The Samsung Galaxy Buds are potentially a very big deal for Samsung, even though they were buried under the wealth of new phones launched Unpacked last night, where we got hands on with Samsung S10.
The Galaxy Buds, obviously, join the growing roster of Apple AirPods rivals. Sales of this type of true wireless earbuds are going to go through the roof this year and to help ensure the success of Galaxy Buds, Samsung has made two very canny choices.
1) It’s undercut Apple by £20 on the pricing (£139 against Apple’s £159), and is even giving them away free with pre-ordered Samsung S10 and S10 Plus phones, although seemingly not the S10e.
2) It’s learned lessons from its previous stab at true wireless, the IconX, which were… not good.
Samsung Galaxy Buds: features
Galaxy Buds’ audio is handled by a Samsung sub-brand, the very popular AKG. As with AirPods, there are no wires at all. You sit the left Bud in your left ear, the right Bud in your right ear, and hope that neither falls out and drops down a drain or under a bus.
Because the Buds are a full 30% smaller than the hulking IconX, the fit should be both comfortable and secure. I’ve been using true wireless buds of all kinds for the past 12 months and once you start using them, despite their short battery life and the fact you will occasionally lose one if you’re careless, it is very hard to go back to headphones with wires – even standard Bluetooth ones.
Anyway, on to the features: six hours of battery life is a lot for true wireless (yes, really), and the buds recharge wirelessly, either in their case on a suitable Qi pad or, more flash, on your spanking new S10 mobile. or you could just use a USB C cable and be boring. The case also has its own battery, giving up to seven hours of additional playback, with 1.7 hours from a 15-minute quick charge.
You can opt to hear your surroundings over your music thanks to ‘Enhanced Ambient Sound’, while ‘Adaptive Dual Microphones’ (one inner, one outer) ‘can deliver your voice clearly in both loud and quiet environments.’
Samsung’s ‘much-loved’ Bixby is accessible with a press of your ear, so you can ‘use your voice to make calls, send text messages or check the battery life of your earbuds.’
Samsung says these are not compatible with iOS at all, although presumably they only mean Bixby and other Samsung proprietary features aren’t. They surely must pair just like any other Bluetooth buds for music playback. Surely?
Interestingly, these support the ‘CD-quality’ AAC codec, which always used to be exclusive to Apple, but not aptX, which has long been most associated with Android devices. How times change. High quality audio also comes via Samsung’s own ‘Scalable’ codec.
Samsung Galaxy Buds: spec
Colours Black, White, Yellow
Size/weight 17.5 (W) x 19.2 (D) x 22.3 (H) mm / Case: 38.8 (W) x 70 (D) x 26.5 (H) mm / 5.6g per earbud / Case: 39.6g
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0, USB Type-C
Sensors Accelerometer, Proximity, Hall, Touch, Ear on/off detection
Battery Earbud: 58mAh / Charging case: 252mAh
Speaker 5.8pi Dynamic Driver
Compatibility Android 5.0 or later, RAM 1.5GB or above
Audio Codecs SBC, AAC, Scalable (Samsung proprietary)
Samsung Galaxy Buds: should you buy them?
As mentioned above, Samsung Galaxy Buds are similar to the brand’s previous IconX, but have learned valuable lessons from them.
First up, Galaxy Buds are a full 30% smaller than IconX. This should make them a real rival to Jabra’s 65t, our current pick of the best true wireless buds and also the best running headphones. Battery life is 6 hours, which is good for true wireless. Also, they seem to have dropped the IconX’s largely useless ‘sports’ functions, notably on-board storage for tunes. This may be why they’re so much smaller and more comfortable.
Being able to charge from your new Galaxy phone is cool but realistically, I douby anyone will do that much. Who wants to sacrifice phone battery just to keep their headphones going a bit longer?
With a more musical sound and lower price, Samsung Galaxy Buds have a decent chance of selling well, although it’s very hard to picture them becoming as omnipresent as the Apple AirPods.
• Galaxy Buds launch March 8 and can be pre-ordered now. For a limited period, if you buy an S10 or S10 Plus and you’ll get a pair free.