There's no denying this: true wireless earphones are pretty awesome. They're light, discreet, and completely untethered, providing freedom and convenience we could once only dream of.
Samsung joined the party back in 2016 with the Gear IconX
– a set of earphones that looked cool, but lacked in many areas, such as battery life. The second-gen IconX earphones from 2018 lasted much longer between charges, but overall, they were still largely unremarkable as a product.
Over the past couple of weeks, we've been testing Samsung's third-generation truly wireless earbuds
– the Samsung Galaxy Buds. Are they Samsung's best attempt so far, and should they be considered over notable alternatives from well-established audio brands? Time to find out!
Design and comfort
With the Galaxy Buds, Samsung sticks to a familiar formula. The earphones are of the in-ear variety and need to be tucked in place with a slight twist. The rubbery tips that enter the wearer's ear canal are replaceable and you get three different sizes in the box. Finding the one that fits you best is crucial as it affects not only how comfortable these feel, but also how good they sound. On the opposite side, rubbery wings press lightly against your earlobe and provide extra friction. Again, these are replaceable and you get several wings of different sizes in the box.
Throughout my testing, I've never felt like the Galaxy Buds were about to fall from my ears. They are very light and I feel comfortable wearing them for a couple of hours straight while at the office. However, I do feel their presence a lot more while doing intense activities like running, for example. They're probably not the best earbuds for working out as they don't have a high level of resistance against water.
The Galaxy Buds come in three colors: black, white, and the kind of bright yellow people can spot from a mile away. We've noticed that the white model reflects light with a subtle pearlescent effect, much like the one seen on the white Galaxy S10+. With their similar paint jobs, the two devices go together pretty well.
While not in use, the Samsung Galaxy Buds can be stored in their pill-shaped carrying case, which also doubles as a charger
with its internal battery. The earphones snap into their spots with the help of magnets, which minimizes the chance of you stowing them away without them making full contact with the charging terminals. This was an issue with last year's IconX. The case itself is bigger than that of the Apple AirPods
, but smaller than the cases for many other alternative offerings. It fits fully inside the coin pocket of my jeans.
To no surprise, the Galaxy Buds work best with a Samsung Galaxy phone, and they were paired to a Galaxy S10+ for the purposes of our testing. Pairing is quick, as when I opened the case, the Galaxy phone detected that the earphones were in range and asked if I wanted to pair the two devices.
The Bluetooth 5.0 range with these is outstanding. It took a distance of 120 feet (~37 meters) in open space before the connection would get choppy, without dropping completely. Also, the signal is strong enough to get through at least one brick wall, so music or calls will remain uninterrupted even if you're in the next room. But when paired to my laptop, which only supports the older Bluetooth 4.1, the range of the Buds was just about 20 feet in an open office room.
In case you're wondering, you may use the Galaxy Buds with non-Galaxy phones. On other Android devices, though, you will need to download additional software before having access to more advanced features and settings, such as Ambient Sound. These are inaccessible on iPhone due to the lack of a companion app, but other than that, the Buds work normally with Apple's phones.
Functionality and controls
The Android Wearable app is what you use to access the aforementioned Ambient Sound feature. As its name implies, it uses the buds' built-in microphones to let noise from your surroundings pass through – useful for crossing the street safely or for talking to someone without taking the buds off. At least in theory.
Unfortunately, using Ambient Sound is not the best experience. When it is turned on, barely any of the surrounding noise can be heard over the playing music. While walking down the street, I can hear louder sounds like a car's horn, but not the engine of one passing by you unless no music is playing. Ambient Sound can be enabled temporarily when you touch and hold a finger on either earbud. This does let me hear someone talking next to me, but when talking back to them, I can hear my voice booming in my head, as if I've stuck my fingers in my ears.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds sound okay. They are not a pair of audiophile-grade in-ear monitors, that's for sure – and they don't sound as good as the wired headset bundled with the Galaxy S10 – but they should meet the expectations of most listeners. They do sound a bit strained at high volume, but I never found myself needing to crank them up to the max. Bass notes are well defined, but not overpowering. Highs could be clearer, but are definitely there. There are five equalizer presets, but I'd say only the Dynamic one is worth using. Sound leaking isn't an issue.
The Galaxy Buds can also handle phone calls, and we have no major complaints about how they perform. Their microphones can pick up my voice pretty well, and I'm easily understood on the other side of the line.
While watching video, the sound from the Galaxy Buds doesn't lag behind – or at least not to a perceivable extent. However, audio is delayed when playing games.
Samsung claims that the Galaxy Buds can last up to 6 hours on a single charge, and the battery built into the carrying case can extend that even further. Of course, your mileage will vary depending on the listening volume and on how often you turn ambient sound on, but judging by my experience, you should be able to get at least 5 hours of listening time out of the earbuds alone. After using the fully charged Galaxy Buds for about a couple of hours per day for three days, I noticed that the case was out of juice, while each bud had 80% of charge remaining.
Something cool about the Samsung Galaxy Buds is that the case can be recharged wirelessly – either from any Qi-compatible wireless charger
or from the Galaxy S10 itself thanks to the new Wireless PowerShare feature found on the phone. With the case and the buds fully drained, a complete wireless charge from the Galaxy S10 took under three hours. 40 minutes were enough to reach the 30% mark.
While Samsung's previous truly wireless earphones tried to stand out with features like coaching and heart rate monitoring – features that most people don't really need in a product of this kind – the Samsung Galaxy Buds stick to the basics. They are a no-nonsense product designed for Samsung Galaxy users to listen to their favorite tunes in a convenient fashion. They look good, last long between charges, and have excellent Bluetooth 5.0 range. Audio quality could have been better, but then again, it is good enough for most people – and adequate for a pair of truly wireless earphones priced at $130.
Should you pick a pair? Sure, especially if you consider picking up a Galaxy phone as well. However, we wouldn't recommend these to iPhone users due to the limited access to advanced features and settings.