Illustration for article titled Samsung’s Buds Are Probably the Budget AirPod Alternative You Want

Apple’s AirPods have become so ubiquitous that rival Bluetooth earbud makers have had to differentiate themselves with less-obnoxious designs, more features, or a lower price—or, as in the case of rival Samsung’s new Galaxy Buds+, a combination of the three.

This is technically Samsung’s fourth generation of wireless earbuds, and the best one by far. The company has previously experimented with heart rate-monitoring (the first-gen Gear IconX) and wireless charging (last year’s Galaxy Buds) to distinguish its earbuds from the rest of the pack but finally realized that what people actually want is longer battery life at a competitive price. The new $150 Galaxy Buds+ deliver both in an attractive package. They’re not perfect, but Samsung has finally made a worthy AirPods rival.

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Let’s get straight to it: Battery life is these earbuds’ standout feature. With 11 hours of on-board battery life and an additional 11 hours in the charging case, the Galaxy Buds+ last 22 hours without needing a charge. When you plug in the charging case for three minutes, you can get an additional hour, which is plenty for a quick run. I’ve been using these buds as my constant companion for more than a week, listening to music, making phone calls, and working out, and they still show up in the Galaxy Buds+ app as having more than 90 percent battery life left. The charging case is now under 30-percent (which you can tell by the LED light on the case’s exterior), but I haven’t plugged it in since I first juiced up the buds. AirPods cannot rival that battery performance. You also get a case that can charge up wirelessly, which Apple charges $50 extra for.

For those who hate the one size fits all stemmed design of AirPods, which cost the same as Galaxy Buds+ sans wireless charging case, Samsung’s gleaming Buds+ come with three tips and fins. I had to experiment a bit before finding the right fit but eventually landed on a tip-fin combo that feels comfortable. They don’t fall out when I run outside. I do experience some pressure in my ears when I wear the Galaxy Buds+ for extended listening sessions, which is something I never feel with the AirPods Pro (Apple says it’s pricier ‘buds have vents to prevent that feeling).

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The biggest issue I have with the Galaxy Buds+ design is the exterior touchpads. They can be customized in the app to perform different tasks, including skipping songs and calling up your voice assistant of choice. The problem is the controls are so incredibly sensitive that I somehow hung up a phone call and started playing a song just by oh-so-slightly adjusting the left bud in my ear.

Samsung worked with AKG and put two-way dynamic speakers inside the Galaxy Buds+ to improve the audio quality, which was the most common complaint about the company’s previous earbuds. The enhancements make a difference, though I did have to experiment with the in-app equalizer settings to fine-tune the sound. The out-of-the-box preset, Normal, compresses the range a bit and makes the bass sound like I put an after-market car stereo in my ears with a slightly tinny thud. The Dynamic setting helps the ‘buds handle bass much better, which I put to the test by blasting Cardi B’s bass-heavy Invasion of Privacy.

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The Galaxy Buds+ have two outer mics and an internal mic in each bud and use beamforming to focus the noise for phone calls in noisy places. I wore the Buds+ for multiple phone calls both indoors and out, with ambient noise enabled to I could better hear myself. The people I spoke with were able to hear me clearly in any setting, though I prefer AirPods for phone calls because I can hear myself more easily too. Even with ambient noise enabled on the Buds+, my voice sounded muffled to my own ears.

Samsung also doesn’t support pairing to multiple devices, which is slightly annoying. There’s no active noise cancellation either, and the IPX2 rating means the Buds+ aren’t technically sweat-resistant (that’s a bit of a risk when it comes to workouts, because you might short out your earbuds after a time). That makes buds like Apple’s $250 AirPods Pro seem far more appealing. But the appeal of the Galaxy Buds+ isn’t in all the extras, its in precisely how much good it can offer for $100 less than the AirPods Pro.

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And in that context my complaints, for the most part, are minor. Sure the sensitive touchpads have caused me the most trouble, especially while running. Yet with lengthy battery life, solid design, and customizable equalizer settings and fit options, the $150 Galaxy Buds+ might just be the best earbuds for the money.

README

  • Lengthy battery life
  • Customizable fit and sound equalizer settings
  • Better audio quality than previous Samsung earbuds
  • Cheaper than rival earbuds from Jabra and Apple
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Consumer tech editor, Gizmodo.

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