As someone who used and enjoyed the original Galaxy Buds, I was excited to check out the upgraded version. When I did, I was less excited: it’s almost impossible to see what’s improved for 2020 with the Galaxy Buds+. But there’s the rub—they’re headphones. It’s not about what you can see.
Samsung’s less than competitive with the latest wave of true wireless headphones, as the Buds+ lack active noise cancellation. But they don’t cost as much as the ones that do, and their sound and battery life improvements over the original justify an extra twenty bucks.
Play It Again, Samsung
If you’re unfamiliar with the Galaxy Buds: they’re surprisingly small and sleek headphones, with a small sleek charging case, and they’re obviously and successfully aimed at the standard AirPods. Samsung had a few tries at the true wireless form factor before, but really nailed it in 2019, delivering solid sound, good battery life, and great fit and finish.
The Buds+ are that, but slightly more. For $150 ($20 more than the regular Buds), you get an extra driver in the earbuds for more dynamic sound, plus an extra outer microphone for better voice calls and better ambient sound. As far as features go, that’s it. The newer Buds+ can even fit and charge in my old case—the exterior design is apparently identical.
The other upgrade is new batteries in the buds and the case, extending battery life considerably for both. The fast charging is upgraded, too, with just 3 minutes on the charger equaling 1 hour of playback time. But keep in mind, that’s 3 minutes for the case itself—it takes longer to get energy into those buds. Samsung claims the earbuds will last for an impressive 11 hours on a charge, with a total of 22 hours combined for both the case and the buds.
In using the Buds+, I didn’t find any reason to doubt those claims. The combined time off of a charger was somewhere between 16 and 20 hours, based on my notes. I never once listened to the buds themselves for 11 hours straight, but they do seem to be considerably longer-lasting than my standard Galaxy Buds. You can charge via USB-C or wireless Qi.
Comfiest Buds Around
One area that the Buds and the new Buds+ beat out other designs is comfort. Samsung includes three sets of silicone ear tips and three sets of adjustable wings that go around the edge of the buds. That’s two points of comfort on each bud that you can mix and match to your ear, meaning you’re more than likely to find a combination that works for you.
Combined with the surprisingly lightweight and unobtrusive body of the Buds+, that makes for effortless comfortable wearing. With my preferred tips and wings, I wasn’t able to dislodge the Buds+ with anything short of a smack to my own ear.
That’s more than you can say for the AirPods: Apple reserves any kind of user-custom fitting to the much more expensive AirPods Pro, and even there, it’s just the tip. Despite only sticking out at a single point, the flat exterior edge of the Buds+ work fine for touch controls.
If you’re considering these as a workout tool, they’ll suffice, just don’t go swimming. IPX2 water resistance means it can take sweat and light rain, and that’s about it. I still relied on my Aftershokz headphones for bike rides, for safety if nothing else.
Double the Drivers
I was able to notice a distinct improvement in the Buds+ over the standard Buds, in both audio and microphone quality. Music is richer thanks to the inclusion of dedicated bass and treble drivers. Ditto for the AirPods: it’s easy to spot the difference when you have a lot of instruments going on at the same time.
I was surprised at how much better the ambient sound mode is, too. Whereas I didn’t trust my original Galaxy Buds to give me clear noise in my surroundings, the Buds+ are good enough to hold a conversation in a store or a car through those mic pickups. They’re not smart enough to funnel out wind, sadly, but that’s a pretty universal problem with ambient sound designs.
There’s no active noise cancellation, which is a shame. Others have done it, albeit at a much higher price, and it would have been an easy way for Samsung to differentiate in this area.
Software Improvements … Sort of
The Buds+ marketing highlight the fact that you can use that touchpad specifically to control Spotify. But that was already true for standard pause, play, and skip functions, so I don’t see a ton of extra value in adding in a long-press function just to launch the app.
The only other change from the software side of things is “multi-device compatibility,” which can let you connect to multiple Bluetooth sound sources at once. This is true, with a huge caveat: it’s only for Samsung phones, tablets, and computers. Because I only have the one Samsung phone to test with, it seems like a wash. Pity.
The original Galaxy Buds were compatible with iOS using basic Bluetooth, but couldn’t be adjusted with an app. Samsung has fixed that now with the Buds app on iOS (Android users get “Wear”), making the Buds+ a good choice if you’re platform-agnostic. They’re certainly better at crossing the aisle than Apple: the AirPods can connect to Android but can’t be customized in terms of settings.
The app itself is alright, though I wish Samsung would forego the flashy UI and just give me a list of settings. You can adjust the strength of ambient noise, choose from six equalizer settings, and customize the touch controls to your liking. There’s also a “find my earbuds” function, but the drivers are so tiny that you’re unlikely to find them in anything but a perfectly silent room. Don’t let those suckers out of your sight.
Worth a Buy, Not an Upgrade
The Galaxy Buds+ are a definite improvement, and to my mind, the better sound and battery life certainly justify the $20 boost in price. If you’re on a budget, though, there are other options out there. I appreciate Samsung supporting iOS too, making the Buds+ an excellent platform-agnostic choice.
That said, if you already have the Galaxy Buds or a comparable set of true wireless earbuds, wait a year or two for an upgrade. They’re not so much better than the original design—or the many lower-budget options—that they demand you go out and pick up a pair.
Here’s What We Like
- Great sound
- Very comfortable
- Long battery life
And What We Don't
- No noise cancellation
- Limited multi-device
- A bit pricey