Hands-On with Samsung Galaxy Buds

Posted on August 20, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile, Music + Videos, Wearables with 23 Comments

Introduced this past spring, Galaxy Buds are Samsung’s take on Apple’s AirPods, a pair of “true” wireless earbuds. I ordered a pair ahead of the arrival of my Galaxy Note 10, which is expected on Friday. Consider this my first tepid step back into the Samsung Galaxy ecosystem.

I’ve never used “true” wireless earbuds, which are so named because each is separate from, and is charged separately from, the other. What I have been using, most recently, is Apple’s previous-generation PowerBeats 3, which are “wireless earphones” that are connected to each other via a cord.

That cord has value. You can charge the pair as a single unit. And, more important to me, since I have been using them at the gym, you pretty much can’t lose them. The cord, combined with each earphone’s earhook, ensures that.

So, the lack of a cord on true wireless earbuds has been concerning to me. But my daughter reports that she’s never lost one of her AirPods, though she has oddly lost the charging case that came with them. (She is a teenager; I’ll just chalk it up to that. And don’t worry, she found it after I purchased a new one.) And Brad and Mehedi, both of whom are AirPod users, have likewise never lost any of their AirPods.

Anyway, the Galaxy Buds arrive in a package that is as small and high-quality as anything you’d get from Apple, and I assume that’s the point. The hardware itself is also very nice: The Buds themselves and the nice wireless charging case that they ship in are both of very high quality. (The case holds a charge and can charge the Buds even when it’s not plugged in, via USB-C. When it is plugged in, it will charge the Buds as well as itself.)

Because everyone has different ear sizes and shapes ears, Samsung also includes two additional sets of rubbery ear tips (in small and large sizes; a medium set is preinstalled on Buds) and wingtips. This is customer-centric and more than a little bit obvious. But it’s something that Apple does not provide with AirPods because, you know, God forbid everything is not neat and tidy. If they don’t fit in your ears, tough.

Like the OnePlus Bullets Wireless earphones, the Galaxy Buds don’t have any obvious on/off switch, and because there’s no cord, there are no inline audio controls as you see on other headphones. This meant that there would be a bit of user education ahead. Time to RTFM, Paul.

As it turns out, most modern Galaxy handsets should automatically sense the Buds when they’re nearby and in the case, which must be open. I’ll test that when the Note 10 arrives. For now, I’m testing the Buds with my Google Pixel 3a XL instead, so I had to install a Galaxy Wearable app from the Google Play Store. That app detected the Buds and I was up and running pretty quickly.

The app also helps you use and configure the Buds. It provides an animated overview of the various taps you can perform on the touchpad on each Bud. For example, you can tap once to toggle Play/Pause, double-tap to play the next track or answer or end a phone call, and triple-tap to play the previous track. You can also press and hold to decline a call and, for media playback experiences, create a custom command.

That the app required an update on first run, and one that occurred outside of the Google Play Store, is a bit alarming. I trust Samsung, I guess. But that’s rather odd. (Perhaps Samsung handles this through its own store on its own devices. But still.)

The Buds also support an ambient sound feature, which is important because they block out a pretty good chunk of outside sound, even if you’re not playing any audio. (It’s basically passive noise canceling since the Buds completely block your ear canal.) You enable this in the app, of course. And … it can be a little weird, especially if you want to use the Buds indoor, working. But this is crucial if you’re going to go out in the world, especially in busy city locations.

You can also enable a dynamic equalizer setting, which I’m told will improve the sound. That’s the problem with earbuds, of course: The speakers are so small that the sound quality isn’t always great. I don’t have any AirPods experience to compare with, but my first impression of the sound quality was … eh. It sounded OK, but not as good as the other headphones I’ve used recently. Switching to dynamic in the equalizer dial really helped, however. In fact, now they sound fantastic with both music and spoken word (podcast/audiobook).

Samsung says that the Galaxy Buds are good for 13 hours of battery life, but I believe they’re including the 6 additional hours of charge you’ll get from the case, for a real-world battery life total of 7 hours. We’ll see. But charging time is, of course, an issue: Here, Samsung says that 15 minutes of wireless charging will result in 1.7 hours of playback time.

OK, I’m off on a walk to see how the Buds perform outside. And then I’ll start bringing them to the gym this week, and will of course pair them with the Note 10 when that handset arrives. More soon, if required.

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