As a long time Apple AirPods users, the opportunity to try out other branded true wireless earphones is an interesting one for me. If anything, it is to see how the others compare to the industry’s gold standard, which first made it out into the open in 2016. There are several things I need to get out of the way before we go into this review. First, I have not tried the Galaxy Buds before, so I can’t really tell you all the differences and improvements between the two generations of earbuds based on anecdotal experience. Second, I am no audiophile with extensive knowledge on audio matters so unfortunately I will not able to describe all the audio intricacies that you would expect in this sort of review. I can only tell you my experience of using it as an average consumer. If you’re in, then great! Let’s dive in.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds line is probably one of the closest competitors to Apple’s super-popular AirPods. While Apple has released three generations of their wireless earbuds, the Korean giant is currently onto their second generation, with their Galaxy Buds+ coming out a couple months after the AirPods Pro. By itself, the Galaxy Buds+ isn’t a radical upgrade from its predecessor, with better sound quality, improved microphone for voice call and a longer battery being the only major improvements. These are solid upgrades and Samsung is doing the right thing by working on these main features.
On the outside, it keeps the identical look and feel of its predecessor for both the earbuds and their carrying case, which of course also charges them. You will find that the case is glossier but other than that, this is very much the Galaxy Buds we are familiar with since it first came into the scene last year. It can be paired to use with not only smartphones but also tablets/PCs/laptops. Naturally, it works best with Samsung devices.
Getting it paired with the Galaxy S20 Ultra that I have with me is a breeze. The pairing process requires just the simple act of opening the charging case near the phone. It isn’t as frictionless as how the AirPods pair with an iPhone as you would still need to wade through a series of system permission prompts but these are just minor inconveniences that you can quickly go through in a few extra seconds. If you are trying to pair with an iPhone, a non-Samsung Android phone or a computer, you will have to go through the normal Bluetooth pairing process.
Once you are all paired up, you can customise a few aspects of the earbuds such as the touchpad controls and and sound profile. The Galaxy Wearable app offers an equaliser setting that has six preset sound profiles you can choose from to tune the audio to your liking, which is something that the AirPods does not offer. The touchpad on each of the earbuds works just as they intended to – you tap on the surface to play/pause the audio, switch between tracks and answer calls, while long presses can be customised to invoke voice assistants, turn ambient sound on/off or even quick launch Spotify and have music playing instantly which I found to be super useful without needing to touch the phone.
However, it is easy (and rather annoying) to make accidental contacts with the touch surface and trigger unwanted actions when all you want to do is to just adjust the positioning of the earbuds sitting in your ears. Thankfully you can prevent that from happening if it becomes too much of a spot of bother by disabling the touchpad controls in the app settings. Also, taking the earbuds off your ears does not automatically pause whatever that is playing, unlike some wireless earbuds which have that feature.
I got a rough start with the Galaxy Buds+ as the earbuds wouldn’t sit comfortably in my ear for long periods of time. On more than one occasions, it even hurts just wearing them and I had to take them off to ease the pain. What I did is to change to the bigger ear tips which come in the package (Samsung also provide smaller ear tips) and that led to a much-improved comfort level. This is something to note if you experience the same issue.
The bigger ear tips also enhance the sound quality coming out from the earbuds. I wasn’t impressed with the audio initially as it sounds meek and lacks a punchy bass but it fares a lot better after switching things up. I get my bass back and the listening experience has been good ever since, although personally I still prefer how my AirPods sounds more. The key takeaway message here is to experiment with all the options Samsung is offering – in terms of ear tips sizes and equaliser – to find the audio characteristics that suit you best.
Now I can’t tell you how much the voice call quality has improved from its predecessor. With the improved mics, the Galaxy Buds+ should sound better, but that is not a high bar to clear in the first place. From my own testing, the quality is just acceptable though frankly it is not a very good one. I have had the person on the other end of the line commented that I sounded quite awful while I certainly wouldn’t give top marks to what I was hearing on my end. Clearly, Samsung still has much work to do to further improve the call quality in future iterations.
The Galaxy Buds+ comes with a certain measure of noise isolation. While it is not a full-blown active noise cancellation that completely blocks the outside world, its ambient sound feature does allow users a certain degree of control over how much environmental noises to let in. You may want to hear more of your surroundings when you are out and about on the streets and the reverse when you want to indulge more in your listenings in more confined settings. There are three preset ambient sound levels, and while I wish it can block out almost all exterior noises on the lowest setting, you are still going to hear some.
If you ever misplaced your earbuds, you can go to the Find My Earbuds setting in the Galaxy Wearable app to try and locate them by activating beeping sounds on the earbuds. This only works when they are connected to the phone however, and you are out of luck if the battery runs out.
Perhaps the greatest feature of the Galaxy Buds+ is the battery life it offers, which is nothing short of amazing. This thing just goes on and on and on. Samsung is certainly not joking when they advertise the 11-hour long battery life and I never manage to kill it in a single sitting, as would most users I imagine. The charging case further offers an additional 22 hours of listening time and can be charged wirelessly. It’ll be very tough for other wireless earbuds to beat the kind of class-leading stamina Samsung is offering here.
No doubt the Galaxy Buds+ is a worthy (albeit unsexy) upgrade over the first-gen earbuds. While it doesn’t seem like much in the exciting new features department, the promise of better audio and better battery life should win fans over. If the RM599 retail price is a tad too high for you, the Galaxy Buds which now retails for RM349 is still a pretty good buy without being too far behind in performance. Should Apple users even consider it? I’ll say stick to the AirPods, unless you really, really want that extra long battery life and the higher degree of customisations it offers. Plus nothing beats the seamless connectivity between Apple devices.
So what is my takeaway from the first-time experience using Samsung’s flagship earbuds, you ask? Its not perfect as it is still rough around the edges. I like the fact that I can have the wireless earbuds lasting hours and hours sitting in my ears, but comfort issue (for me personally) makes that quite a struggle. For all its flaws and inadequacies, the AirPods remains my reliable, go-to pair of earbuds, and I will gladly go back to it.