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Master Samsung's Galaxy Buds Plus with these tips and tricks

There's more to the Galaxy Buds than just being a pair of wireless earbuds.

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Samsung's Galaxy Buds Plus are a big improvement over last year's model. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Alongside its Galaxy S20 lineup, Samsung has introduced the second-gen Galaxy Buds Plus. These completely wireless earbuds have nearly double the battery life of last year's Galaxy Buds, with improved audio quality and another microphone that makes you sound better on a phone call. 

Both versions of the Galaxy Buds look the same and, for the most part, work the same. Below you'll find tips about pairing, controlling playback and adjusting the volume. Most of them apply to both the Buds and Buds Plus, with the latter adding a few extra features

There's not a steep learning curve, but there are several things you can do to get the most out of them. 

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There's an iPhone app now

The standard Galaxy Buds always worked with the iPhone, but they lacked an app to adjust settings or update their software. To do any of that, you had to use an Android phone. 

The Galaxy Buds Plus, however, have an iPhone app. You'll need to install the app before you can pair your earbuds with an iPhone. Download the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus app for iPhone

You're out of luck if you have the standard Galaxy Buds -- the new app is only for the Plus model.

Pairing the Galaxy Buds is an easy process. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Pairing the Buds with your phone

Pairing the Galaxy Buds or Buds Plus with one of Samsung's Galaxy phones is simple: Unlock your phone, open the Galaxy Buds case, tap Connect when prompted. That's it. 

Pairing with an Android phone from another manufacturer, such as Motorola or Google, requires a little more work. Install Samsung's Galaxy Wear app from the Play Store. After it's installed, open the app and the charging case for your Galaxy Buds. Select Galaxy Buds or Buds Plus from the list of devices and follow the prompts. The app will walk you through the steps for approving the connection and installing a Galaxy Buds Plus plugin.

Pairing the Galaxy Buds Plus with an iPhone is somewhat streamlined. After installing the Galaxy Buds Plus app, open the lid to your Galaxy Buds Plus charging case and then open the app. Select Galaxy Buds Plus from the list of devices, then tap on your earbuds in the list of available devices and you're done. 

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The touchpad area on the Galaxy Buds makes it easy to control music or a podcast. 

Angela Lang/CNET

One tap, two taps, three taps, more?

Both Galaxy Buds will respond to taps and allow you to control music playback or interact with your phone without touching your screen. The number of taps on the middle of the Galaxy Bud will determine what happens:

  • Single tap: Play/Pause
  • Double tap: Play next track/Answer or end call
  • Triple tap: Play previous track
  • Touch and hold: Customizable (see below)

If you tap and hold on either Galaxy Bud when your phone begins ringing, it will decline the call.

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Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Customize the touchpads' actions

You can customize what happens when you touch and hold on either earbud, assigning separate tasks like prompting Google Assistant or Siri to the action. To customize the touchpad actions, open the Galaxy Wearable app, select your earbuds from the list of devices and then select Touchpad.

The standard Galaxy Buds have four potential settings for the tap-and-hold interaction: Voice command, Quick ambient sound, Ambient sound or volume up/down.

The Galaxy Buds Plus have three settings: Voice command, Ambient sound or volume up/down. You also have the option to launch Spotify with a long-press. 

Selecting volume up or down for either earbud will automatically apply the opposite direction of volume control to the other bud. Meaning, if you assign volume down to the left bud, the right bud will change to volume up.

Lock the touchpad

If you find yourself randomly hitting the touchpad and skipping songs or pausing your music, you can lock the touchpads. To lock them, open the Galaxy Wearable app (or the Galaxy Buds Plus app on iPhone) and turn on Lock touchpad in the Touchpad section of the app. 

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You can test new features in the Labs section with the Galaxy Buds Plus. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Check out the Labs

This feature is specific to the Galaxy Buds Plus and it's downright cool. There's a Labs section in the app where you can turn on experimental features for the earbuds. For example, you can adjust the buds' volume by tapping the outside ring of the earbuds instead of using the touchpad. 

