First look tech review: Samsung Galaxy Buds

A bright yellow set grabs attention, but is this new wireless product worth the money?

Samsung’s Galaxy Buds on display at its launch event in San Francisco this week.  Photograph: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Samsung’s Galaxy Buds on display at its launch event in San Francisco this week. Photograph: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

 

The Galaxy Buds are not Samsung’s first shot at the wireless audio market. In 2016, the company introduced the IconX, and in 2018 a new version of the buds was released alongside the S9 and S9 Plus.

But the Galaxy Buds have some improvements over the predecessors. They are slightly smaller, which means they are a bit more subtle to wear, although the colour choice could change that - there is a bright yellow set that are definitely attention grabbing. I’ve had a chance to try them out in San Francisco. Are they worth the money?

The fit

As someone with smaller ears, I find wireless ear buds a bit difficult to use. They stay put, but I’m always a bit nervous that they’re about to fall if I move around too much. The Galaxy Buds come with a choice of tips and wings that help them fit into your ear properly. The good news? They didn’t budge, even with vigorous head shaking. They were comfortable to wear for long periods too; lighter means less pressure on my ears.

The set up

Getting up and running with the Galaxy Buds is simple if you have a Galaxy phone. Similar to the AirPods, there is a quick pair feature for Samsung phones that makes getting set up quick and easy.

You aren’t limited to only Samsung devices; obviously they will work best with Samsung’s phones, but the Samsung Wear app is available to download from the Play Store. So if you have an Android phone made in the last couple of years, chances are it will work with these earbuds.

You can also link them with iOS devices, simply by opening the charging case with the buds inside, and scanning for new bluetooth devices. Again, you won’t get quite the same experience as you would if you were using a Samsung device and only some of the control you’d have if you had the Galaxy Wear app, but they’ll work for listening to music.

The features

The ear buds have touchpads that can control everything from summoning Samsung’s virtual assistant Bixby to hanging up on calls or pausing your music. There is a certain level of customisation here too; you can set the tap and hold gesture to allow access to the quick ambient sound mode, controlling volume or using voice commands. The ambient sound mode is handy if you need to have a quick word, although you can turn it on for longer periods in the app.

Controlling music was easy - tap to play or pause a track, two taps to skip. However, I found the touch pads fiddly at times, and the touch and hold control rarely worked properly for me.

Bixby stayed stubbornly silent, so I changed one ear bud to ambient noise control, which worked better but still intermittently at first. When I hooked the ear buds up to a different Android phone, the voice commands gesture worked more consistently, and activated Google Assitsant. So perhaps Bixby was the issue here.

The case acts as the charger. There is a USB-C connection on the back of the case to charge it up, but you can also throw it on a wireless charger.

That was added to make the fit with the S10 a bit more compelling, with the introduction of reverse wireless charging on the phone, but it also means you can use the charging pads that are in some cars, coffee shops and ones you possibly have at home thanks to the new generation of phones that include it as a standard feature.

The app

As mentioned, the Galaxy Wear app can be used to set up the ear buds and connect them to your Android device. But that isn’t all it does. You can see their current status - connection, battery life, the equaliser settings. You can also customise some controls and also locate your ear buds - very handy when you forget to put them away after use.

The sound

So far, I’ve no complaints about the sound quality of the Galaxy Buds. While they won’t replace my over-ear headphones in terms of favourite audio, the Galaxy Buds did a good job on almost everything I threw at them. The ability to play with bass and treble on the equaliser settings sorted any niggles with different types of audio.

However, you don’t have a huge amount of control - the bass boost is all or nothing, for example; there’s no incremental changes available.

If you are using the ear buds to make or take calls, things old up well. The Galaxy Buds have adaptive dual microphone technology to cut out background noise, so your audio comes through nice and clear.

The battery

This is one area where Samsung falls behind Apple. You get about six hours of music out of the Galaxy Buds, an hour longer than the AirPods, but the charging case doesn’t last as long. Samsung’s case gives you seven hours; the AirPods have enough for 24 hours of listening. But Samsung does have the ability to charge the case from compatible wireless chargers, including the back of the S10.

The launch

The Galaxy Buds will start shipping on March 20th, and will cost €159.

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