Samsung bundled a free pair of Galaxy Buds with every Galaxy S10, Galaxy S10 Plus pre-order in the weeks following its Galaxy Unpacked hardware event in February, but now that promotion has ended – are the Galaxy Buds worth their new-found £139 price tag?
If battery life is at the top of your Most Wanted when it comes to true wireless earbuds, then it’s worth giving the Galaxy Buds a look. These new buds, which were unveiled in February alongside the Samsung Galaxy S10, replace the Gear IconX earbuds in the Samsung store.
From the outside, it seems like little has changed in the two years since the IconX first launched two years ago. The Galaxy Buds have the same pill-shaped charging case, interchangeable wingtips, and small plectrum-shaped touchpad on each earbud to control playback and summon whichever AI assistant is built into your smartphone. But despite the shared DNA, the Galaxy Buds introduce a number of improvements that helps them stand-out in a very crowded market.
Samsung says the Galaxy Buds can endure six-hour music playback between charges, but in our experience, the earbuds managed to outlast those claims. While some of its competitors only manage a meagre two to three hours, the Galaxy Buds can power through the longest podcast, album, and can even make it through at least one chapter of a Game Of Thrones audiobook – high praise indeed given the size of those door-stoppers – without hitting the red battery icon. When the Galaxy Buds do need to recharge, the bundled charging case is good for a single top-up, which is one refill fewer than most of its closest true wireless rivals.
Unlike the IconX, the Galaxy Buds charging case supports wireless charging, which is a nice little addition. It means you won’t have to worry about lugging around another cable when you’re away for the weekend. And, if you have a shiny new Huawei Mate 20 Pro or Galaxy S10, you can top-up the charging case by placing it on the back of your phone, too. Handy if you’re caught short.
If you prefer to do things the old fashioned way – or let’s face it, the faster way – there’s a USB-C port on the back of the charging case too.
Although the Galaxy Buds will work with any smartphone running Android 5.0 or newer as well as recent iPhone models, you'll get the best possible experience using them with a Samsung device. When you first open the Galaxy Buds case next to a Samsung smartphone you'll get a convenient pop-up at the bottom of the screen which offers one-tap pairing with the handset. It's very similar to the AirPods and worked a treat in our time with the earbuds.
Those on rival Android smartphones won't enjoy the same hassle-free pairing, but will get a bucketload more configuration options that those using the Galaxy Buds with an iOS device. That's because the Samsung Wearables app (opens in new tab), which can be used to customise some gestures – like a long-press on the earbud touchpad, for example, is only available on Android OS devices. This app is also the only way to update the firmware on the earbuds, so iPhone owners won't benefit from stability improvements and firmware patches for the foreseeable future.
Battery life, pairing and wireless charging aside, the Galaxy Buds are a pretty standard package. The Galaxy Buds will automatically pause playback whenever they’re both removed from your ears, which is a nice feature, but would be more useful if it also worked when you remove a single earbud too, like the AirPods. However, that could be a personal preference.
The earbuds fit well and there are enough wingtips and different size earbuds included in the box that you’ll be hard-pushed to find a combination that aren’t comfortable to wear for long durations. Sadly, audio quality isn’t anything to write home about. Samsung says it relied on the expertise of AKG, which is also owns, to tune the Galaxy Buds. Unfortunately, the earbuds don’t sound like anything special and can’t hold a candle to the noise-cancelling Sony WF-1000X, for example.
The Bluetooth connection between the Buds and smartphone has been a little iffy at times too. Touch wood, we've never outright lost a connection, but there has been multiple instances during our testing when one Galaxy Bud has momentarily cut-out, before the returning while the second one suffered the same outage. This creates a weird Doppler effect that can be a frustrating – especially if you're just getting to the chorus, or the punchline for a gag in an Elis James and John Robins podcast.
If you’re thinking about the Galaxy Buds, it’ll be because you want the endurance of the battery life or the convenience of true wireless, because you’re not going to be getting a much better audio experience than the wired headphones that were bundled with your smartphone.
• Samsung Galaxy Buds are available to pre-order in Black, Yellow and White for £139 now. Galaxy Buds ship March 20, 2019
Samsung Galaxy Buds review: News, Updates
Since we published our Galaxy Buds review, some new details about the Samsung wireless earbuds have emerged. We'll keep you posted about all of the latest updates here, in case they change how you feel about the handset...
April 30, 2019: Samsung has rolled-out a substantial update to its Galaxy Buds, which brings a slew of new features. Chief amongst the upgrades is the ability to forgo the touchpads on each earbud entirely and use voice assistant Bixby to launch a number features, including enabling / disabling the ambient sound feature (that makes you aware of your surroundings while still listening to music), as well as change the equaliser settings, and find out the current battery charge level.
Improvements have also been made to reliability of the touchpad controls, which should make the controls on each earbud a little more stable. To update your Galaxy Buds, download the Galaxy Wearable app while the earbuds are connected to your smartphone. If you don't own an Android smartphone, there's a Galaxy Buds Manager program on Windows / Mac app that can also update the Galaxy Buds.
May 20, 2019: Samsung has started to push-out another update for its Galaxy Buds wire-free earbuds, less than a month after the last major one. But while the last one brought a healthy selection of new features, you'll find nothing of the sort in the latest software rolling out to Galaxy Buds right now.
Instead, Samsung says the new firmware is designed to improve the stability of your Bluetooth connection and keep the audio performance consistent. The new version, dubbed R170XXU0ASE1, can be installed using the Galaxy Wearable app now.
September 3, 2019: Samsung has rolled-out a new firmware update to the Galaxy Buds designed specifically to improve the Bluetooth connection between the earbuds and your smartphone, tablet or computer. If this sounds familiar, it's exactly what the last one promised to do as well.
Dubbed R170XXU0ASH2, Samsung is keeping shtum about exactly what the "added fixes" promised for the Galaxy Buds are – but it will likely to welcome news to anyone who has been experiencing issues with patchy connections. In our testing we noticed some momentary connection hiccups, so hopefully these have now been ironed out. As always, you'll need the Galaxy Wearable smartphone app or Galaxy Buds Manager desktop software to install the new firmware.
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