Samsung Galaxy Buds+ Review: The Meaningful Increment
Wireless earphones and truly wireless earphones have both been around for a few years now, but it’s only recently that we have seen their popularity explode. That’s thanks in part to OEMs insisting on the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack from their top phones and then pushing out wireless audio solutions as additional purchases. Samsung has been in the wireless audio game for a fair few years, with releases like the Gear Icon X in 2016 that catered to fitness enthusiasts. But with the Galaxy Buds in 2019, Samsung shifted its focus on attracting the mainstream audience with a more discreet yet stylish design, and they actually ended up doing an excellent job. The Samsung Galaxy Buds+ succeed the Buds by claiming to assimilate the feedback received into a more well-rounded product. But how good are the Galaxy Buds+ in 2020? Here’s my review of Samsung’s flagship true wireless earbuds.
Samsung Galaxy Buds+: Specifications
|Specifications||Samsung Galaxy Buds+|
|Dimensions and Weight|
|Battery and Charging|
|Speaker and Mic|
|Sensor and other hardware||Accelerometer, IR, Hall, Touch, 3x Microphones|
|Colors||White, Blue, Black, Red, Pink, Special BTS Edition Purple|
Note: Samsung India sent us a Samsung Galaxy Buds+ for review. However, they did not have any inputs on the contents of this review. This review is after about three weeks of usage.
Samsung Galaxy Buds+ — Design and Build
The Samsung Galaxy Buds+ are similar in design to the original Galaxy Buds. But as is the general theme with this product, the changes are subtle but lend themselves to an experience that is much more complete than the predecessor. The only way you can differentiate the Galaxy Buds from the Galaxy Buds+ is by looking for the third microphone hole on the latter. Otherwise, they look the same externally.
The Galaxy Buds+ has a build that does admittedly feel a bit cheap and unbecoming of the price tag. The glossy surface areas on the earbud touchpads and the case can retain fingerprints and make them look dirty. The gloss also contrasts strikingly from the rubber wingtips, and it gives the buds a design that does not feel as seamless as some of the competitors, especially against those with protruding stems like the Apple AirPods.
Curiously, Samsung shows the “S” sized wingtips in most of its marketing and promotional material, and this wingtip has no protruding stabilizers while the other two sizes have protrusions/small “stabilizers” that try to hook onto the pinna. Even on the largest wingtips, the stabilizers aren’t too large, so they are unlikely to cause irritation, annoyance, or discomfort.
Samsung’s attention to detail comes to light when you observe the wingtips closely—the plastic shell on the Galaxy Buds+ has a raised pimple on the underside and the rubber wingtip has a complementing puncture, ensuring that there is only one correct way to have the earbud wear the wingtip.
Once you get over the overuse of gloss on the Galaxy Buds+, you realize that the rest of the package is actually amazing. The Galaxy Buds+ earbuds have a small footprint, and they protrude from your ears by only a small margin. They are also fairly lightweight. The net result of this combination is that I have experienced no fatigue from wearing them for a few hours at a stretch.
Unlike the Sony WF-1000XM3 that are bulkier (pictured above), I can actually rest my head sideways on a pillow with the Galaxy Buds+ in my ears and not have them push themselves deep within my ear or cause any discomfort. I’ve even managed to take a short nap with these on, which is a testimony to how effortless wearing these earbuds can be.
The fit on the earbuds is also great. Regardless of the wingtip chosen (S without the stabilizers, or M/L with the stabilizers), the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ sit deep within the ear and do not fall out even while walking around or doing light head movements. The included rubber tips do a great job of holding the earbuds in place within your ear canal and do a decent job with noise isolation as well. I have not had any instances of the earphones popping out of my ears or becoming unsettled, but there is a good chance that the shape of your ears will give you a different experience. Still, their overall small footprint and design coupled with the low weight and deep ear fit make the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ an excellent choice for earphones that you pop in your ears and forget about for a few hours.
As far as the case is concerned, the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ come in a pill-shaped case that snaps shut with the help of magnets to keep the lid closed. The Galaxy Buds+ rest within the case without any issues, as they should. If I had to nitpick, I would say that the magnetic snapping action of the earbuds when putting them back into the case is a little underwhelming and not as satisfying as the tight snap that happens with the Sony WF-1000XM3. Moving on, the size of the case feels perfect for pockets, which was a welcome change of pace for someone like me who came from the bulky WF-1000XM3 and its even bulkier case.
