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Samsung Galaxy Buds review: Middling performance

Christopher Minasians
10 Jul 2020
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
139
incl VAT

The Galaxy Buds are super comfortable and have wireless charging, but you can do better for the money

Pros 
Comfortable
Instant pairing
Charging case can be wirelessly charged
Cons 
Poor audio quality
Inconsistent touch controls
Problematic wireless transmission
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At its big Galaxy S10 reveal early in 2019, Samsung had a surprise announcement for audio fans: the new true wireless Samsung Galaxy Buds, of which the firm was promising a free pair to anyone preordering one of the new handsets.

With the pre-order offer over, however, are Samsung’s third generation true wireless earbuds worth the £139 asking price?

READ NEXT: Our pick of the best true wireless earbuds in the UK

Samsung Galaxy Buds review: What you need to know

The Samsung Galaxy Buds are ultraportable, so-called “true-wireless” headphones, a category that’s experiencing an explosion in growth at the moment. With true-wireless earphones there’s no cabling at all, either between the earpieces or the earpieces and your mobile device, hence the name.

As with other true wireless earbuds, the Galaxy Buds come with a pocket-sized charging case that is used to top up the battery. Unlike most, this case can be charged wirelessly. And if you happen to own a device with a reverse-charging function, such as the Galaxy S10 or the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, you can even charge them by placing the case on the back of your phone.

READ NEXT: RHA TrueConnect review: True wireless earbuds for audiophiles

Samsung Galaxy Buds review: UK price and competition

If you didn't pre-order a Samsung Galaxy S10, the Galaxy Buds will set you back £139. At this price, they face some stiff competition: the fantastic-sounding RHA TrueConnect cost £150, the colourful Mobvoi TicPods Free are £120 and the versatile Samsung Gear IconX (2018), which have fitness features, cost £179. Stretch the budget to £279, and the sonically flawless Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless come into the equation.

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Samsung Galaxy Buds review: Comfort, connectivity and design

The Galaxy Buds are available in three colours: black, white and a rather garish yellow. They’re topped with a triangular panel that has an attractive pearlescent finish and looks great.

More importantly, perhaps, they’re pretty much flawless from an ergonomic standpoint. They’re lightweight and protrude far less from your ears than, say, the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless. I found them extremely comfortable to wear, an almost perfect fit for my ears and, unlike most wireless or wired in-ear headphones, I was able to wear them for long periods without discomfort.

Samsung provides three sets of silicone tips in various sizes (again these provide strike a good balance between pliability and noise isolation) and two pairs of rubber rings that fit around the outside of the earbuds’ body. One of these has a small shark-like fin that’s designed to lock the earbuds into the outer part of your ear and prevent them falling out during exercise. They’re also IPX2-certified, which means they’re moisture-resistant – barely.

The charging case that comes with the Buds is as compact and sleek as the earbuds themselves. It measures just 70 x 39 x 27mm, and its pebble-like shape makes it surprisingly easy to pocket. It provides seven hours of additional charge and even supports wireless charging, in addition to the regular fast-charging via a USB Type-C. The earbuds themselves last around six hours on a single charge, which gives a total of 13 hours when combined with the cradle. That’s a smidge better than the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless’ 12 hours, but far shorter than the RHA TrueConnect, which deliver a total of 25 hours, albeit from a bulkier case and earbuds.

View our latest Samsung discount codes

As for connectivity, these Bluetooth headphones support both AAC and SBC codecs. Alas, there’s no sign of the higher-quality codecs such as aptX, aptX HD and LDAC but, so far, most other true wireless earbuds lack support for these as well.

When it comes to wireless pairing, the Galaxy Buds are seriously quick. You might think this would be a given with modern-day Bluetooth earphones but I haven’t come across any that pair this quickly with my Android smartphone. Indeed, pairing with a Samsung Galaxy S10 is supposed to be exactly like pairing AirPods with an iPhone: the process begins as soon as you bring them in close proximity of the phone. I didn't have an S10 to test this with but will update this review when I do.

