With a slimmer profile, improved sound and new colours, Samsung gives truly wireless earbuds another shot with the Galaxy Buds.
Samsung is hoping the third time’s a charm with the Galaxy Buds. On the heels of two versions of the Gear IconX the last two years, the company hopes a change in name, and a shift in design and performance might do the trick.
Design and setup
To make this happen, Samsung shed a fair bit of weight and girth. The Galaxy Buds are noticeably smaller and lighter than last year’s Gear IconX. That smaller form factor may make a big difference in fit and comfort.
It certainly did in my case. Mind you, I didn’t find the previous versions really uncomfortable, but wearing something that feels so light and smooth always helps. The Galaxy Buds use an angular design that works nicely with the silicone eartips and wings that come with it. Rather than dig and bury them into my ear canal, I just nestled them in and barely felt anything thereafter.
In the box, you get three sizes of tips and wings. With any pair of true wireless earbuds, I always suggest experimenting with combinations to find the best fit and tightest seal. It’s no different here.
The pill-shaped case not only got smaller and more pocket-friendly, it also has wireless charging. Place it on any Qi wireless charging pad—or the back of the Galaxy S10+ and S10—and the battery starts to fill. Alternatively, there’s the USB-C cable and port in the back to go the wired route.
Samsung rates battery life at six hours, with an additional seven in the case itself when the buds recharge. A LED indicator inside notes how much juice they have. An outer one lights up during charging.
Connectivity and controls
One way to make room was to eliminate any onboard storage on the buds themselves. Samsung always did this previously, but now, you will have to stream music from a phone every time.
Pairing the Galaxy Buds was super easy, courtesy of the Galaxy Wearable app, which recognized them in seconds. The app acts as a customizer and controller. Here, you can see battery life for both, access an equalizer and set touchpad controls, among other features.
How to use the touch-sensitive controls on Galaxy Buds:
- Tapping once will play or pause music.
- Double-tapping skips a track, while triple-tapping goes back a track.
- Holding a finger on either side will trigger Bixby or Google Assistant (depending on which one you’ve set as priority).
- Phone calls are pretty basic. Simply tapping will accept a call, while holding will decline.
- By default, there’s no way to control volume on either side. However, you can change that! Use the app to configure it so that one side or the other can turn on ambient sound mode or control volume up or down.
Find My Earbuds is a nice feature similar to Apple’s AirPods. If you’ve misplaced or can’t find them, you can sound an alarm to make the earbuds beep. The one catch is they do have to be connected and within range, so if you’ve misplaced the entire case with the buds inside—it won’t work.
The Galaxy Buds support Bluetooth 5.0, which improves range, but more importantly, saps less battery. When wearing these, streams use Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) to reduce power consumption.
Not only that, but you can support two streams at once. Using Galaxy phones going back to the Galaxy S8, go to Settings>Bluetooth>Advanced>Dual audio to play music from the phone to the Galaxy Buds and another pair of headphones simultaneously.
Last year’s Gear IconX offered good sound, even if it wasn’t remarkable. The Galaxy Buds are a sonic improvement, albeit without making a massive difference. It’s the fit that helped overall audio quality.
My bigger concern was with volume, or lack thereof. Despite fashioning a good seal with the tips and wings, I found ambient noise would still leak in more than I liked. This was with ambient sound mode off, forcing me to raise it above 75 percent in some cases. In quieter confines indoors, I could avoid it, but with a little noise, I had to go higher.
Despite that, I was pleased with what I heard. The equalizer sits on Dynamic by default for a good, moderate middle ground. Not too much bass, not too much treble. Rotating the equalizer, either way, will boost bass or treble, so you do have some measure of control over how you listen to your tunes.
If you are a runner or go to the gym often, the Galaxy Buds are sweat-proof so they can withstand a vigorous workout. And ambient sound mode will enable you to hear and talk to someone without having to take out either earbud. You may find you already get enough background noise seeping in anyway, but that mode takes things a little further.
Phone calls weren’t bad, where the dual microphones work fairly well to keep both sides audible. I could hear and talk in a moderately loud environment, though again, I had to raise volume considerably.
The touch controls were better than the Galaxy Buds’ predecessors. Less sensitive, yet more efficient, I had little trouble with most of the controls. Only the triple-taps gave me problems, on occasion. Part of the reason for that is because Samsung removed the sliding gestures for volume.
Samsung has steadily improved battery life since the first Gear IconX. It’s not as big in this case, but I was hitting the same four-to-five hours per charge. With volume closer to 50 percent, I was going above five. As I noted earlier, Bluetooth 5.0 is a big reason why, so results may vary if the phone you’re paired with doesn’t support it.
The Galaxy Buds work more closely with Galaxy devices, but they will work with other Android devices, and even the iPhone. The case’s one additional charge is low compared to other competitors, so I did have to charge the earbuds more often because of it.
If you have a Samsung handset, the Galaxy Buds are best integrated with them. The Wearable app works on other Android devices, so you could go this route without one, too. While they do work with the iPhone, I would advise against doing it because the features don’t go deep enough.
True wireless earbuds are getting better every year. The Galaxy Buds are an example of moving the needle forward, even if it’s not as big a leap this time. They’re small, comfortable and sound as good, or better, as anything else in their price range.