Update, December 25, 2020: This article was updated to address the Google Pixel Buds as an alternative.
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. Let’s see how the two pairs of earbuds compare!
The hardware is nearly identical
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 polished the 2020 iteration with a glossy veneer, but that only acts as a powerful fingerprint magnet. Another difference: Samsung went with fewer, more mature color schemes this year — black, white, and light blue (and now red) compared to last year’s options of silver, white, black, and yellow.
Read on: Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus review
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. It’s led to a barrage of 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 Pro instead.
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.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds are just as durable as the Galaxy Buds Plus and support the same codecs.
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. Interestingly, 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, 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.
Sound quality is technically better with the Galaxy Buds Plus
The Samsung Galaxy Buds have different hardware than the Buds Plus and house a one-way dynamic driver, rather than a two-way dynamic driver and tweeter found in each Buds Plus earbud. The frequency responses are nearly identical, but it’s easier to hear more instrumental detail from the Galaxy Buds Plus than the Galaxy Buds due to the treble emphasis. Both headsets are tuned to sound great out of the box, which makes sense since they’re both tuned by AKG. No matter which headset you choose, you can always select from any number of Samsung’s EQ presets in the Galaxy Wearable app.
Isolation performance is identical between the two earphones because they both use the same shape and silicone ear tips to block out sound. Background noise is somewhat blocked out when wearing either headset, but if you commute regularly, you may want to invest in a dedicated pair of noise-cancelling headphones instead.
You should get the Galaxy Buds Plus for phone calls
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:
Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Buds: Which should you get?
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus are the better headset: battery life, microphone quality, and fast charging all outperform the first generation Galaxy Buds. Even still, 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. Both Samsung headsets are stellar, and you’re bound to enjoy either one.
What about the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live?
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are a completely different breed of earphone, and the first of its kind: the open-type fit paired with noise-cancelling technology make the Galaxy Buds Live a direct competitor to the Apple AirPods. The bean-shaped buds don’t create a seal to the ear canal like the first two generation Galaxy Buds headsets, but they stay in place just the same. Microphone quality is even better than the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus, but sound quality is just okay (a consequence of an open fit). Listeners who walk outside and want to remain aware of their surroundings should take a look at how the Galaxy Buds Live compare to the Galaxy Buds Plus.
Don’t own a Samsung phone? Consider the Google Pixel Buds
Google Pixel smartphone owners who want the best user experience should just skip to the Google Pixel Buds. These playful buds work seamlessly with any Google smartphone, and offer an experience akin to using the Apple AirPods with an iPhone. The concha wing tips secure the earphones to your ear, so you can exercise with them. Plus, you don’t have to worry about water damage as they feature an IPX4 rating.
Google jam-packed its debut true wireless earbuds with plenty of sensors and software, making them some of the smartest earphones around. You can access Google Assistant with just your voice, play around with live Google Translate, and more. Read all about the Pixel Buds in our full review!