Samsung Galaxy Buds review: Exceptional everyday earbuds

Samsung Galaxy Buds
(Image: © Android Central)

Truly wireless earbuds are all the rage now, with dozens of companies getting in the game and making great products. But Samsung was actually very early in this trend: its first IconX earbuds came out in in 2016. With years of experience in smartphone accessories, and its acquisition of Harman in 2016, Samsung has seriously improved its audio prowess — ranging from high-end equipment down to lifestyle products like the new Galaxy Buds (opens in new tab).

The move to a more consumer-friendly "Galaxy" branding and tight integration with Samsung's Galaxy phones should give you a hint as to where Samsung is looking with the Galaxy Buds: it wants some of that sweet AirPods money. Samsung isn't leaning so hard on the fitness angle anymore, and has positioned the Galaxy Buds as every-day headphones to accompany your phone for everything from commuting to daily call duties and hitting the gym after work.

The Good

  • Excellent comfort for all activity
  • Solid sound quality for wireless earbuds
  • Compact case with wireless charging
  • Good Bluetooth and L/R connection
  • More than adequate battery life

The Bad

  • Case only provides 1 full recharge
  • Touch controls require precise control
  • "Ambient sound" passthrough is useless

Samsung Galaxy Buds What I love

Samsung Galaxy Buds

With lots of history in consumer electronics — and plenty of it in headphones — it's no surprise Samsung has done really well with the Galaxy Buds hardware. Starting with the earbuds themselves, they're extremely comfortable and easy to fit in your ear the "right" way as to not distract or cause discomfort. With multiple eartip sizes to go in your ear and silicone "wingtips" that rest on the outer edge of your ear, you should be able to find a fit that works (I stuck with the default mid-sized set just fine). Because these are self-contained little earbuds with no protrusions, there's zero chance that they can get hung up on your headwear, long hair, scarf, hood or anything of the sort.

The Galaxy Buds are supremely comfortable and stay put no matter what.

The earbuds manage to fit securely in your ear while also not putting any considerable pressure on any portion of the ear, which is a feat. They're incredibly light as well. Most hard plastic earbuds put unnecessary pressure on my ears, but this design that supports the entire earbud on just the silicone attachments and not the actual body of the earbud is really smart. I never had a single concern about them coming out of my ears during any daily movements or trips to the gym.

Despite being tiny, the Galaxy Buds offer touch controls on either earbud. You can tap once to play/pause music, double tap to accept/end a phone call and triple tap to seek tracks. Then in the Galaxy Wearable app, you can configure a touch-and-hold function for each earbud: either volume down (left earbud) and up (right earbud), or your choice of activating "ambient sound" (more on this below) and voice commands for Google Assistant or Bixby on either left or right.

The touch controls can be a little finicky considering the small size of the touch pad. That said, I far prefer touch controls of any sort (to say nothing of this comprehensive set) to not having touch controls at all. If you can get acquainted enough with the touch controls to even use them for the most basic level of interaction, such as play/pause music or accept/end calls, it's immediately saving you time over having to pull out your phone. And because the touch controls are configurable between left/right and with different functions, you'll be able to find something to use them for.

Nobody should expect exceptional audio quality out of earbuds, and especially not wireless earbuds. My standards are pretty low for these types of headphones because they're purely about convenience and comfort rather than quality, but the Galaxy Buds at least exceeded the low expectations. Particularly when you use the equalizer built into the companion app, sound quality is plenty good for the application — there's little bass and the overall sound can be a bit hollow, but you're just never going to pick these up for thoughtful music listening anyway. If you get the right eartip sizing, sound isolation is good enough that it helps with the overall listening experience.

Sound quality is fine, but just as importantly wireless connectivity has been solid.

With a couple weeks of listening under my belt, the Bluetooth connection to the phone and the left-right connection between the earbuds has been very good. I never had an earbud drop its connection or sync, and only experienced a couple little jitters in the phone connection as would be expected with any pair of Bluetooth headphones. Call quality was also fine. Polling people at the end of phone calls reported back many "it sounds fine" and nobody had any concerns with hearing me; on my end, I could hear callers just fine.

