True wireless is the name of the game in modern headphones, so it's no surprise that Apple rival Samsung has just added a brand new pair to its Galaxy-branded true wireless lineup: the Samsung Galaxy Buds+. Priced similarly to Apple's AirPods, these are a wholesale improvement over the original Galaxy Buds, and could be an excellent true wireless option for certain listeners.
The Buds+ are the slightly pricier follow-up to the original Samsung Galaxy Buds. They're $150 (or less on sale) compared to the original Buds' $120 and available in a wider array of colors: black, white, blue, red, and pink. Samsung has also added an extra exterior microphone, improved the speaker and battery life, and added wireless charging for the case.
While that might not be enough to tempt owners of the original Buds to upgrade sight unseen, it does offer a solid suite of improvements for the price increase. More importantly, the Buds+ are a staunch competitor when compared with the incredibly popular AirPods: they sound great, deliver a bunch of useful features, and are more affordable than Apple's latest, the AirPods Pro.
About the Samsung Galaxy Buds+
- Price: $150
- Colors: White, Blue, Black, Red, Pink
- Speakers: 2-way dynamic (woofer & tweeter)
- Mics: Two outer, one inner
- Battery life: ~8-10 hours per charge, one full case charge
And just like Apple's wildly popular 'buds, they work best when used alongside the product ecosystem they were designed for—in this case, Samsung Galaxy mobile devices.
Fortunately, the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ still work fine with virtually any Bluetooth-equipped devices like laptops and smartphones (though connecting in that fashion isn't a flawless experience—more on that below). Interested buyers should note that they're not getting any noise canceling here, though you are getting basic IPX2 water resistance, making them moderately sweatproof and able to withstand dripping water.
What We Like
A (mostly) straightforward experience
Good true wireless earbuds are all about simplicity, and the Galaxy Buds+ are no different. Because my primary mobile device is a Samsung Galaxy S8 (which includes Samsung SmartThings by default), getting started with these headphones was exceedingly easy.
As soon as I connected the Buds+ over Bluetooth, SmartThings conveniently pulled the Galaxy Wearable app up for install. As many Samsung devices as I use, I haven't used a ton of the company's standalone device-specific apps, so I appreciated not having to search the Google Play store for this one.
Having never used any version of the Galaxy Buds before, I was expecting the app to require a bit of a learning curve, but it's very easy to work with (more on that below). The short story here is that, at least while using a modern Samsung smartphone, going from opening the case to listening takes mere seconds.
The experience may not be quite as smooth for non-Samsung users. While I have full faith that connecting to the Buds+ is easy as pie for any Android phone, you'll need to download the Galaxy Wearable app manually for full functionality. As for Apple devices, I was able to pair with my 2017 MacBook Pro without issue, but we struggled mightily to pair them with my fiancée's aging iPhone 6S. As it turns out, older phones may not be compatible at all—check the What We Don't Like section for more on that.
I imagine most newer phones won't have any issue connecting to these, but based on the volume issues detailed below, you're going to really want to make sure you can use the Galaxy Wearable app (or the Apple equivalent) before pursuing purchase here.
Simple but reliable design
Like most true wireless earbuds, the Buds+ are very neat and minimalist compared to neckband wireless earbuds and wired earphones. They look almost identical to the original Galaxy Buds—which admittedly didn't have the sleekest form factor—sitting roughly in the middle where true wireless size goes: not as space-conscious as the Apple AirPods but less bulbous than the Sony WF-1000XM3.
Likewise, the rounded charging case is comfortably pocket-sized and small enough to be gripped in a fist. Like the earbuds themselves, the case is made primarily from glossy plastics, meaning both the earbuds themselves and the case can be fingerprint magnets, but that's not uncommon.
Alongside the earbuds and charging case, you're getting a standard USB-C charging cable (though no AC adapter) that's about a foot-and-a-half long, three sizes of ear tips, and rubber grips meant to help you secure the best fit. The default tips on the Buds+ are perfect for me, but I would imagine most users can find a good fit with the alternates provided.
Overall, the buds and their case feel pretty durable. The earbuds are constructed from a smart mix of hard plastic and rubbery materials, and they feel like they can stand up to daily use while still being comfortable enough for, well, daily use. We've tried comfier earbuds, but the Buds+ are easily wearable for longer periods.
Good sound, though not the best you can find
There are definitely true wireless headphones that sound better than the Galaxy Buds+ (such as the aforementioned Sony WF-1000XM3), but generally, those models are also considerably more expensive. For what you're paying, the Buds+ sound pretty good. I mostly listened to music on Spotify, and the first thing I noticed was that these earbuds aren't very loud by default.
After doing some Google hunting, I discovered that lots of people have taken issue with the general lack of volume on the Buds+. Personally, I tend to listen to headphones (and speakers in general) too loudly, but even turning my phone all the way up, they just weren't producing much volume. As it turns out, much like the previous Galaxy Buds, they're simply set to a pretty low volume by default, and you have to use the app to change the button functions to raise/lower volume to fix this (and may have to continue to do so if you switch devices often).
