AirPods vs. Galaxy Buds: The original earbuds still hold up
It's a battle between the first AirPods and the first Galaxy Buds.
Vanessa Hand OrellanaCNET Senior Editor
As head of wearables at CNET, Vanessa reviews and writes about the latest smartwatches and fitness trackers. She joined the team seven years ago as an on-camera reporter for CNET's Spanish-language site and then moved on to the English side to host and produce some of CNET's videos and YouTube series. When she's not testing out smartwatches or dropping phones, you can catch her on a hike or trail run with her family.
Lexy is an on-air presenter and award-winning producer who covers consumer tech, including the latest smartphones, wearables and emerging trends like assistive robotics. She's won two Gold Telly Awards for her video series Beta Test. Prior to her career at CNET, she was a magazine editor, radio announcer and DJ. Lexy is based in San Francisco.
ExpertiseWearables, smartwatches, mobile phones, photography, health tech, assistive roboticsCredentials
Samsung's original Galaxy Buds give Apple's
some stiff competition. Both are in-ear pairs of wireless earbuds that work seamlessly with a Galaxy phone or
, and both let you talk to a voice assistant in your ear. But the Galaxy Buds ($130, £139 or AU$249) have a wireless charging case that comes with the earbuds as standard, while the AirPods command a higher price with a wireless case ($199, £199 or AU$319).
Editors' note: This story compares the original AirPods, first released in late 2016, with the Samsung Galaxy Buds. You can find a comparison with the newer AirPods Pro and Galaxy Buds Plus here.
Battery Life Rated up to 5 hoursNoise Canceling NoMultipoint NoHeadphone Type Wireless earbudsWater-Resistant Yes (IPX4 -- splash-proof)
Originally released in 2016, the original AirPods still hold their own among the best truly wireless earbuds. The look of the AirPods may be a love-it-or-hate-it affair, but there's no doubt that they're very comfortable for extended wear. This original design also suits users who don't want an in-ear design with a rubberized tip, like the newer AirPods Pro or the Galaxy Buds.
With a wireless charging case as standard, the original Galaxy Buds have a lot to offer Apple and Android users alike. Although you don't get the sound quality boost of the newer Galaxy Buds Plus, the original buds still sound great.
Watch this: Apple AirPods vs. Samsung Galaxy Buds: How to choose?
AirPods are light, Galaxy Buds are snug
It's hard to miss the AirPods when they're dangling from someone's ear: The bud rests inside the ear while the Q-tip-like cylinder sticks out down your earlobe. AirPods are only available in white.
Galaxy Buds are slightly bigger and protrude more than AirPods, but they sit more snugly in your ear thanks to different tips that you can swap out for a better fit. The Buds come in black, white, silver or yellow.
The fit and comfort level obviously depend on the shape of your ear, but in general we found the AirPods were slightly more comfortable, especially for extended wear, because they're so lightweight. The Galaxy Buds looked nicer and subtler in our ears. Both stayed in place during everyday activities like commutes and workouts, but the Galaxy Buds felt more secure because of the tighter hold. The tips of the AirPods make them susceptible to falling out if you brush up against them with your hand. Neither pair is fully water-resistant, but the Galaxy Buds have an IPX2 rating, which means they'll withstand intense sweat sessions.
The downside (or upside depending on what you're looking for) of having a tighter seal is that the Galaxy Buds block out more ambient noise than the AirPods, even when you're not listening to
. The open design of the AirPods means you hear a lot more of your surroundings and you don't have to take them out to have a conversation when you're not listening to anything. We'll discuss the sound quality in more detail later.
Both these pairs of earbuds magnetically clip into their cases for storage and to recharge the battery. The Galaxy Buds have a slightly larger case that looks a bit like a cylindrical pillbox or contact lens case, while the AirPods have a smaller case that reminds me of dental floss.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy Buds for a more secure fit (although we do prefer the AirPods' case).
What else can the AirPods and Galaxy Buds do?
The AirPods and the Galaxy Buds pair automatically with their companies' respective devices as soon as you crack open the case. The first time you bring the earbuds near your phone, just tap to connect and you should be ready to go. The connection experience is less smotth with devices outside of their respective ecosystems, but you can still pair them both manually from the Bluetooth settings on any phone, tablet or laptop.