Outside of the simple automatic pairing process with Galaxy phones, there doesn't seem to be any difference in using the Galaxy Buds with my Galaxy S10+ and Pixel 3 XL. The Pixel recognized and paired with the Buds just fine like any other Bluetooth headset, before even installing the Galaxy Wearable (opens in new tab) app — though it's quite useful, so you'll want to install it.

This case is finally small enough to not be cumbersome — and it pack a few nice-to-have features.

Big advancements have been made in the case, even compared to the previous-gen IconX earbuds (opens in new tab), making it one of the best overall truly wireless earbuds cases I've seen. It's considerably smaller than the last generation, pushing it down to a point where I can actually slip it in my jeans pocket next to my wallet (front pocket wallets forever, folks) without hassle; or put it in a coat pocket and completely forget it's there. By my rough measurement, the case at its largest dimensions is 69 x 40 x 26 mm — pretty darn small. The lid stays closed confidently with a strong magnet, and lighter magnets grabs the earbuds in so they're easy to toss in for charging.

I was initially worried about battery life, not because of the industry-standard 6 hours of life from the earbuds themselves but because the case only provides roughly one recharge. After using the Buds regularly since I received them with my Galaxy S10, I haven't once run out of power. Even though the earbuds are incredibly comfortable, I'm never wearing earbuds of any sort for more than 6 hours straight — and any time they're in the case, they're quickly being recharged. And with the case offering both USB-C and Qi wireless charging, it's easy to quickly charge it back up its tiny 252mAh capacity while you listen to the buds. And unlike some cheaper earbuds, the Galaxy Buds let you use one earbud or the other while charging the opposite one, which is helpful if you end up taking long phone calls with a single earbud.

Samsung Galaxy Buds What I don't like

Samsung Galaxy Buds

The only downside to this extremely compact design, as opposed to the "stick" design brought to the fore by Apple AirPods (opens in new tab), is that the Galaxy Buds are a bit difficult to take out of your ears on quick notice. Because most of the body of the earbud is touch-enabled, it's tough to remove an earbud without also triggering the touch control because there's very little area to grab; and once they're out of your ears, they really need to go into the case for fear that you'll touch the capacitive pad while handling them any other way. It's a worthwhile trade-off so you don't have the issues with comfort or the earbud getting snagged on anything, but taking the earbuds out of your ears gracefully isn't something you think about until you've lived with them.

Tiny earbuds can be a bit fiddly to get out of your ear without also triggering the touch controls.

Because the Galaxy Buds can be a bit fiddly to quickly remove from your ears, I was excited to try out the "ambient sound" feature that will duck down whatever audio you're listening over Bluetooth and amplify the sound around you. You can turn on ambient sound permanently (don't do this), or map it to a press-and-hold on one of the earbuds. While great in principle (Sony's WH1000MX3 (opens in new tab) do this well), ambient sound just doesn't work well on the Galaxy Buds.

It's fine if you need to hear a brief loud announcement at an airport or train station, or if you're walking down the street and need to perceive where emergency vehicle sirens are coming from, but it's useless for having a quick conversation with someone or getting anything from a relatively quiet room. The sound amplification isn't strong enough, and rather than pausing your Bluetooth audio, it keeps it playing and drops it to about 10% volume, so you get this weird cross-talk between your quiet Bluetooth audio and outside sound that's quite disorienting.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Should you buy them?

Samsung Galaxy Buds

Most people won't spend over $100 on any pair of earbuds, and that's especially true for what is likely to be a secondary pair of earbuds. But if you can justify spending around $80 for something mid-range like the SoundCore Liberty Airs, the $50 jump to the Galaxy Buds is worth it for the improved comfort, touch controls, call quality and case design.