Once that was settled, however, the tunes were soundin' swell. I listened to a fairly eclectic mix—including seminal dream poppers Beach House, an obscure metal vocalist duo project called Allen/Lande, and lo-fi artist Leon Chang—and I was mostly pleased with the sound profile here, which features solid bass presence and good balance throughout middle frequencies.
Back-to-back against pricier headphones—including the Apple AirPods Pro and a non-true-wireless pair, the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC900BT—it was easy to confirm what my ears were telling me: while bass and midrange presence are fine, the Buds+ struggle a bit with clarity and power in the treble. The best word I can think of to describe the sound of certain treble and overtone frequencies is "tinny," which is unfortunate, but not an all-out dealbreaker.
Between the wide array of EQ options in the app—these include Normal, Bass boost, Soft, Dynamic, Clear, and Treble boost— I like "Dynamic" the best, especially when it came to masking the occasional tinny sound. I imagine most people will be able to find an EQ setting that's most pleasing to them. Overall, the Buds+ sound solid for $150, but if you're used to more audiophile-facing headphones you may find them a bit lacking, so buyer beware.
A good mix of features and functions
While the earbuds and their charging case do the majority of the real work, Samsung's umbrella Galaxy Wearable app is essentially a necessity if you want to get the most out of the Buds+, so don't leave home without it. Fortunately, it's easy to use and navigate.
The app will register with your Buds+ easily, and from there you've got a ton more options. The app displays the battery level of each bud, and allows you to adjust the transparency mode (AKA "Ambient sound") settings to filter in more or less exterior sound.
You can also pick from the various EQ settings, manage notifications, ping the earbuds for their location, alter the touchpad functions, and—maybe most importantly for me—choose to lock the touchpads on the back of each earbud.
The touchpads are very responsive and useful, but they can be a little sensitive. If you're anything like me (I prefer over-ear headphones to most earbuds), you may find yourself touching or pushing on the Buds+ a lot at first to make sure they're well-inserted into your ears. This will either pause the music or trigger whatever touchpad setting you've selected, which can be annoying at first, but is something you're sure to get used to over time.
Spotify integration is a neat touch, though I didn't find myself using it a ton. When I first connected to the Buds+ over the app, they started playing Spotify automatically, which seemed a bit weird. With integration engaged (again, within the app) you can use the buttons to trigger recommended music. It's a fun way to interface between your personal tastes and your new headphones, but if you're one of the many people who Spotify's algorithm can't seem to get a bead on, the feature will be less useful.
What We Don't Like
Battery life isn't quite what's advertised
Samsung claims 11 hours of battery life per charge (22 if you include the single recharge in the case), but in my battery test I didn't quite get that much out of the Buds+. That's likely because I tend to listen to music more loudly than Samsung would suggest. While lighter listening may bear 11 hours, for me the battery life was more like 8-10 hours, which is still impressive.
As a comparison, Apple's AirPods and (much pricier) AirPods Pro max out at 5 hours per charge, though their rapid-charge case offers multiple recharges instead of just one, maxing out at 24+ hours in total.
Naturally, battery life is going to vary for a product with so many features. Depending on how many calls you take, how often you use Ambient mode, and so on, battery life will fluctuate—but it's safe to say you can easily get about a work day's worth of battery life out of these.
Reliance on the app may be annoying
As much as I enjoy the intuitive interface and functionality of the associated app, I also recognize where it can be a pain. If you want to use the Buds+ most effectively with a wide range of devices, you'll either have to install the app on all your devices, or regularly access it to adjust it.
Once you set up what your touch and hold functions do (or whether to lock the touch buttons altogether), that setting is shared across devices, which is convenient. However, the volume may occasionally reset to the Buds+ default of "really not very loud," which may require going back into the app to unlock the buds, adjust the volume, etc., or just trying to find the perfect pre-set for them in advance.
It's not a huge issue, especially if you're just going to use these with your phone, but it's worth mentioning.
You may have compatibility issues
Despite that there's really no reason to have compatibility issues, if your phone's as old as my fiancée's iPhone 6S, you may have issues connecting to the Buds+. She wasn't able to install the app, and though the buds should ostensibly connect directly over Bluetooth, we never got them to show up during a Bluetooth scan.
We reached out to Samsung, and they informed us that the Galaxy Buds+ are "compatible with smartphones and tablets running Android 5.0 or higher and with more than 1.5GB of RAM. Also compatible with iPhone7 or later models with the iOS 10 or higher.” While most people probably won't have an old enough phone that this impacts them, some of you might, so it's very valuable info to have.
Should You Buy It?
Yes—this is a solid midrange pick
The Samsung Galaxy Buds+ aren't the best-sounding or most feature-heavy true wireless earbuds on the market, but they're not as pricey as many of our favorites, either. Despite some tinny treble and a lack of noise canceling, you're getting nearly everything else that makes for a top-rated pair of true wireless earbuds here, from all-day battery life and comfort to durable design and a highly adjustable feature set.
Are the Buds+ going to displace Apple's AirPods Pro? No—not this generation, anyway. But they do back Apple's regular AirPods into a corner. If you've been looking for true wireless earbuds that land between the cheapest you can get and something that'll cost you hundreds of dollars, Samsung's Galaxy Buds+ are a sleek, smart choice.