Galaxy Buds review: Samsung's wireless earbuds are the real deal

samsung-galaxy-buds-1.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    8.5 Excellent
  • $129.99

Pros

  • Battery life
  • Sound quality
  • Multiple tips for a personalized fit

Cons

  • Touchpads are finicky
Galaxy Buds: Do they live up to the hype? TechRepublic's Karen Roby sits down with ZDNet's Jason Cipriani to talk all things relating to the Galaxy Buds, including price, comfort, and usability. Read more: https://zd.net/2CfYpzV

For over two years, I've touted Apple's AirPods as one of my favorite gadgets in recent memory. The completely wireless earbuds, their battery life, fast charging, and subtle features like auto-pause when an earbud is removed crafted an enjoyable experience. An experience that until recently had zero competition.

After using Samsung's Galaxy Buds for the past two weeks, it's clear that the AirPods not only have a worthy competitor, but Apple could learn a thing or two from Samsung's completely wireless earbuds. Add in the $129 price point, and the Galaxy Buds are one of the more compelling accessories I've seen in a while.

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Design

The Galaxy Buds and the accompanying charging case look a lot like Samsung's last attempt at wireless earbuds, the IconX. The earbuds are compact, come with several different tips and wings to ensure a proper fit, and lack any sort of stem that comes out of the ear.

Also: Apple AirPods review: Completely wireless earbuds

While the AirPods have been the punchline of many jokes and memes for the past two years, the Galaxy Buds, so far, have failed to evoke the same reactions.

Battery life of the Galaxy Buds, according to Samsung, is up to six hours. I've yet to wear them that long in one go, but after a four-hour listening session, I had roughly 20 percent battery life left. The charging case can be charged via USB-C on the back, or when placed on a wireless charging pad. That means Galaxy S10 owners can charge their earbuds using the phone's Wireless PowerShare feature.

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Samsung offers the Galaxy Buds in white, black, and a very bright yellow. Each earbud has a 58mAh battery, and the case has another 252mAh to offer.

The small things

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

What made the AirPods so impressive from the start was the small features that Apple included. The pairing process takes all of 10 seconds, and it syncs across all of your iCloud devices. Then there's auto-pause when you removed an AirPod and then auto-resume when the AirPod is put back into your ear, and the extended range, and the case that doubles as a way to quickly charge your earbuds on the go.

Samsung got a lot of the small things right with the Galaxy Buds, and that's what makes them so compelling. The range of the Galaxy Buds is the best I've ever used with an Android phone and is on par with my AirPods experience. I can walk around my entire house, including in the basement, and the Galaxy Buds don't skip a beat.

Also: Samsung Galaxy Buds vs. Gear IconX: Is one better for fitness?

Removing both Galaxy Buds will trigger auto-pause. However, they fail to auto-resume when placed back in your ears. Hopefully resume is something that Samsung adds through a software update in the future. Speaking of software updates, leading up to the release, I've received two updates for the Galaxy Buds. The process takes just a few seconds through the Galaxy Wearable app.

Pairing the Galaxy Buds to an Android device takes around 30-seconds, and doesn't require diving into system menus and Bluetooth settings. Instead, you only need to open the Galaxy Buds case next to the phone and wait for a prompt to show up, tap Connect, and a few seconds later the two devices are linked. Pairing with a computer or an iOS device is done through the Bluetooth menu.

Syncing pairing information across devices isn't possible, as far as I can tell. I've had to pair the Galaxy Buds with each device I want to use them on, and in some cases un-pair the earbuds with previous devices before they would connect to a different device.

One area the Galaxy Buds surpass the AirPod's experience is through the addition of an equalizer, and the ability to tailor a list of apps that will alert you of a new notification. With notifications enabled on the Galaxy Buds, you will hear a brief alert beep followed by the app's name. You can then decide if you want to grab your phone and act. AirPods don't actively alert you of new notifications. Instead, you have to trigger and then ask Siri to read any pending alerts.

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

After attending Samsung's Unpacked event last month, I charged up and began using the Galaxy Buds in an airport. Typically, when traveling, I only use one AirPod so I can still hear any announcements and news about my flight. With the Galaxy Buds, however, I decided to test out the Ambient Sound feature. With ambient sound enabled, the earbuds let some noise through so you can hear what's going on around you -- helpful for those who run or bike on busy roads, or in my case, in an airport.

I expected the combination of music and people talking, kids crying, and intercom announcements to be overwhelming. But after fiddling with the volume of the ambient sound, and taking advantage of a setting that forces ambient sound to focus on voices, I was rather surprised has unobtrusive ambient sound was overall.

Also: Headphones: Finding the right kind of sound for your ears 

Each earbud has a touchpad that will play/pause, skip forward or backward, or trigger a voice assistant. On Android, you can pick between Bixby or Google Assistant, and when paired to an iPhone, it will trigger Siri.

The touchpads are finicky at best. I've yet to fully figure out a way to reliably trigger the commands. Sometimes a single tap does nothing, while other times a double-tap pauses a song instead of skipping. While working on this review, my Galaxy Buds received a third software update -- hopefully, the touchpad reliability is something that's addressed in it.

Sound quality

The Galaxy Buds fit my ears just fine with the pre-installed medium ear and wing tips. Included in the box are small and large size ear and wing tips, and they're easy enough to switch out in a few seconds.

With the added tips, the Galaxy Buds form a better seal with your ear, in turn blocking out surrounding sound.

To my ears, the Galaxy Buds sound slightly better than the AirPods, and I think it's partly due to the added seal. I've never had an issue with the sound quality of the AirPods, but the Galaxy Buds' sound comes through clean and has a crisp sound that I find more appealing than the AirPods.

Additionally, the Galaxy Wearable app on Android includes equalizer settings for users to adjust the sound profile to their liking.


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Android users rejoice

Android users finally have a completely wireless solution for listening to music and podcasts that mirrors what Apple users have been bragging about for the past couple of years. And, to sweeten the deal, the Galaxy Buds are $129, compared to $159 for AirPods.

Recommending the Galaxy Buds is an easy decision for me. They have solid battery life, get a lot of the small things right, and respectable sound quality.

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Specifications

General
Bluetooth Profiles Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP), Hands-Free Profile (HFP)
Packaged Quantity 1
Width 0.7 in
Depth 0.9 in
Height 0.8 in
Weight 0.2 oz
Color black
Headphones
Headphones Form Factor In-ear
Bluetooth Profiles Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP), Hands-Free Profile (HFP)
Bluetooth Version Bluetooth 5.0
Microphone
Microphones Included 2
Connections
Type Bluetooth, USB (power only)
Miscellaneous
Included Accessories 3 pairs of ear tips, 3 pairs of secure fit wingtips, charging case (252 mAh)
Color Category black
Power
Capacity 58 mAh
Run Time (Up To) 6 hour(s)
Standby Time 20 hour(s)
Battery
Capacity 58 mAh
Header
Brand Samsung
Packaged Quantity 1
Battery / Power
Run Time (Up To) 6 hour(s)
Dimensions & Weight
Width 0.7 in
Depth 0.9 in
Height 0.8 in
Weight 0.2 oz
Dimensions & Weight Details
Width 0.7 in, 2.8 in
Depth 0.9 in, 1.5 in
Height 0.8 in, 1 in
Weight 0.2 oz, 1.4 oz

Where To Buy

Price
$129.99

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Where To Buy

Samsung Galaxy Buds (Black)

Part Number: SM-R170NZKAXAR
Price
$129.99