AAC and scalable Samsung codec support
Battery life and wireless charging
Ambient Sound mode and touch controls
No aptX support
Only IPX2 water-resistance
Update: Monday, April 27, 2020: We updated our Samsung Galaxy Buds review to account for a software update that enables features like direct access to Spotify. More details below.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds were announced alongside the Samsung Galaxy S10 series and the Galaxy Fold at Samsung Unpacked 2019, promising Android users a premium competitor to Apple’s AirPods. The earbuds aim to offer a near-seamless experience with a Samsung phone, and should also work well with other devices due to their standard Bluetooth 5 connection.
How is the build quality of the Samsung Galaxy Buds?
The Samsung Galaxy Buds feel extremely solid. Though they’re mainly plastic, they feel weighty but not too heavy, and they don’t feel like they’ll fall out of your ears. I’ve had lots of issues with earbuds slipping out in the past, but the Galaxy Buds fit extremely snugly. They come with a variety of tips (including winged ones), but the standard non-winged tips were completely fine for my usage.
The case of the Galaxy Buds is also well designed. It’s quite a bit smaller than the IconX earbuds from last year and charges the buds through magnetic induction. The case is made of a glossy plastic that feels very sturdy, but also scratches and stains fairly easily. I’ve been using the Galaxy Buds for about two weeks now, tossing them in my pockets, backpack, and other modes of transportation and the case still looks decent, save a few scuffs on the top and a slight tinge that isn’t quite the original white color.
There are two ways to charge the case. The first is through a traditional USB-C connection, which I’m glad to see, given most smartphones use this connection at this point. The other method is wireless charging.
Samsung launched the Galaxy Buds with the Galaxy S10 series for a reason. The Samsung Galaxy S10 has a feature called Wireless PowerShare, which effectively turns the Galaxy S10 into a wireless charging pad. The case of the Samsung Galaxy Buds also have wireless charging capabilities, so you can charge them with your Samsung Galaxy S10. You can also charge the case of the buds with other wireless charging pads, or other phones with this capability like the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.
What is it like to use the Samsung Galaxy Buds?
Samsung clearly designed the Galaxy Buds for Samsung devices. When you first open the case of the Galaxy Buds near a Samsung Galaxy phone you’ll be greeted with a setup menu that asks you if you want to pair them to your device. From here, you’re taken to another page with tutorials on the touch controls and options for setting an equalizer on the buds.
When you want to use the buds, simply put them in your ears. They’ll only pair once they’re seated tightly in your ears, and you’ll hear a low hum indicating when they’ve connected.
The touch controls are nice, allowing you to pause songs with a single tap, play the next track with a double tap, go back a track with a triple tap, or launch a voice assistant by touching and holding. However, I really wish these headphones supported volume controls with touch. You’ll have to touch and hold to launch Bixby and then ask it to adjust the volume if you don’t want to touch your phone. I wish the earbuds supported directional volume controls with a swipe, but unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Touch controls are nice, but I would have liked support for volume.
If you aren’t using the buds with a Samsung device, you can download the Galaxy Wearable app to adjust all these settings.
While the buds are extremely comfortable to wear, keeping them in for more than an hour at a time put a bit of strain on my ears. I assume this is because the fit is quite tight, so while they won’t fall out from daily use, you may have to take them out after a bit of listening.
The Galaxy Wearables app worth using
Most apps accompanying headsets aren’t supremely useful, maybe they offer a custom equalizer module at best. However, the Samsung Galaxy Wearables app is one of the best we’ve used with a set of true wireless earbuds: it lets users remap the touch gestures, select from a handful of EQ presets, and find the Galaxy Buds. The most invaluable feature: software updates. On April 27, 2020, Samsung released a huge update to the Galaxy Buds that includes features previously thought to be Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus exclusives. Users may now directly access Spotify, enjoy automatic Ambient Aware listening, and fast source switching with PCs and mobile devices thanks to Microsoft Swift support.
How is the connection?
The Samsung Galaxy Buds use a Bluetooth 5 connection for audio playback, and so far in my testing, it’s been extremely solid. Even in a crowded conference center with signals flying everywhere the buds maintained a strong connection, which surprised me quite a bit. The buds only cut out a few times, and primarily due to a metal battery bank obstructing my phone in my pocket.
The buds support three codecs: Scalable (a Samsung proprietary codec), AAC, and SBC. We reached out to Samsung to get more information on the Scalable codec, and the company’s Andy Lutzky had this to say about it:
“It continuously analyzes interference from Wi-Fi and other Bluetooth signals and adjusts to minimize the impact on audio performance. It allows for variable bit rate whenever the device senses that the signal transfer is being disturbed, ensuring seamless music playback.”
This would explain my lack of interference while using the buds at Mobile World Congress this year, where they worked great day in and day out, even on the show floor.
You won’t find any newer Qualcomm codecs like AptX Adaptive or AptX HD in these headphones, but the Samsung Scalable codec seems to do a great job.
How long does the battery last?
While we haven’t performed any official rundown testing, Samsung claims the Galaxy Buds last six hours on a single charge, but I’d say I got about 4.5 hours before I needed to charge again. Fortunately, the headphones charge just by sitting in the included case, so every time you put them away they should charge up to full, assuming your case is charged. There’s a 58mAh battery in each bud, and the case houses a 252mAh cell, so you should get about three full charges out of the buds before needing to charge the case.
Our full suite of battery testing is coming soon so stay tuned for that. If you charge up the case every now and then or just set it on your wireless charging pad overnight, you should rarely have an issue with these dying.
How do the Galaxy Buds sound?
The Samsung Galaxy Buds sound great. Samsung now owns AKG, which is why its logo is plastered on the case of the buds. It may seem strange for a brand known for phones and TV’s to produce truly wireless earbuds, but AKG clearly knows what it’s doing.
A lot of earbuds struggle with bass response, but I found there was quite a bit of bass coming from these ones when they’re snug enough in your ears. I got a pretty good response even on the default setting, but you can always tune them to include more bass within the app. While these earbuds don’t feature active noise cancellation, the isolation very good, and you can trigger the onboard microphones if you need to hear the world around you.
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Buds in 2020?
At $108, the Samsung Galaxy buds offer quite a bit of value for your money, especially if you own a Samsung phone. The USB-C connection and wireless charging capabilities make these buds easy to keep charged. The touch controls are intuitive, but I would have liked to see better options for volume adjustment.
At this price, the closest thing you can probably compare the Galaxy Buds to are the Apple AirPods. Both work especially well with their first-party set of devices, but Samsung does a few things better. The Galaxy Buds offer much more isolation than Apple’s option, and you’ll probably have a better experience using these on other Bluetooth-enabled devices. If you’re buying headphones for exercise, the Galaxy buds are much more likely to stay snugly in your ears.
Samsung’s Galaxy Buds aren’t perfect, but they’re great for anyone who wants a seamless Android Bluetooth experience at an affordable price.