The New Wireless Earbuds to Beat



When at first you don’t succeed, strip it down to the bare bones and start again. Samsung took that approach with its Gear IconX wireless buds, stripping out all the wonky fitness tracking and onboard music storage. And thanks to those efforts, we get the outstanding Galaxy Buds ($129.99, or free with a Galaxy S10 for a limited time).

The company even retooled the design a little, leaving us with a pair of truly wireless buds that deliver great sound, near-instantaneous pairing and nearly 6 hours of battery life. Plus, they’re the first buds that you can charge via your Galaxy S10 smartphone, putting them miles ahead of the current crop of truly wireless buds.

 

Design

Samsung’s Galaxy Buds are what I picture when I think of near-future tech. The alpine-white earphones have a seamless, sweatproof design that exudes elegance. The reflective, triangular touchpads on the front of the buds give off just enough pearlescence to entice.

The buds and rear are made from a matte-white plastic. The middle is wrapped in white rubber material defined by the little wing that helps secure the bud snugly in your ear canal. A white silicone ear tip completes the look; if the default tips are too large or small, the Galaxy Buds ship with two pairs additional sizes of tips and wings.

While the white is striking, it is a bit of a dirt magnet. I’d be curious to see how the yellow and black versions of the buds would hold up against dirt and earwax.

In addition to the tips and wings, the Galaxy Buds also ship with a 1.4-ounce, 2.8 x 1.5 x 1-inch, white charging case. It’s a bit heavier and longer than the Apple AirPods‘ 1.3-ounce, 1.7 x 0.8 x 2.1-inch case.

Comfort

Typically, when I’m wearing truly wireless buds, particularly the AirPods, there’s always this cloud of paranoia about losing a bud while I’m walking. And running for a train? Forget about it.

The best thing about the Galaxy Buds is that they never feel like they’re one hard footstep from falling out of my ears.

It’s different with the Galaxy Buds. The 0.2-ounce, 0.7 x 0.9 x 0.8-inch buds nestled comfortably into my ear canal, with the wing resting gently against my concha. I wore the Galaxy Buds for more than 2 hours without any discomfort as I went about my day, taking the subway from Manhattan to the Bronx and back, doing a little housework, and even an hour-long session gym.

And while comfort is incredibly important, the best thing about the Galaxy Buds in terms of fit was that they never felt like they were one hard footstep from falling out of my ears, as happens with the AirPods.

Setup

Connecting the Galaxy Buds with my Samsung Galaxy Note 8 happened nearly instantaneously. In fact, I haven’t experienced anything that seamless since the AirPods. As soon as I placed the buds in my ears, I was greeted by a warm chime. Meanwhile, a notification acknowledging a successful connection flashed on my Note 8’s screen, along with battery info for each bud.

Whenever I put the buds in their charging case, all I had to do to reconnect them was open the lid.

Operating the buds is pretty straightforward. You just tap on the reflective touchpad on either ear. It’s one tap to play/pause, a double tap to skip to the next track or answer/end a call, and three taps to skip backward. Samsung also lets you choose what happens when you long-press a bud: Activate your default digital assistant (Google or Siri), temporarily make ambient sounds audible or adjust the volume.

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Operation of the Galaxy Buds was smooth and accurate. And unlike with other tap-controlled earbuds such as the Jabra Elite 65ts, you can employ a light touch to activate an action.

App

Although you can use the Galaxy Buds on their own, paring them with the free (Android, iOS) Galaxy Wearable app unlocks a lot more functionality. The app lets you monitor the buds’ battery life and connection status, configure touchpad options, and update firmware. You can even select whether or not the Buds alert you to new notifications and read them aloud.

In addition, you can toggle the Ambient Noise feature and adjust how much outside noise comes in, which is good for when you’re walking or exercising in public. It’s a feature the AirPods currently lack, but we’re hoping to see in the next iteration, the rumored AirPods 2.

One of the most important features available in the app is the Equalizer, which lets you adjust the audio to your liking. There are five settings (Dynamic, Bass Boost, Soft, Treble Boost and Clear) that help enhance different genres of music. Bass Boost, for example, is ideal for tracks with deep lows, like hip-hop songs, while Clear is more suited for acoustic or live recordings.

Although the presets did offer noticeably different results in terms of audio quality, I used Dynamic the most, as it produced bright, full audio with a fairly large soundscape. But if you prefer to listen without any artificial tuning, you can disable the Equalizer altogether.

