I recently purchased a Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus to compare with my iPhone XS Max. Samsung was generous enough to throw in a free pair of its $129 wireless Galaxy Buds for early adopters. How does Samsung’s take on truly wire-free earbuds compare with Apple’s AirPods? Watch our hands-on video walkthrough for the details.
- Premium sound by AKG
- Charging case
- Easy pairing
- Customizable Touchpad controls on both earbuds
- Up to 13 hours of battery life with charging case
- Up to 6 hours of play time from earbuds
- Quick 15-minute charge garners 1.7 hours of play time
- USB-C charging
- Wireless charging
- Recharge via Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus Wireless PowerShare
- Ambient Aware to allow surrounding noise in
- Quick Ambient Mode for quick listening to the outside world
- Comfortable ear fit with three adjustable ear and wingtips sizes included
- IPX2 splash-resistant to handle light splashes and sweat
- Android and iOS compatible
- White, yellow, and black color options
- Price: $129.99
Video: Galaxy Buds vs Apple AirPods
Unboxing & Design
The Samsung Galaxy Buds arrive in a small square box that’s similar to the AirPods. Inside, you’ll find the Galaxy Buds charging case, along with an accessory box, and documentation packet. The buds I got for free thanks to a promotion that Samsung is running for early Galaxy S10 buyers. That explains the ugly “not for resale” sticker on the front of the box.
Like Apple’s AirPods, Samsung includes a case with the Galaxy Buds that not only allows you to store your earbuds, but also serves as the method for recharging them.
Samsung opted for an oblong pill-shape design, similar to other wireless headphones that we’ve seen over the years, with a hinged top cover that snaps open and closed with a satisfying click. Each earbud is found nestled inside of the case within a molded resting area.
As with the AirPods, Samsung’s wireless headphones employ the use of magnets to align the buds perfectly to the charging contacts inside the case, while keeping them secure in the case upon opening the top cover.
The charging case features a pair of contacts for each earbud that aligns with the two contacts on the Galaxy Buds. Thanks to the magnetic alignment, users can simply place the buds inside the charging case and rest assured knowing that they’ll begin charging automatically.
Each bud features several components, including a pair of charging contacts, a touch-sensitive sensor, microphone, and touchpad speaker output. The buds also accommodate different sized wingtips and earbud tips, which both help with fit.
Although the look of the Galaxy Buds are different than AirPods, their basic premise is more or less the same. While the earbuds are charging inside the case, you’ll notice an LED charging indicator inside the case, not at all unlike the indicator that appears inside of the AirPods charging case.
Unlike the AirPods, however, Samsung includes an exterior LED for indicating the battery status of the charging case. A green LED indicates that the battery is between 60% and fully charged, yellow between 30% and 60%, and red charging or below 30% battery. A flashing indicator denotes an error or a low charging case battery.
This is one of the areas where Samsung’s approach and OS integration falls behind Apple’s AirPods. With the AirPods, you’re able to see the charging status of not only the two individual earbuds, but also the battery status of the charging case. These indicators aren’t tucked away inside an app, but can be viewed directly from a widget within Notification Center’s Today View.
Samsung only allows you to view the exact battery status of each individual bud. You’ll need to launch the Galaxy Wearable app or open the charging case with your buds inside and your Galaxy S10 close by.
On the rear of the Galaxy Buds charging case you’ll find a USB-C port for wired charging. The charging case can be recharged via USB-C, but it’s also Qi-compatible for wireless charging. This is one of the big advantages of the Galaxy Buds over the current-generation Apple AirPods, which can only accommodate wired charging via a Lighting cable connection.
Apple is planning on releasing a Qi-enabled version of the AirPods charging case, a device that was supposed to complement the company’s long-delayed AirPower wireless charging mat, but it’s been M.I.A. thus far. Perhaps we’ll see it released at Apple’s upcoming March 25th ‘It’s Show Time’ event.
