Samsung introduced its first truly wireless earbuds three years ago. The Gear IconX could do more than just stream music wirelessly. It even had sensors for activity and fitness tracking. It was clear that Samsung was aiming the product at fitness enthusiasts with the device trying to punch above its weight and replace their fitness tracker.
This year, the company has launched new wireless earbuds, and they’re not a successor to the Gear IconX. The Galaxy Buds are primarily for a cord-free music experience. They are smaller and lighter than the IconX. They’re also cheaper. So are the Galaxy Buds worth putting your money on? That’s what you’ll find out in this review. For a short version, you can check out our video review below; for the long version, keep reading after the break.
Galaxy Buds review: Design and fit
The Galaxy Buds come in a pill-like carrying case out of the box. They have been ergonomically designed to ensure a snug fit in the ears. Put them in your ears with a slight twisting motion to securely lock them in place. It’s actually quite easy to get a good and comfortable fit with the Galaxy Buds. At 4.9g per earbud, they’re not among the heaviest earbuds out there. You will find three sets of earbuds tips and fins in the box. Swap them out for the ones that fit you best. This isn’t something that you can do on the Apple AirPods and it certainly elevates your comfort level with the device.
There’s a touchpad in the center of each earbud. There are predetermined actions which will be carried out based on a single, double or triple tap. They can’t be changed but you’re allowed to configure what a long press of the touchpad does. For example, you can set it to launch Bixby. We’ll talk more about that in a second. There’s an LED outside and inside the charging case to show the charging status. The light is amber when it’s charging and green when it’s full.
You do get a really good fit with the Galaxy Buds. They sit nice and snug in the ear canal which allows for better sound insulation. You’ll always be reminded, though, that you’re wearing the earbuds. They don’t just sort of fade into the background. That being said, I never felt uncomfortable wearing them for extended periods of time. I have quite happily worn and used them when out and about the entire day or binging Netflix for hours on the weekend. That snug fit does come in handy when you’re out for a jog or are headbanging at a concert. The Galaxy Buds will, more often than not, stay put.
Galaxy Buds sound quality and performance
Before we dive into this section, it’s best to temper your expectations. Let’s take a brief look at the facts. The Galaxy Buds, like many other cord-free earbuds, are small. The actual source of the audio inside the shell is small. Wireless earbuds are known more for their convenience than their ability, or lack thereof, to deliver studio quality sound. You will not get exceptional sound quality on such products. However, it doesn’t mean that the Galaxy Buds are bad at the one job they’re supposed to do.
Once they’re paired and you pop them into your ears, the Galaxy Buds acknowledge that with a nice futuristic chime. You can use each bud one at a time if you’d like, just leave the other to charge in the case. Right, then, the basics. Volume is good, the Galaxy Buds can get nice and loud. So is clarity. I rarely noticed crackling sounds when the volume was turned all the way up. However, you may or may not like the Galaxy Buds based on your preference of good sound quality. The Galaxy Buds are neutral sounding for the most part with decent bass at full volume. There’s good separation as well with more detail than you might have expected. They’re not bass heavy by any stretch of the imagination.
Samsung allows for some personalization in sound quality. Pop into the Galaxy Wearable app and switch between the five Equaliser presets. It’s set at Dynamic by default which will be good for most users. Other presets include Soft, Clear, Bass boost and Treble boost. Bass boost does pump it up a little bit so if you like yours on the heavy side, utilize the preset. The sound isolation is exceptional, though, and that just makes the overall listening experience so much better.
Since that sound isolation is on point, Samsung offers an Enhanced Ambient Sound mode on the Galaxy Buds. It uses the dual microphones to let ambient sound through the earbuds so that you’re aware of your surroundings. That’s a great feature to have when you’re out for a run or cycling and want to make sure that you’re safe on the road. However, the ambient sound just feels too artificial. I never wanted to keep it enabled because it felt even worse when I had the volume turned all the way up.
I quite prefer the quick ambient sound feature. Just touch and hold your earbud touchpad to enable it. The feature will turn down the media volume and turn up the ambient sound temporarily. That way you can quickly help that person who just asked you for directions and then go back to having a wholesome listening experience again. You do have to configure it from the app, though.
The touchpad is how you control the various functions once you’re wearing the earbuds. A single tap will play or pause a track, double tap will play the next track or answer/end a phone call while a triple tap will play the previous track. These actions can’t be changed. Touch and hold the touchpad to decline a call. This action can also be configured to something more to your liking, such as configuring it to launch Bixby or the quick ambient sound feature.
The dual microphones work well for phone calls. The person on the other end of the call had no problems with call audio as I talked to them while walking around in a busy Seoul market. However, Bixby commands don’t seem to reach the earbuds properly, as there were quite a few instances where Bixby didn’t respond. However, this is probably an issue with the voice assistant and not the earbuds, as phone calls worked perfectly fine.
I did notice that sometimes a tap wouldn’t register if my finger didn’t hit the exact center of the touchpad or that it just wouldn’t register if I was rapidly going through the allowed actions. However, my biggest qualm with the touchpad is that it doesn’t allow swipes to control the media volume. It’s frustrating to not be able to do that. You could try asking Bixby to turn down the volume for you but it will do that in tiny increments and you’d rather just give up and do it manually. The long press action can be configured for volume up and down but it’s just not intuitive.
It was slightly concerning when I experienced my first Bluetooth connection dropout merely ten minutes after using the Galaxy Buds for the first time. I was walking outside and the Galaxy Note 9 was in my jacket pocket. The connection drops out for a split second and while there’s minimal disruption to the media, it’s not difficult to miss. I have noticed dropouts on several occasions, mostly when I’ve been using them outside. They aren’t frequent enough to be a major problem. The video lag was quite noticeable when the Galaxy Buds were paired to my four-year-old MacBook Pro but I faced no such issues using them with a variety of Samsung smartphones and tablets.
The Galaxy Buds can also help you out with notifications. You can go into the Galaxy Wearable app to manage the apps for which you’d want the notifications to come through. You can get a summary of your text messages or emails for example, or hear who’s calling you. There’s a Find My Earbuds feature in the app as well which can help you locate your earbuds if you happen to have misplaced them within range.
Galaxy Buds battery life
Samsung claims that you can get up to six hours of playback when the Buds are fully charged with an additional seven hour charge from the carrying case. And battery life in actual usage is actually quite close to the company’s estimates . The charging case has a USB-C port so you can use your phone’s charger. If you have a Galaxy S10, you can also pop the case on the back and charge it using Wireless PowerShare.
Galaxy Buds verdict
So, the $129.99 question: Should you buy the Galaxy Buds? Given how liberally Samsung handed them out with Galaxy S10 pre-orders and subsequent promotions, those of you who bought the new flagship may already have a pair.
That being said, I was very impressed by the Galaxy Buds. It feels like Samsung knew what it was trying to achieve with this device. It doesn’t try to be something that it’s not with half-baked features that don’t work as well as they should. The sound quality is great for most users. You won’t find any faults with it unless you’re an audiophile who’s particular about the soundstage and very precise about the sound quality.
They look good, are comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, and are even sweat resistant so you can use them in the gym. You’ll be happy with the Galaxy Buds as long as you’re not expecting studio-quality sound because that wouldn’t be possible on earbuds this size. If your expectations are kept in check, the $129.99 price tag is quite reasonable.
|Comfortable fit||Touchpad could have been better|
|Well designed earbuds that stay in your ear||Ambient sound mode sounds too artificial|
|Good battery life||Bluetooth dropouts are noticeable|
|Good sound quality for wireless earbuds|