The Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus bring a lot to the table. In fact, they outperform the original Galaxy Buds in nearly every way, as they should: the Buds Plus are the newer, more expensive model. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the first-generation Galaxy Buds are worthless now, though; quite the contrary. The Galaxy Buds cost around $100, making them a bargain buy for anyone who wants brand name true wireless earbuds.
Editor’s note: this review was updated on April 27, 2020, to address software update to the Samsung Galaxy Buds that includes features like direct access to Spotify.
Few hardware changes
Aside from the rubberized “L R” indicator and a slightly different shape to the recessed cutouts in the case, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus and Galaxy Buds are both IPX2-rated and virtually identical to one another. Sure, Samsung finishes the 2020 iteration with a glossy veneer, but that only acts as a powerful fingerprint magnet. It went with fewer, more mature color schemes this year — black, white, and light blue compared to last year’s options of silver, white, black, and yellow — which is fine but a bit tired.
The earbuds feature the same housings and touch-sensitive panels as before, and you can still remap touch gestures to perform different commands via the Galaxy Wearable app. Samsung now offers a Galaxy Buds Plus app on the Apple App store but users with the old Galaxy Buds are unable to use said app. It’s a shortsighted strategy to omit Galaxy Buds support in an effort to push consumers toward the Galaxy Buds Plus and has led to a barrage of extremely negative reviews for the app. I could see this backfiring on Samsung and perhaps causing iPhone users who were considering the original Galaxy Buds to get the AirPods or AirPods Pro instead.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds are just as durable as the Galaxy Buds Plus and support the same codecs.
Auto-ear detection hasn’t changed from the previous model. You still have to remove both earbuds simultaneously to pause playback. Re-inserting the Buds Plus still doesn’t automatically resume playback, something I was hoping to see updated between generations. No matter what headset you listen with, you’ll have to tap an earbud or remove your phone to resume listening.
Both the first and second-generation Samsung true wireless earbuds support Wireless PowerShare charging atop a compatible Samsung Galaxy smartphone, and both cases can be charged via a Qi-certified mat or USB-C cable. This gives listeners plenty of options for topping up the case and ‘buds. If you happen to be a current Galaxy Buds owner and scoop up the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus, you’ll be happy to know that you can charge the old earbuds in the new case and the new earbuds in the old case. I suppose that’s one perk of having an unchanged appearance.
The latest Galaxy Buds update enables direct Spotify access
One of the main selling points of the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus is Spotify integration. As an avid Spotify user, I enjoyed this convenience because the partnership helped me discover new music. My needs aren’t everyone’s, though, and it’s important to note how this functionality is limited to Android devices. That’s right, iPhone users, even those who subscribe to Spotify can’t benefit from Spotify integration as of April 27, 2020, but Samsung’s latest software update to the old Galaxy Buds now enables this direct access for Android users. This is huge, and makes it harder to justify buying the Galaxy Buds Plus over the Galaxy Buds.
Battery life is great with either headset
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus offer a longer standalone playtime than the original Galaxy Buds (11.73 hours compared to 6.53 hours). In fact, this is the best battery life of any true wireless earbuds we’ve tested to date, but the first-generation earphones are no slouch. The original Galaxy Buds’ 6.53-hour playtime is still above the true wireless average by about two hours. If you’re someone who often takes long plane rides, then the extra five hours afforded by the second-gen earbuds will serve you well. For the rest of us normies, however, the Samsung Galaxy Buds battery life is plenty.
Both headsets support fast charging, and the Buds Plus are more efficient: it takes just three minutes to get one hour of battery life but the Galaxy Buds requires 15 minutes to get 1.7 hours of playtime. It’s great to see Samsung improve its fast charging but the upgrade is nominal and didn’t end prove meaningful to me during real-world use.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus and Galaxy Buds support the same codecs
It’s no surprise that Samsung refrained from aptX support this time around, too, as it’s still pushing its proprietary scalable codec. This acts similarly to Qualcomm aptX adaptive whereby the codec is constantly negotiating connection strength and audio quality. While it’s cool to see some competition in the high-quality codec market, the omission of aptX support bars non-Samsung Android users from experiencing high-quality audio playback. Sure, AAC is still supported but its performance is highly volatile on Android. That said, iPhone users can still make use of it for virtually lag-free streaming.
Initially, Samsung’s official product page made note of limited multipoint functionality whereby the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus could maintain a simultaneous connection to two Bluetooth 5.0 devices at a time, but that statement has since been removed from the company’s site. When asked about future multipoint support, a Samsung representative shared, “Multipoint connectivity is not available on the Galaxy Buds Plus at this point.” Without this once-promised feature, there’s no rush to upgrade to the Galaxy Buds Plus simply for connection features.
Sound quality is technically better with the Galaxy Buds
The Samsung Galaxy Buds have a slightly more neutral frequency response than the new Galaxy Buds Plus. This may seem surprising at first, but many consumers prefer a bit more oomph to the lows as demonstrated by the popularity of the Olive-Welti curve. It makes sense that AKG tuned the new earphones this way in the hopes of pleasing more listening right out of the box. However, if you’re like me and prefer a more accurate reproduction of audio the Samsung Galaxy Buds are the way to go: they don’t apply quite as much emphasis to the low-end as the Plus.
No matter which headset you go with, you’re afforded extra pairs of wing and ear tips, and finding the right set can further improve audio quality by way of isolation. By passively blocking out external noise, your music isn’t subject to auditory masking: when a relatively loud sound makes it difficult to perceive a relatively quiet one. It takes just a few moments to find the best-fitting ear tips and can really improve audio quality, especially bass response.
Both Samsung headsets are stellar, and you’re bound to enjoy either one. Although the Galaxy Buds Plus come out on top by nearly every metric, the fact of the matter is that the Galaxy Buds were good back in 2019, and have thus far proven their worth through 2020. Most of us don’t need 11-plus hours of standalone playtime. It’s easy to get caught up in what’s shiny and new, but lest we forget that true wireless technology has come a long way since its debut; and the original Galaxy Buds are still on the top of their game.
So who should get the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus?
This isn’t to argue against getting the new Galaxy Buds Plus: it’s an excellent headset sure to satisfy a good chunk of consumers. While neither offer true active noise-canceling, if you’re someone who frequently takes hands-free calls, the Galaxy Buds Plus are well worth the investment, because microphone quality has been significantly improved, a benefit of the improved three-mic array, two of which combat ambient noise while also focusing on vocal transmission. The new system sounds great compared to the original Galaxy Buds and relays a more neutral response, meaning vocal registers of all sorts will sound more accurate. You can even give the mics a listen below.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus microphone demo:
Samsung Galaxy Buds microphone demo:
Again, anyone who takes international flights and doesn’t want their carry-on to be occupied by an obtrusively large headset should consider these too. The almost half-day battery life is impressive and stands head and shoulders above other $150 true wireless earbuds. The Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus are among our favorite true wireless earbuds, but it’s important to keep your expectations realistic if you get them. Sound quality still isn’t mind-blowing and multipoint connectivity still isn’t supported.