As I noted in my hands-on look at Samsung’s latest flagship phone, the Galaxy Buds can also be wirelessly charged via the Galaxy S10 Plus itself. Samsung introduced a new feature called Wireless PowerShare that turns the handset into its own mini wireless charger. Wireless PowerShare isn’t very useful for recharging smartphones with large batteries, but it’s perfect for topping off the smaller battery inside the Galaxy Buds charging case.
Watch our iPhone XS Max vs Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus coverage
Battery life: AirPods vs Galaxy Buds
Despite the compact design of the AirPods, Apple’s earbuds offer better battery life than Samsung’s Galaxy Buds. Samsung notes that combined, its Galaxy Buds will last for 13 hours. That’s 6 hours of play time from the earbuds when fully charged, and an extra 7 hours from a fully charged charging case.
Apple’s AirPods last much longer, up to 24 hours. That’s 5 hours of play time from the earbuds when fully charged, and an additional 19 hours from a fully charged charging case.
What about quick charging? The Galaxy Buds provide users with 1.7 hours of play time from a 15-minute charge. AirPods provide users with 3 hours of play time from the same 15-minute charge.
It’s not that the AirPods are able to fit a massively bigger battery than the Galaxy Buds, it’s that Apple’s custom W1 chip inside the AirPods provides an uber-efficient wireless connection, and handles the heavy lifting when it comes to intelligent battery management. Needless to say, the results speak for themselves.
While AirPods’ fit can be hit or miss depending on the person, the Galaxy Buds are more likely to fit the majority of customers. This is because Samsung includes several pairs of silicone earbud tips and wingtips inside the box to facilitate a great fit with a variety of ear sizes.
The earbud tips work with small, medium and large ear canals, helping to isolate the sound from background noise, while the wingtips work to apply pressure on the outside portion of the ear flap creating friction that keeps the Galaxy Buds locked into place. I tested the buds while walking, jogging, and even engaged in a full sprint. Even so, the earbuds stayed locked in my ears.
Walking or even jogging with my AirPods is doable, but there’s no guarantee that they won’t fall out of my ear when running full speed. This is one of the biggest complaints with Apple’s truly wireless headphones, and remains a frustration for many would-be users to this day. Recent rumors suggest it that Apple is seeking to address fitment issues with the second generation AirPods by including a gripper exterior to help keep them in place.
Some people will prefer Samsung’s approach of using noise-isolating earbud tips, which help to keep sound from leaking out, while keeping outside sounds at bay. Personally speaking, I’m not a big fan of noise isolating tips, as they provide an undesirable ear sensation that stems from being cut off from outside sounds.
I don’t like being totally shut off from outside sound while I’m out running, walking through an airport, etc. It’s one of the reasons that I prefer Apple’s approach with the AirPods, even though it may result in a slightly inferior fit for some users.
Samsung allows you to mitigate the sound isolation through the use of ambient technology, which allows you to pipe in and amplify ambient sounds directly into your ears. It’s a nice feature to have, but it’s not a replacement for an open ear design, and results in reduced sound quality.
For both the Galaxy Buds and the Apple AirPods, wireless range isn’t what I’d consider a strong point. Both sets of earbuds can travel a fair distance from a paired device, but I find that neither works well when more than a few dozen feet away.
The Galaxy Buds, in particular, suffered from wireless dropouts in certain places around my house, even when close by the paired Galaxy S10 Plus. The AirPods were usually able retain a strong signal, although these too began to drop out when straying too far away from my paired iPhone.
Sound quality is inherently more subjective than anything else I’ll discuss in the post, but I think the Galaxy Buds sound okay. Neither the AirPods or Samsung’s wireless earbuds are going to make your jaw drop when it comes to sound quality, but both wireless buds do a decent enough job.
That said, when comparing both sets of earbuds back to back, I think that the AirPods sound noticeably better. The AirPods sound more refined on the low-end, and this was immediately noticeable to me, as I like to listen to instrumentals with no shortage of bass while working.
Although the AirPods aren’t audiophile grade gear, they are more acoustically refined than the Galaxy Buds. A quick listen to the Eagle’s Hotel California was all I needed to see that the AirPods were the better choice for instrument separation for highs and mids. My ears were able to pick up subtle sounds that I wasn’t able to pick up as easily with the Galaxy Buds.