But as mentioned before, the full glossy finish of the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ case undermines the cost and makes it look borderline garish. In contrast, the case of the Sony WF-1000XM3 adopts a matte finish for a large portion of its surface area and just feels more premium in comparison (though the absolutely scratch-prone polished metal lid on the Sony’s is a big problem of its own).
The case has an LED indicator on the inside to indicate the charging status of the earbuds and another LED indicator on the outside to indicate the charging status of the case. Inside the case, there’s a rubber strip to indicate where the Left and Right earbuds are to be placed—it is easy to mistake the small bumps for some sort of buttons you can press, but they aren’t actually buttons as they cannot be pressed and provide no functionality other than for visuals.
The USB Type-C port exists below the hinge on the outside. You can use the port for charging the case or you can choose to wirelessly charge the case using a Qi-certified wireless charger. Wireless charging is a differentiating upgrade from the original Galaxy Buds, so if you have invested in wireless chargers, you will appreciate the added convenience that the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ brings into your life. But if you aren’t, Samsung also includes a standard USB Type-A to Type-C cable in the box, so you’re covered either way.
Another point to note: the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ have an IPX2 rating, which means it just resists light splashes of water. To put it into perspective, the Galaxy Buds+ can handle light sweat, but that’s about it. Because of this, it is not advised to wear them for any serious workouts or during rain.
To wrap it up, the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ have a very good, small, and lightweight design with an adequate, snug fit. The case is also compact and pocketable. Other than the glossy finish and the poor IP rating, I don’t have any major complaints about the design or build of this accessory. I hope Samsung takes notice of this feedback because the Galaxy Buds+ would have been close to perfect without the gloss!
Samsung Galaxy Buds+ — Features
The Samsung Galaxy Buds+ come with a robust set of features. Starting off, the first pairing process is super simple: You just have to open the lid and the Galaxy Buds+ are already in pairing mode. Enter into pairing mode on your smartphone or other devices, click on the Galaxy Buds+ entry, and you are connected and good to go! You don’t need an app or account to sign in just to use the Galaxy Buds+ and its basic functionality, nor do you need to remember any complicated pairing gestures or actions. That’s a big plus (pun unintended) as it removes the friction from the onboarding process and makes these a good average-consumer-friendly product.
The pairing process only gets slightly complicated when you are pairing a second device while staying connected to the first one. In this instance, you need to disconnect from the previous device (preferably by turning Bluetooth off) and then either manually enter into pairing mode (tap once, and then tap and hold on the t0uch area) or place the buds back into the case and reopen the lid. This was admittedly a bit more cumbersome, but the pairing process still remains painless if the Galaxy Buds+ do not have an active connection. It’s great that they automatically enter pairing mode when they can’t connect to a previous connection. Note that the Galaxy Buds+ initiate a connection when the lid is opened, and the earbuds do not need to be pulled out to switch them on. Also, you can use a singular earbud too.
If you have a Samsung smartphone with the Samsung SmartThings app installed, the pairing process should be even easier. I do not have a Samsung device to test this out, though. Also, note that the Galaxy Buds+ also do not support Google’s Fast Pair.
When the Galaxy Buds+ launched, there was some mild controversy regarding multi-device switching. This was a feature that was only available when switching between two Samsung devices that have the Samsung SmartThings app installed. SmartThings would then enable the user to tap within the media panel on each device to move the Galaxy Buds+ connection between two devices. However, a subsequent update brought multi-device support for non-Samsung devices.
Consequently, there is a lot less friction now to switch between two devices. This has immediately lifted the Galaxy Buds+ up in terms of convenience and utility against the Sony WF-1000XM3, as I can very easily switch between several phones and my laptop with little effort. But there is still room for improvement—for instance, I do hope the next iteration adopts Bluetooth multipoint and shifts audio focus intelligently.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds+ have a large touchpad (the glossy part) facing outwards. This can be tapped in various combinations to control different functions. A single tap on either bud plays and pauses tracks. A double-tap will play the next track and a triple tap will play the previous track. If a call is incoming, you can double-tap to accept and single tap and hold to decline. The Samsung Wearable app lets you reconfigure the single touch and hold command on the left and right earbud individually to any of the following four options: Voice command, Ambient sound, Spotify, or Volume Control (Right earbud for Volume Up, Left earbud for Volume Down). Note that the Galaxy Buds+ does not have auto-pause on removal/auto-play on insertion, even though they can detect when they are removed. On the flip side, you can’t really not touch the touchpad while removing or inserting the earbud.