However, that doesn’t paint the whole picture. I experienced connection issues throughout testing – not with pairing, but with the link between the earbuds themselves. Not only would the right and left earbuds randomly desynchronise from each other, creating a disconcerting echo effect, but I also experienced a light crackling in both buds occasionally as well. A recent firmware update somewhat addressed these issues but didn't eradicate all the problems that I faced.

On the positive side, these issues were never long-term and would always rectify themselves within a second or two. A recent firmware update has reduced the frequency of these disconnections, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less irritating when it happens.

To interact with the Galaxy Buds, Samsung provides touch-based controls. A simple tap on the surface of either earbud plays and pauses, two taps skips you forwards and three taps skips back. Finally, a customisable tap-and-hold on the right earpiece activates, by default, voice commands (Google Assistant or Bixby). Performing the same on the left earbud initiates a feature called “quick ambient sound”, switching the audio over to the microphone temporarily so you can hear what’s going on around you.

I’m not generally a fan of touch-based controls, but the Galaxy Buds’ controls work better than most, even for triple taps. The small size of the triangular touch area means it’s easy to mispress on one of your taps but, if you get your finger bang on target, the touch controls are pretty reliable.

Samsung Galaxy Buds review: App

There’s more to the Galaxy Buds than simple wireless audio reproduction, though. You can also customise various features and view settings via an accompanying app. On Samsung smartphones running Android 7.1.1 or above, Samsung recommends using the SmartThings app; everyone else will need the Galaxy Wearable app. Unfortunately, iPhone owners are frozen out as there’s no equivalent on the App Store.

Through the app you can update the firmware, adjust the EQ via a number of presets, and enable or disable audio notifications from apps (it’s possible to have messages read out to you). You can customise the press-and-hold touchpad action, too, and switch it to volume control if you don’t find the ambient-noise and voice-control features particularly useful. It’s also possible to use the app to toggle ambient sound on and off and adjust the amount of external noise that’s mixed in with the headphone audio, while the “voice focus” option amplifies people’s voices, making conversations easier to carry out with the headphones still in.

The app also displays the remaining charge on each earbud (but not on the charging case, annoyingly), and through the “Find My Earbuds” function can ping the earbuds if you happen to have misplaced them.

View our latest Samsung discount codes

READ NEXT: Our favourite wireless in-ear, on-ear and over-ear headphones

Samsung Galaxy Buds review: Sound quality

The Samsung Galaxy Buds’ biggest weakness is sound quality and, in many ways, they represent a downgrade over the Gear IconX (2018). They don’t sound as good as the RHA TrueConnect, either, and are nowhere near the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless for audio fidelity although, to be fair, the latter are considerably more expensive.

The main problem is that the overall sound profile favours the mid-to-high frequencies too strongly. After a few minutes of listening to Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You”, they became unbearable to listen to, with too much harsh sibilance at the top and an overly aggressive and somewhat artificial-sounding mids.

As for the bass, that’s generally tight and controlled. The pounding drum in Disclosure’s “You & Me (Flume Remix)” is clear, taut and musical; unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the sub-bass frequencies where the Galaxy Buds lack low-down extension, rolling off quite steeply below 30Hz. By comparison, both the Gear IconX (2018) and RHA TrueConnect deliver much more impressive sub-bass response.

Combined with a rather thin and congested soundstage, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds are a disappointment in the sound-quality department. That might not be a problem for you. After all, they’re hardly disastrous, and if you got them free with your Samsung Galaxy S10 you probably won’t mind too much, either, but for the money I’d expect better.

READ NEXT: Mobvoi TicPods Free review: A colourful alternative to Apple's AirPods

Samsung Galaxy Buds review: Verdict

And that last line perfectly sums up the Samsung Galaxy Buds. As a freebie, these earphones were more than acceptable. They free you of the tyranny of cables, they’re incredibly comfortable and super convenient – and they sound better than a pair of AirPods to boot.

Buy now from Carphone Warehouse

However, if all you want is a decent pair of true wireless headphones to go with your existing phone, they make a far less convincing case for themselves, with lacklustre sound quality and spotty connectivity outweighing the Galaxy Buds’ undoubted practicality. At £140, I’d advise you choose the RHA TrueConnect or the TicPods Free instead.

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