For me, this is one of the areas where the AirPods stand head and shoulders above the Galaxy Buds. Call quality on Samsung’s earbuds is merely passable, while most people can’t tell I’m even talking to them using my AirPods.
When asked specifically about call quality with the Galaxy Buds, one caller noted that it sounded like I was conversing from inside of a bag. In other words, the call quality came across muted and muffled.
This is disappointing, but it’s not all that surprising considering the design of the Galaxy Buds versus the design of Apple’s AirPods.
Today, AirPods are ubiquitous, and no one even bats an eye when I wear them. But upon launch, they caught a lot of flack for their design, which admittedly looked odd, as if someone cut off the wire from a pair of earbuds and left the stem behind. The reason for such a design had much to do with call quality.
Apple uses a voice accelerometer and dual beamforming microphones to help filter out background noise for phone calls, or when conversing with Siri. The technology makes a noticeable difference when talking on the phone in both noisy and quiet environments.
Functionality and customization
When you remove a single AirPod from your ear, music playback stops. This is handy when someone wants to talk to you, or when you need to listen to the environment around you. Once you place the AirPod back inside your ear, music playback resumes right from where it stopped.
When you do the same thing with the Galaxy Buds, music playback continues. It’s only when you remove both earbuds that music playback stops. When you place the buds back in your ears, music playback doesn’t automatically resume.
What I just described here illustrates another reason why I prefer the AirPods over the Galaxy Buds. Being able to quickly stop and resume music playback automatically is one of my favorite features.
Samsung’s Galaxy Wearable app is where you go to configure most of the settings pertaining to the Galaxy Buds. This is a nice approach, and I’d like to see Apple do something similar instead of nestling all of the AirPods settings within the Bluetooth menu. A dedicated AirPods app would be welcomed for configuring and customizing advanced settings.
Samsung’s app allows users to set up per-app notifications that route to the earbuds, customize Touchpad controls, change Ambient sound settings, use Find My Earbuds to quickly find a misplaced bud around the house, and adjust the EQ.
The Galaxy Buds Touchpad controls let you play/pause with a single tap, skip or go back with a double or triple tap, and more. As far as customization is concerned, the Galaxy Wearable app lets users change the tap and hold properties of each bud. You can tap and hold to adjust volume, invoke Google Assistant/Bixby, or enable Quick Ambient Mode.
The Galaxy Buds are a solid offering from Samsung. They feature a better overall fit than Apple’s AirPods, and come with handy features like wireless charging. The Galaxy Buds are available in multiple color options, and are $30 cheaper than Apple’s AirPods.
But the Galaxy Buds are lacking in a few key areas when compared to the AirPods. Samsung’s earbuds feature less overall battery life when taking into account a pair of fully charged buds and corresponding charging case. Much of this battery discrepancy is owed to the custom-designed W1 chip, which provides wireless connection efficiency that Samsung’s buds aren’t able to match.
Another big difference between the Galaxy Buds and the AirPods has to do with call quality. Apple specifically designed the AirPods in such a way to garner better call quality thanks to its microphone configuration and voice accelerometer.
Although sound quality is largely subjective, I think most people will agree that a pair of AirPods sound better than the Galaxy Buds. Especially is this noticeable in the mid to high range frequencies, where Samsung’s offering doesn’t sound as crisp and clear. I’m also not a fan of the lows, and the sound isolation that stems from the silicone earbud tips, but again, preferences will vary from person to person.
Lastly, there’s OS integration. Apple’s AirPods prove to be superior when it comes to OS integration, although Samsung has made strides to replicate Apple’s easy set up.
If you’re a Galaxy S10 owner, then the Samsung Galaxy Buds are a good choice, but make no mistake, they aren’t on the same level as the AirPods just yet. What do you think?
Sound off in the comments below with your thoughts and opinions, and be sure to read our full hands-on feature of the Galaxy S10 Plus.