You can also choose to lock the touch and hold command. With the command locked, you can still control volume by enabling an experimental feature called “Double Tap Earbud Edge.” I found that this feature works best when you are hitting the underside of your ear and not touching the earbuds directly, but the overall gesture feels unnatural and forced, so it makes sense to have this under the experimental tab.
The Voice command control can trigger Google Assistant on my phone. The Spotify integration is also neat as you can launch and begin playing the last played playlist with a simple gesture.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds+ support Bluetooth 5.0 for connecting to devices. For codecs, both the Buds+ and the Buds support SBC, AAC, and the scalable Samsung codec (proprietary). You can only take advantage of the Samsung scalable codec on Samsung’s devices, and hence, an ecosystem lock-in becomes crucial to experience the best sound out of these earbuds.
In terms of wireless range, I can get an uninterrupted connection across the hallway, which is about 8-10 meters. Connection drops and audio crackling become more frequent if you have any walls in between. Performance is on par with other truly wireless solutions, so there’s nothing to really complain about here.
Latency is unfortunately noticeable on the Galaxy Buds+, especially while gaming. I am unable to put a number to the delay, but it is definitely noticeable. Still, the situation is not too bad for casual play, and you can make do with the Buds+ if you do not have a wired solution nearby.
Curiously, there is no gaming mode to be found within the Galaxy Wearable app on my OnePlus 7 Pro, however, an option for the same does show up on Samsung devices.
Galaxy Wearable App
The Galaxy Wearable app is a recommended download for unlocking certain customizations on the Samsung Galaxy Buds+, but you don’t necessarily need it for basic functions and controls.
The app is primarily used when you need to read a precise measurement of the battery level on the individual buds and the case. You also need it to download and install firmware updates for the Galaxy Buds+. Some of these updates bring useful functions such as seamless connections, so I do recommend keeping the app installed and checking it regularly. You can also reset the earbuds from within the app.
There is also an equalizer within the app. However, you cannot fine-tune the settings or create a custom profile, which is a major oversight on a popular product like this. There are third-party apps that can do this, though.
Further, you can also have the Galaxy Buds+ read your notifications aloud to you. This can be done either in a summary format (just the name of the app) or in detail (with the notification content). You can set the feature up on a per-app basis, too.
The Galaxy Wearable app also has a Find My Earbuds feature which plays a loud beep on the earphones. Frankly, if you have actually lost your earbud, the feature is practically useless as you can barely hear the sound unless the earbud is within 10cm of your ears.
Within the Galaxy Wearable app, you can also toggle between various levels of Ambient Sound—a setting that amplifies the distracting sound around you. I fail to see why a user would want to use this setting since it downgrades the music listening experience without placing any particular emphasis on external voices.
You can, however, choose to have ambient sound turned on only for voice calls, and this is a setting I would recommend keeping in place. The noise isolation on the Galaxy Buds+ is quite good, and as a result, you may not realize how loud you are if you are on a voice call. Turning this setting on lets you realize how loud you sound to people around you, so the self-awareness helps you to modulate your voice accordingly.
Samsung Galaxy Buds+ — Sound Quality and Voice Quality
The Samsung Galaxy Buds+ have a 2-way speaker system along with a dedicated tweeter and woofer in each earphone for better treble and bass performance, respectively. Like several other Samsung audio accessories, they are also tuned by AKG. Curiously, Samsung does not actually detail the size of the driver used within the earbuds. Regardless, the Buds+ sound great. I consider myself an amateur in audio assessment and to my “average consumer” audio perception, the Galaxy Buds+ do an excellent job.
Using this thread from the Head-Fi forums as a reference, I would say that the Galaxy Buds+ have a higher reproduction on the higher ends. Samsung claims an improvement in bass response, but this improvement seems to be lost on me as I feel that the bass is still noticeably weak. For instance, the audio from the Halo theme does not sound as majestic as it should, and there is a lack of a “thump” and the sub-bass appears to be rolled off. The Bass Boost setting within the Galaxy Wearable app does improve the bass response but at the cost of higher-pitched notes. The relatively poor bass response may be a limitation of TWS solutions as a whole and not simply an issue with the Buds+. If you like your audio bass-heavy, such as Nucleya’s Laung Gawacha from Bass Rani, steer clear and opt for headphones instead.
Nitpicking on the bass aside, the Galaxy Buds+ have performed admirably on all other aspects. Vocals are a delight to hear, with clear reproduction and no noticeable muddling. Mids and highs are also handled very well. Music listening is an enjoyable experience on the Buds+ as far as audio quality is concerned.