Once paired, both buds let you tap to control calls, music playback or summon a voice assistant (
or Bixby, respectively). You can customize the AirPods' controls from the Bluetooth settings on your
and pick from four different options: play and pause, skip forward, go to the previous track or summon Siri.
When paired with Android, the Galaxy Buds can be customized via the Galaxy Wear app. They offer the same tap controls as the AirPods, plus you can adjust the volume from the earbuds. You can increase or decrease ambient noise and tune the sound quality from the app. If you're using the Galaxy Buds with an iPhone, however, you'll only be able to use the default controls. The level of customization on the Galaxy Buds is unbeatable, but if you do choose to customize the taps, remembering which gesture controls which feature may take some time to master.
If you lose either the AirPods or the Galaxy Buds, you can use your phone to find them, but neither of the "Find my 'buds" features is perfect. On the iPhone it shows only the last location where they were paired, and I found they sometimes didn't ring or show up as found until they were next to the phone. The Galaxy Buds don't show their location on a map and only play a chirping sound when you ping them -- an effect that only works if the earbuds are turned on and connected. Remember, you won't be able to ping either of these models if you're using them with a device outside the ecosystem. Bottom line, try not to lose them.
Winner: Galaxy Buds for the level of customization.
Galaxy Buds offer more for audiophiles
Out of the box, the Galaxy Buds' sound quality is notably richer. Because of their tighter-fitting design, you don't have to pump up the volume as much to hear your music. If you're listening to the AirPods by themselves, the sound quality is perfectly adequate. It's only when listening to them side by side with the Galaxy Buds that we noticed they sound a littler thinner and weaker. The AirPods' more open design also means you also need to crank up the volume if there's a lot of ambient noise competing with them.
Sound on Galaxy Buds is tuned by AKG, and you have the option to customize the sound profile in the Galaxy Wear app. The app also gives you an Ambient Sound setting that brings in more outside noise when paired with Android devices and has a Voice Focus option that makes voices stand out. In the real world, I found that these features do let in more ambient sound and let you hear voices more clearly, but it can sound like you're in an echo chamber, and you still don't get as much ambient noise coming through as you do with the AirPods. The AirPods don't have a native app, but you can use an equalizer in your music app to adjust the sound. We still preferred the AirPods over the Galaxy Buds for walking commutes or runs where you have to be aware of your surroundings, even with the Ambient sound option enabled.
For calls, we had the opposite experience. Both buds have dual microphones, but the AirPods isolated the voice better in the call while the Galaxy Buds let in more ambient noise. The AirPods sounded much clearer and louder to the person on the other line.
Winner: Galaxy Buds for sound quality, AirPods get points for call quality.
Do the AirPods or Galaxy Buds last longer?
The Galaxy Buds support Bluetooth 5, while the AirPods have Apple's
. We conducted an informal range test where we paired them both with their respective phones, started streaming from Spotify and left them on a table. Both were able to get an impressive distance from the table before the music started to cut out, but the AirPods were able to get about 5 feet (1.5 meters) farther than the Galaxy Buds.
The Galaxy Buds did, however, outlast the AirPods in terms of battery life by almost 2 hours. We were able to get about 5 hours of continuous playback with the AirPods and almost 7 hours with the Galaxy Buds. But the AirPods hold more charge in the case than the Galaxy Buds, so you'll be able to get more juice out of them on the go if you don't have access to an outlet. The AirPods use a Lightning cable to charge, while the Galaxy Buds have a USB-C port.
But the Galaxy Buds have a charging superpower up their sleeve that the AirPods don't have yet: wireless charging. Not only can the case be charged on a charging dock, if you have a Galaxy device that supports reverse wireless charging (like the Samsung S20 Ultra, S10, S10 Plus or S10E) you can use your phone to charge them in a pinch.
Winner: Toss-up. The AirPods have a slightly longer range and more total battery life, but the Galaxy Buds last longer on a single charge and can charge wirelessly.
Are AirPods or Galaxy Buds better?
The Galaxy Buds are the clear winners in the abstract. They have more features and offer greater customization than the AirPods. But it also depends on how you'd use them. The Galaxy Buds are the obvious pick if you have a Galaxy or Android phone and your main priority is sound quality. But the AirPods may be better if you're looking for seamless integration with your iPhone and want a well-rounded set of buds that you can wear in just about any scenario. If you want noise cancellation, the AirPods Pro offer even better sound than the originals, as well as a more compact design.