Last year's Samsung Galaxy Buds were, at the time, my favorite earbuds for daily use. They were comfortable, they sounded pretty nice, and the form factor was just irresistible, with a tiny case that charged by USB-C or Qi. For $130, you couldn't ask for much more. Samsung's back at it this year with the Galaxy Buds+, and while they're not a giant leap forward from their older counterpart, for $20 more, they're better in every way that matters. I think I've got a new favorite.
|Battery life||Outstanding. Something like 11 hours of playback on a charge.|
|Sound||Decidedly good. Not amazing, but improved over the original Galaxy Buds.|
|Extras||Touches like wireless charging and in-ear detection are appreciated.|
|Price||$150 — a $20 markup from the standard Galaxy Buds — feels fair.|
|Water resistance||Only IPX2 rated. Not safe for use in the rain (or by prolific sweaters).|
|Companion app||Galaxy Wear doesn't offer enough customization options.|
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
From the outside, the original Galaxy Buds and the Galaxy Buds+ are practically identical — they actually fit in each other's charging cases. Those cases are very much alike, too, both being small, pill-shaped clamshells. It's an ain't-broke-don't-fix-it kind of deal; the original design didn't have many flaws to speak of, and there's still not a lot to complain about in the Buds+.
The earbuds are light and fit very comfortably in my ears, and the case is slim enough to slide into just about any pocket. The only change you're liable to notice is that the Buds+ eschew the originals' matte finish for a high-gloss one, both on the earbuds and the case. I wish they didn't; glossy surfaces are much more prone to fingerprints and scratches and, to me, come across cheaper. Still, unless you have a distaste for glossy finishes that borders on pathological (help me), it's hardly an issue.
Looking past aesthetics, though, there are a few key differences. There's an extra microphone on the outside of each earbud to better isolate your voice from background noise during calls — something the first Galaxy Buds struggled with. Each bud also houses an 85 mAh battery, which is 48 percent larger than those in the previous model (the case has a bigger battery, too, but it's a smaller gain: 270 mAh versus the old Buds' 252). The Buds+ also have bigger drivers.
Aside from the earbuds themselves and their case, the Galaxy Buds+ come with the expected accessories: a USB-A-to-USB-C charging cable, plus a few different sizes of ear tips and wings to customize fit.
Sound quality, features, battery life
The Galaxy Buds+ sound very good. You're not getting the fidelity you would from earbuds manufactured by Sennheiser or Klipsch, but highs and mids are well-represented, and the larger drivers Samsung managed to cram inside mean the Buds+ produce more bass than the old Buds could muster. Shortcomings are there if you listen for them, but audio quality is more than high enough to make for pleasurable out-and-about listening.
There's support for AAC and SBC codecs, in addition to Samsung's proprietary Scalable standard (no aptX here). Latency is low, though, and audio and video are synchronized well enough to enjoy games and videos without distraction.
What's probably a bigger deal here than audio quality, though, is that the earbuds are vastly improved over the previous iteration when it comes to phone calls. The first-generation Galaxy Buds were notoriously bad at isolating your voice from background noise, which made taking calls on them in public a pain. The Galaxy Buds+ sport an extra microphone on each earbud, and that helps them zero in on your voice in noisier environments. Tested in a crowded coffee shop, callers could hear me well enough to carry on a conversation without my having to raise my voice, whereas on the old Galaxy Buds, I'd had trouble being heard even in relatively quiet settings.
The Galaxy Wear app allows for customization of the earbuds' sound profile, but it really falls flat there. Rather than frequency sliders, Samsung sees fit to provide six presets with uninformative names like "dynamic" and "clear" (I personally like "soft" best; it gently boosts bass and tempers treble, which is nice for casual listening). The setup is fine as an option, but more granular adjustments should really be possible here.
Touchpads on the outside of each earbud let you skip tracks, adjust volume, call up the Google Assistant (or Bixby, I guess), activate "ambient sound" mode, and even open Spotify. A single tap is play/pause, double is skip forward, and triple is skip back. Everything else is accomplished by long presses.
With four distinct actions on each of two earbuds, there's theoretically the possibility to map eight functions at a time. As unwieldy as that would be out of the box, it would be a nice option for users who want it. As it stands, though, if you want to be able to control volume without futzing with your phone, there's no way to call up the Google Assistant or activate ambient sound from the earbuds. That's a shame.
Ambient sound, by the way, is kind of like negative noise canceling. It pulls in sound from around you through the buds' microphones and pipes it into your ears along with whatever you're listening to. The effect is pretty convincing, and even mimics natural binaural spatial awareness — the effect that lets you judge where sounds are coming from by using both ears in concert. It's still pretty rude to talk to people while wearing earbuds, but if you want to be aware of what's going on as you walk down the street, it's a good option to have.
Battery life on the Buds+ is the best I've ever seen on true wireless earbuds. Thanks to the significantly larger cells they pack, the earbuds can last up to 11 (eleven) hours on a single charge, without the charging case (I didn't have occasion to listen to music for 11 uninterrupted hours in my time with them, but judging by battery remaining after shorter stretches, Samsung's estimates track). That's without any perceptible increase in weight versus the previous model; they're both an airy 5.6 grams per bud. That kind of longevity is an entire workday plus commute, or a transcontinental flight with charge to spare. The case adds another full charge, totaling about 22 hours of listening charge between top-ups. You basically never have to manage your battery with the Buds+, and that's a great feeling.
Should you buy them?
Absolutely. In his review of the first Galaxy Buds, Scott said that they "probably aren’t the best at anything, but they do everything pretty well." That's almost still true of the Galaxy Buds+, but now they're top of the heap when it comes to battery life while still doing everything else competently enough. The form factor is still just about perfect and sound is almost great. My biggest gripe is the lack of proper water resistance (IPX2 is better than nothing, but come on). Still, that hasn't killed my old Galaxy Buds, and I've been using them for a year.
Sure, noise canceling would be nice, but that's a lot to ask at this price, and it would hamper that immaculate battery life, which is the best thing about the Galaxy Buds+. With few exceptions, the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ are extremely easy to recommend to almost everyone, and a clear winner of our Most Wanted accolade.
You're shopping for true wireless earbuds in the $150 ballpark. The Galaxy Buds+ offer incredible value with few drawbacks.
Don’t buy if:
You've already got the first-generation Galaxy Buds. The Buds+ are categorically better, but maybe not worth the upgrade.