What is a little disappointing is the lack of any form of noise cancellation on the earbuds. This is especially noticeable to me as I come from daily driving the Sony WF-1000XM3, which is generally recognized as the best active noise cancellation earbuds released in 2019. The Sony WF-1000XM3 does an absolutely amazing job of drowning out external noise and immersing you in the music. The Samsung Galaxy Buds+, on the other hand, rely solely on noise isolation with the rubber ear tips as there is no active noise cancellation at play. Active Noise Cancellation is the only reason why I still carry both sets of earphones around with me. Had the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ featured any sort of noise cancellation, I would have been comfortable leaving my Sony XM3s behind. The next Galaxy Buds X/ Galaxy Buds Live/ Galaxy Buds beans are rumored to come with active noise cancellation support, so I am definitely interested in seeing what Samsung brings to the table with their next-gen product.
The voice quality, though, is not disappointing. On the contrary, my experience with calls has been great. The inclusion of the third microphone is immediately noticeable to parties on the other end of a call. Voice calls, WhatsApp video calls, and Zoom meetings have gone without a hitch on the voice audio quality. To continue the comparison, the Sony WF-1000XM3 performs rather poorly on voice calls and people on the other end have described the sound as “distant” and “hollow”. With the Galaxy Buds+, people could not tell if I was speaking through a wireless earbud, and that’s a big thumbs up.
Samsung Galaxy Buds+ — Battery Life
The Samsung Galaxy Buds+ promises a battery life of 11 hours, and the company’s claims hold up for the most part. The maximum I have worn the Galaxy Buds+ during a single stretch was 9 hours, and it went through without needing to be popped into the case. The battery backup provided by the case is a little disappointing, as you can expect about a full charge just once again. Combined overall, the Galaxy Buds+ does have decent battery backup, and you should be covered for most use cases.
If you do manage to run out of battery, you can charge up through the USB Type-C port, a Qi-compatible wireless charger, or through Wireless Powershare. The addition of wireless charging is a nice touch on the earbuds, and it adds to the convenience of owning this pair of earbuds for users who have leaned into the wireless charging lifestyle. Simply place them on the charging mat and pick them back up again after some time.
Samsung Galaxy Buds+ — Concluding Note
My time with the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ has been very enjoyable, and I loved having these earphones around with me to get through the days in lockdown. These buds had to fill in the rather big shoes of the Sony WF-1000XM3, my daily drivers, and they managed to do a very good job. The only instances where I missed my Sony XM3s were in noisier environments for that sweet and effective Active Noise Cancellation feature, but that was to be expected because Sony set the bar very high and Buds+ completely lack the feature. I also miss having earbuds that are truly water-resistant, and that is something that is not up to the mark on both the Samsung’s and the Sony’s. The gloss on the Galaxy Buds+ case is a fingerprint magnet and is best left hidden in your pocket.
What the Galaxy Buds+ does excellently is everything else. The small design of the earbud causes practically no wear fatigue, a fact that makes them comfortable to wear for long periods of time. The sound quality is very good and so is the noise isolation, and the complaints on bass can be filed under nitpicking. The battery lasts for a long while, and when you do run out, you have a few options to make charging up easy. Plus, the voice call quality on the Buds+ has made them my default choice all through a workday and beyond. Samsung has made only a few changes over the original Galaxy Buds, essentially polishing a good product, and the result speaks itself. Things are even better if you own a recent Samsung Galaxy smartphone as you get the added benefits of tighter ecosystem integration.
Are the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ the best truly wireless earbuds on the market? That is a difficult question to answer, and without having tried the many popular alternatives on the market, I don’t feel confident enough to answer. At a price of ₹11,990 (~$158) in India and $149 in the USA, the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ are not cheap, and you are likely to find competitive solutions like the Jabra Elite Active 75t, Sennheiser Momentum TWS, and even the Huawei FreeBuds 3 around the same price range. But the biggest competitor to the Galaxy Buds+ is the Apple Airpods lineup. In India, the Apple AirPods Pro costs a cool ₹24,900 (~$329) while the second-generation AirPods with the wireless charging case costs ₹18,900 (~$250). Against these two, the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ is a better value product and does not disappoint in audio performance as well. The Galaxy Buds+ are one of the most recognizable and easy-to-recommend products in this segment for average users.
If you have a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ is a good purchase for ₹11,990/$149, and an even sweeter deal if you can get them for lower.