The other major feature in the app is Find My Buds. Within hours of starting my review, I misplaced the left bud. And since I’m in the middle of packing for a move, finding that small, white gadget in the debris was like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. Once I calmed down enough to remember the app, I activated Find My Buds and quickly located the errant bud thanks to the loud, shrill sound it emitted.

Audio Performance

Apple’s Airpods, while good, can have a distant, airy quality about them. That’s why I appreciated the fullness that the Galaxy Buds delivered on almost every song.

On Rapsody’s “Black & Ugly,” the rapstress’s alto, braggadocious verses shone through, floating on a cascade of bell-like piano chords. Details were clear enough that I could hear the insistent twang of the guitars in chorus with the low end of the track. The AirPods delivered a bloated performance, with a crowded bass line that served only to intrude on the other components of the track. Still, I heard the guitar strums, although they were a bit muffled.

When the remastered 2012 version of David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” played on the Galaxy Buds, I was impressed with the roomy soundstage that let the cymbals breathe amidst the raucous electric guitar and Bowie’s vocals. The AirPods delivered clear audio with crisp detail, particularly on the treble, where Bowie’s voice danced on top of the guitar, but the sound lacked the forwardness of the Galaxy Buds.

Apple Airpods can have a distant, airy quality about them. That’s why I appreciated the fullness that the Galaxy Buds delivered on almost every song.

Listening to Smino’s dreamy “Wild Irish Roses” was a bit rough on the AirPods. The purposefully distorted keyboard sounded bloated when paired with the deep, drawling vocal. However, I had no problem picking out the drums and the brushes gently hitting the cymbals. The Galaxy Buds gave a better performance, with cleaner low ends that kept everything in balance.

Battery Life and Bluetooth

Samsung claims its 58-mAH battery can sustain the Galaxy Buds for 6 hours, and the earbuds lived up to the hype. I spent the day running errands, commuting from Manhattan to the Bronx and back, and still had enough juice to do an hour at the gym. The Buds tapped out at the 5-hour and 46-minute mark. That’s significantly longer than the AirPods’ runtime (estimated: 5 hours, actual time: 4:29).

MORE: Best Wireless Headphones Available Right Now

Once the Buds start running low on battery, you have two ways to recharge: the charging case or your Galaxy S10 smartphone. I was disappointed to learn that the charging case’s 252-mAH battery offers only an additional 7 hours of battery life. The AirPods’ case offers 24 hours of charge, allowing for multiple recharges.

I spent the day running errands, commuting from Manhattan to the Bronx and back, and still had enough juice to do an hour at the gym.

If you own one of the new S10 phones, you can power up your buds via the wireless charge feature. Simply place the buds in the charging case, put it on the back of the phone, and the Buds will start drawing power from the phone in seconds.

Thanks to Bluetooth 5.0, the Galaxy Buds sport a better wireless connection than the previous standard. Throughout my trial, I never experienced any audio dropout. I could also leave my phone in my bedroom and rock out in the kitchen without any interference from the six walls between us.

Call Performance

Taking calls on the Galaxy Buds was a mixed bag. I could clearly hear my mom when I called her, but she sounded like she was talking through a sound-dampening filter. It was loud enough to converse, but she sounded really muffled. She reported the same sound quality on her end, which was expected, but disappointing.

MORE: 12 Cheap Running Headphones (Under $50), Ranked Best to Worst

I got similar results when I called Jorge, our Product Tester. Although it was clear, Jorge’s voice sounded diffused and hollow while he stated that it sounded like I was talking to him via speakerphone.

Bottom Line

Tough, yet stylish and with a modern flair, the Samsung Galaxy Buds make a strong first impression. These $129.99 wireless buds deliver great sound that can be adjusted to your liking. From their near-instantaneous pairing to their easy-to-learn touchpads and nearly 6 hours of battery life, the Galaxy Buds are a premium product. And with the addition of wireless charging via an S10 smartphone, Samsung is pushing both wireless buds and smartphones into exciting new territory.

If you’re devoted to Apple with all the fixins, the Apple AirPods are for you. The $159 buds are the original kings of truly wireless for good reason: They offer solid battery life and audio performance in addition to customizable gesture controls. But with their new wireless-charging capabilities, long battery life and ease of use, the Samsung Galaxy Buds are the truly wireless headphones to beat.

Credit: Tom’s Guide



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