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Samsung Galaxy Buds review: These Android-friendly truly wireless headphones don't dazzle, but they're good

There are other truly wireless earphones that sound better, but the next iteration of Samsung's totally wireless earphones are a definite improvement over their predecessors.

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David Carnoy
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David Carnoy

Executive Editor / Reviews

Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable e-reader and e-publishing expert. He's also the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks and Nook e-books, as well as audiobooks.

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Let's start with what's good about the Galaxy Buds ($130, £139 or AU$249), the third iteration of Samsung's Android-leaning answer to Apple's AirPods.

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7.8

Samsung Galaxy Buds

The Good

These compact, lightweight noise-isolating true wireless earphones should fit most ears securely. They sound decent, battery life is good (around 6 hours at moderate volume levels) and their compact charging case offers USB-C wired and wireless charging.

The Bad

Bass isn't all that deep; charging case only delivers a little more than one full charge; certain features only work with Android phones.

The Bottom Line

Although their sound quality doesn't wow, the Galaxy Buds are certainly worth considering if you're a Samsung Galaxy or Android phone owner.

They're lightweight and compact, fit my ears fairly securely, have decent battery life -- 6 hours at moderate volume levels -- and their charging case is relatively small. On top of that, you can charge them via USB-C or wirelessly on any Qi-enabled wireless charging pad or the back of one of Samsung's new Galaxy S10 models, which have a new feature called PowerShare.

Pretty sweet, right? Well, yes, except for the fact that they don't sound quite as good as I hoped they would. Decent enough, but if you didn't get these for free with your Galaxy S10 (those who preordered the Galaxy S10 or Galaxy S10 Plus before March 7 got the Galaxy Buds thrown in as a bonus gift), you might be a tad disappointed.

Read more: The best truly wireless headphones

On the sound front, there's just not a ton of bass and some presence boost in the treble that makes them a little bright, especially at their default "Dynamic" EQ setting in the Galaxy Wear app (not available for iOS users).   

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CNET

Well-respected audio company AKG, which Samsung now owns as part of its Harman Kardon acquisition, is tagged as responsible for the sound, but I thought the Jabra Elite 65t (around $140 online) sounded and fit a little better, It also worked a little better as a headset for making calls. This type of noise-isolating in-ear headphone will vary in fit from ear to ear and you might have a better -- or worse -- experience than me.  

Anker's SoundCore Liberty Air, which cost $80, also delivers richer sound with meatier bass. And then there's the more expensive UA True Wireless Flash Engineered by JBL. It's a little bit larger set of buds, but it, too brings fuller, more impressive sound.

CNET's Vanessa Hand Orellana and Lexy Savvides compared the Galaxy Buds to the original AirPods and came away liking the Galaxy Buds better. I agree that the Galaxy Buds sound a little better, especially in noisier environments. But if AirPods fit your ears securely, you could very well prefer them. For some people they'll be more comfortable to wear and arguably better for making calls. Also, the second-gen AirPods feature Apple's new H1 chip, which allows for always-on Siri (you just say "Hey Siri" instead of double tapping on a bud), as well as allegedly faster Bluetooth pairing and more stable wireless connections. If you're an Apple device user, the AirPods are going to be a smoother operating set of true wireless earphones.

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The Galaxy Buds are fairly discreet.

Angela Lang/CNET

Compatible with more than just Samsung devices

Although they're called Galaxy Buds, they do work with non-Samsung devices, including other Android and iOS devices as well as Bluetooth-enabled computers. But some of the features, such as Automatic Sync (an easy pairing feature) and Ambient Aware Mode, only work with Android devices running Android 5.0 or higher with 1.5GB of RAM or more.

The Ambient Aware mode allows sound to leak into the earphones so you have a better awareness of what's going on around you. It's becoming a more standard feature on these types of truly wireless earphones and you can set the earphones to amplify voices.

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What you get in the box.

Angela Lang/CNET

I didn't have any serious connectivity issues using a Galaxy S10, Galaxy S9 Plus and an iPhone X. I had some minor interference glitches in the office, but the earphones had minimal Bluetooth hiccups in the streets of New York, where I've encountered plenty of interference issues with less truly wireless earphones.

Call quality was good but a few callers did say that they heard more background noise than usual. In other words, the mics seemed to be doing a good job picking up not only my voice but other sounds around me. The Jabra Elite 65t does a better job filtering out background noise.    

The Galaxy Buds are IPX2 water resistant, which means they're sweat and splash resistant but can't be full submerged in water (they're not fully waterproof). Still, they should be fine for gym use and running.

You get three different sized silicon ear tips and a set of small fins that are supposed to help keep the buds securely in your ear. The fins didn't really do much for me (they didn't catch on or hook into any part of my ear) but I was able to get a tight seal with the largest set of ear tips, which allowed me to maximize the bass.

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The come in three color options: white, black and yellow.

Jason Hiner/CNET

Touch controls

Like the AirPods and other competing products, the Galaxy Buds have touch controls. I found that they worked pretty well but some users may find them a little frustrating. You tap to pause or play a track, double tap to skip a track forward and triple tap to skip back (triple tapping can be challenging and you might accidentally triple tap when attempting to double tap).

The tap-and-hold function is programmable, with its default setting allowing you to call up your phone's voice assistant. You can also program the tap and hold function to be volume controls, but I programmed the left bud to active Ambient Mode and the right bud to activate my voice assistant. 

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Airpods case (left) vs. Galaxy Buds case (right).

Angela Lang/CNET

Other notes: The auto-pause feature only works when you pull both buds out of your ears, not just a single bud, as is the case with the AirPods and Jabra Elite 65t. And when watching video I found there was a slight lag in the audio when using certain apps including Netflix. It wasn't so bad that it ruined the watching experience, but don't expect a perfect sync with every video app.

That's par for the course for many of these true wireless earphones, and none of the current batch are perfect, including the Galaxy Buds. That said, their only real fault is that they're good but not great. Everything about them is decent -- and I think they're a nice improvement over last year's Icon X 2018 earphones -- but there isn't much about them that's a real wow. The wireless charging is certainly a plus, but the new AirPods have that feature now, too. 

The Galaxy Buds retail for $130 (£139 or AU$249), though I suspect that down the road you may be able to get them for closer to $100. Compared to the AirPods, which cost $200 with a wireless charging case, they seem reasonably priced and they're certainly worth considering if you're a Samsung Galaxy or Android phone owner. But there are better true wireless choices for iPhone owners. 

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7.8

Samsung Galaxy Buds

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 7Value 8