4 out of 5

The Galaxy Buds are a great pair of headphones with excellent comfort for hours of daily headphone use, but also the right design to be a good choice for hitting the gym or going on a run. The wireless connection is strong, the battery life is long, music and call quality are solid, and the case is compact and well-designed. If the $129 price tag doesn't immediately price you out of the Galaxy Buds, you should absolutely consider them as your next pair of truly wireless earbuds.

$129 at Samsung (opens in new tab)

Andrew Martonik

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

  • Do they have audio passthrough? That's the only thing that set the older Gear Icon X earbuds apart from the $50 knockoffs on Amazon. The ability to be able to have the outside world piped into your earbuds is a huge benefit to those of us who run outdoors. This way we can we enjoy our music and maintain situational awareness.
  • Did you not read the review? Lol he talks about it. It has it, but he didn't find it to be good.
  • Admittingly, I skimmed the article looking for key-words and missed that one. Thanks for pointing it out.
  • The capability is there, but it works poorly. I'm not sure how much of that is a software/implementation thing and how much is restricted by the size of the mics and the speakers, but it just doesn't work well as it sits.
  • It doesn't have the audio passthrough like the Gear IconX and is seriously the reason I'm considering going back to my Iconx. The buds sound and feel great but i don't like the controls or the audio passthrough.
  • The overlap of audio with quick ambient sound is odd? You get nothing but sound overlap with sitck/AirPod style headphones. I'm curious how the Buds version of ambient sound compares to the Bragi Dash Pro. Bragi is a small player, but they've done a lot of great things years before Samsung or Apple got to where they are. I've been using the Dash Pro since they released, and their shape makes it easy to grab despite the touch surface. Maybe it's the shape of the Buds or the touch input method. the Dash Pro uses optical sensors instead of capacitive.
  • There's a big difference between getting ambient sound through the design of the earbuds just not having much passive noise cancellation, and having poorly done ambient sound through the mics and speakers. The latter is much more disorienting.
  • Picked up 2 pair from AT&T based on the mostly positive reviews. They are currently running a sale through middle April. $97.49 each. Couldn't pass up the deep discount. Also picked up the Galaxy Watch Active (from Best Buy) great watch so far. I had originally ordered a single pair as a birthday present for my son from Samsung. Samsung said shipping by March 29th. With the AT&T sale, I decided to pick up a pair for myself. Ordered last night, they shipped today.
  • Just received mine yesterday so wearing them all morning, but sadly my biggest use are for phone calls and I work outside but everyone I talk to says they sound terrible. For music they are more than adequate but looks like I'll be sending them back to ATT
  • I was having same issues, til I changed to the big tips and wings so the buds didn't sit so deep into my ear. I believe the mic is being a little muffled if it sits to close to the ear. Idk it was a big improvement for me.
  • Engadget's review was soooo slanted...Garbage. I thought they were trust worthy with their reviews, I guess not. These are very good earbuds.
  • Yeah as long as you don't make phone calls
  • Andrew, with the calls, did you manage to test it with a little ambient noise? Think - cafe / public transport?
  • had an issue with not being able to be heard in a loud-ish cafe, but then again I'd have an issue with just a phone in that scenario too.
  • May get these for the summer - my Bose QC35 headphones make my ears sweat a lot in the heat. Wireless earbuds would help immensely.
  • Yup. I love my QC35s but I don't understand how people wear big over-ear headphones in the heat or when doing any sort of activity. They get massively sweaty, and the earcups just fall apart with repeated exposure to moisture.
  • Sounds like I'll be staying with my 2018 IconX's until they work out the bugs.
  • How do they compare to apple earbuds?
  • The pass through is absolutely useless as you stated. Of all things, that seem quite simple to implement versus 'more bass' is undeniably done poorly. I don't get it.
  • I'm looking for a yellow pair but can't find them anywhere. Not even on shop Samsung. Anyone seen any in the wild?
  • Galaxy buds or Jabra 65t Elite?