for the most part, they are. 

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The Galaxy Buds 2 in the olive green color. 

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Small design with solid battery life and sound

The Galaxy Buds 2 come in several different colors, but you'd never know it if you only looked at the charging case. The white case, which houses the earbuds for charging via a USB-C port on the back or a Qi-compatible wireless charging pad, is compact and lacks any sort of button. For example, most wireless earbud cases have a button on them to facilitate pairing with secondary devices, like AirPods with an Android phone. Instead, if you want to pair the Buds 2 with an iPhone or Mac, you'll need to place the earbuds in the charging case and long-press on the gesture pads. A few seconds later, the indicator light in the case will start blinking, and the earbuds should show up as an available Bluetooth device. 

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Once you open the all-white case, however, you'll start to see some color. You can get the Buds 2 in olive, white, lavender, or graphite. The entire inside of the case matches the earbuds -- it's a nice, unexpected touch. 

In addition to the earbuds and charging case, you'll find two sizes of removable ear tips and a USB-C to USB-C cable inside the box the Buds 2 come in. 

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I received a pair of the olive Buds 2, and I appreciate the break from standard white or black earbuds. 

The buds themselves have a touchpad on the outside and a removable ear tip on the side that goes into your ear. There are a total of three sizes, with medium preinstalled on the buds out of the box. If you're unsure which size is right for your ears, there's a new fit test in the Galaxy Wearable app that you can run. A few sounds will play, and the earbuds will monitor the audio to let you know if you need to swap any of the tips out. 

I started testing the Buds 2 with the medium ear tips and passed the fittest with flying colors. However, the right earbud kept falling out of my ear, causing me to constantly push it in (and inadvertently trigger the touch controls). I ended up changing both ears to the smaller size with a quick pull of the old tip until it snaps off and then pushing the new one on until it snaps in place. Since the swap, I haven't had any issues with the fit, and sound quality hasn't been impacted. 

I like the overall size of the Buds 2. They don't stick very far out of my ears, and there isn't a stem, like on Apple's AirPods. 

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Galaxy Buds 2 with a Pixel 5. 

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Samsung stakes its claim to Android and only Android

When it comes to accessories, Samsung has typically walked the line of ensuring there are plenty of features for Android users to feel like their money is well invested and give iPhone owners an option outside of Apple's walled garden. 

With the Buds 2, that's starting to change. While you can pair the Buds 2 with non-Android devices, the process isn't streamlined, and this time, Samsung isn't releasing an app (or an update to the existing Galaxy Buds iOS app) dedicated to the Buds 2. In other words, the Galaxy Buds 2 are intended to be used by Android users. 

Setting up the Buds 2 with a Galaxy phone or Android device is similar but does take a few extra steps on a non-Samsung device. The process starts by opening the charging case with the Buds 2 inside it and waiting for a prompt to show up on your phone. Galaxy users can open the Galaxy Wearable app and add a new device if an alert doesn't show up. For those with an Android phone not made by Samsung, you'll need to download the Wearable app from the Play Store. The app walks you through the rest of the setup process and includes a walkthrough of gestures that you can use to control playback or toggle features while wearing the Buds 2. 

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A few screenshots from the Galaxy Wearable app on a Pixel 5. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The gestures are fairly standard as far as wireless earbuds are concerned. For instance, a single tap toggles play/pause, while a double-tap skips the track, and so on. A long-press on either earbud defaults turning active-noise cancellation on and off. 

I've found ANC to be good but not overly impressive. Plenty of background noise is blocked by the earbuds, but it's not quite enough to completely block out the clickity-clack of each keypress on my mechanical keyboard. Instead, each click is relegated to a faint whisper. When wearing my AirPods Pro, I can't hear any key presses. 

Ambient Mode is another more advanced feature of the Buds 2, allowing noise around you in through the earbuds so you can hear things like a passing car or an overhead announcement while still listening to music or a podcast when in public. On Tuesday, Samsung released an update for the Buds 2 that added ambient mode during a phone call. When turned on, you can hear your own voice as you talk on the phone through the Buds 2. For me, it's too distracting to hear my own voice, but I can see how and why others would want to turn on the feature. If for no other reason than to ensure you're not screaming because you can't hear yourself. 

The touch gestures have been hit or miss for me and something I still struggle to get accustomed to two weeks after I started testing. In order to reliably have a touch gesture register, I've found that I have to use some force (a light tap just doesn't cut it), and I have to leave my finger on there for an amount of time that's not quite a long press, but clearly isn't a quick tap. 

Even though ANC isn't quite as powerful as I would have hoped and gestures are finicky, the Buds 2 have great sound quality. I enjoyed listening to random playlists on Apple Music or watching videos in the YouTube app. The sound isn't muffled and has consistent and clear bass that isn't overpowering. 

Battery life is another highlight of the Buds 2. Samsung quotes up to five hours of battery life for the earbuds with ANC turned on and 7.5 hours with it turned off. The case can charge the Buds 2 to extend both use cases to 20 or 29 hours, respectively. 

Those numbers are roughly what I experienced when using the Buds 2 during a typical day of work, which consisted of a lot of music, some phone calls, and a lot of switching between ambient and ANC modes. 

Bottom line

Buds 2 should definitely be considered

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

If you use an Android phone or tablet, regardless if Samsung makes it, the Buds 2 should definitely be considered when you're looking for wireless earbuds. Even at $150, let alone $130, you'll be hard-pressed to find another pair of wireless earbuds packed with this many features and capabilities at that price.

Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Width 0.7 in
Depth 0.8 in
Height 0.8 in
Weight 0.18 oz
Color graphite
Headphones
Bluetooth Profiles Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP), Hands-Free Profile (HFP)
Active Noise Canceling Yes
Miscellaneous
Included Accessories 3 pairs of ear tips (small, medium, large), charging case (472 mAh)
Microphone
Microphones Included 3
Manufacturer Warranty
Service & Support 1 year warranty
Power
Capacity 61 mAh
Run Time (Up To) 5 hour(s)
Battery
Type headphone battery

Where To Buy

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2

Part Number: SM-R177NZKAXAR
Price
$149.00