There are two different Labs available on the iPhone app: Double tap earbud edge and Extra-high ambient volume. Android users gain a Gaming mode option that decreases the latency between what's on your screen and what you hear. 

I've been using double-tapping to adjust playback volume, and while it took me a few tries to learn exactly where to tap, it's a handy feature and something I plan to leave on indefinitely. 

Charging

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Jason Cipriani/CNET

On the back of the Galaxy Buds case is a USB-C port for charging the case. If you have a Qi-compatible wireless charging pad, you can place the case on the pad and it will charge without any wires. 

You can also use the Galaxy S20's Wireless PowerShare feature to add some extra power to the case while on the go. Battery life on a single charge for the Galaxy Buds should get you around 6 hours of use. Battery life for the Galaxy Buds Plus is around 11 hours. 

View earbud and case battery levels

To view the charge level of the earbuds and the charging case, just open the app on your phone. At the top will be a picture of each earbud and the charging case with their respective charge percentages. Have the charging case open and nearby to ensure the charging case is shown, otherwise just the earbuds will be displays. 

Auto-pause is a nice touch 

If you remove both Galaxy Buds, whatever was playing will automatically pause. It's a built-in feature so you don't have to enable a setting or hidden button beforehand. And, yes, this feature also works with the iPhone. 

Putting the Galaxy Buds back in will not auto-resume whatever you playing, though. You'll need to single tap on either touchpad for that to happen.

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Ambient Sound comes in handy if you're waiting to hear an announcement or walking on a busy street. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Let in ambient sound so you don't miss an announcement

Galaxy Buds will allow you to hear ambient sound around you, say in an airport or while working out. You can either set the touch and hold action to activate Ambient Sound on demand, or you can enable and customize the feature in the Galaxy Wearable app under Ambient Sounds.

If you've got a pair of Galaxy Buds Plus, you can open the app on their phone and turn on Ambient Sound from the main screen. There's even an option to adjust the amount of sound you want to let in. If you've got Galaxy Buds, you'll need to open the app and then select Ambient Sound from the list of options to make adjustments. 

You don't have to use both earbuds

If you want to extend the battery life of the Galaxy Buds, one option is to only use one earbud at a time, leaving the other one in the charging case. 

Outside of extending battery life, this is also an option for those who don't like the ambient sound feature of the Galaxy Buds.

Set up and customize app notifications

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Your Android phone can let you know which app you just received a notification from. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

When you set up your Galaxy Buds you'll be asked to grant the earbuds access to your phone's notifications. That's because when using the Galaxy Buds, an alert followed by the app name can play in your ear.

In the Galaxy Buds section of the Galaxy Wearable app, select Notifications and customize the list of apps you want to receive alerts for. The content of the notification isn't read to you, instead you'll hear the alert's sound followed by "Messenger" or "Facebook."

Find a lost earbud

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Find a lost earbud using the app. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Also built into both apps is the ability to help you track down a lost earbud. Your phone will need to be within Bluetooth range of the lost Galaxy Bud, so that may be a nonstarter in some situations. 

Open the app and view your Galaxy Buds. Select Find My Earbuds, then press the green Start button. Both buds will begin playing a sound, getting louder as it plays, in a bid to help you find it.

Check for software updates

This is the prompt you'll see when Galaxy Buds have a software update. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Samsung frequently updated the Galaxy Buds, fixing issues and adding new features. There's no reason to believe Samsung won't do the same with the Galaxy Buds Plus. Using either the iPhone or Android app, you can check for and install software updates with just a few taps. 

Open the app and navigate to the Galaxy Buds section. Scroll to the bottom of the list and select Earbuds software update. Next, select Update earbuds software followed by Download and install then follow the prompts. 

If there is an update available, place your earbuds in the charging case and leave it open. The update will download, copy over to your earbuds and then be installed. The entire process takes less than 5 minutes. 

Samsung's Galaxy S20 lineup launches on March 6, with preorders going live on Feb. 21. We can help you decide which model to get. Or if you'd rather get something a little different, check out our living review of the foldable flip phone, the Galaxy Z Flip

Originally published last year. Updated with new information.