Samsung’s new Galaxy Buds are giving Apple’s AirPods a run for their money. Like the AirPods, they are in-ear, truly wireless headphones. They have a magnetic charging case that can give you a boost on the go and seamlessly integrate with Galaxy phones. Unlike the AirPods ($159, £159 or AU$229), the Galaxy Buds ($130, £139 or AU$249) can charge wirelessly. The Galaxy Buds also cost around $30 less in the US.
But the specs don’t always tell the whole story. we tested both these buds for about a week to find out which one comes out on top and help you decide which is right for you.
Design: AirPods are light, Galaxy Buds are snug
It’s hard to miss the AirPods when they’re dangling from someone’s ear: The bud rests inside the ear while the Q-tip-like cylinder sticks out down your earlobe. The AirPods are only available in white.
The Galaxy Buds are slightly bigger and protrude more than the AirPods, but they sit more snug in your ear thanks to different wingtips that you can swap out for a better fit. The Buds come in black, white or yellow.
The fit and comfort level obviously depends on the shape of your ear, but in general we found the AirPods were slightly more comfortable, especially for extended wear, because they’re so lightweight. The Galaxy Buds looked nicer and more subtle in the ear. Both stayed in place during everyday activities like commutes and workouts, but the Galaxy Buds felt more secure because of the tighter hold. The tips of the AirPods make them susceptible to falling out if you brush up against them with your hand. Neither one is fully water resistant, but the Galaxy Buds have an IPX2 rating which means they’ll withstand those intense sweat sessions.
The downside (or upside depending on what you’re looking for) of having a tighter seal is that the Galaxy Buds block out more ambient noise than the AirPods, even when you’re not listening to music. The open design of the AirPods means you hear a lot more of your surroundings and you don’t have to take them out to have a conversation when you’re not listening to anything. We’ll discuss the actual sound quality in more detail later.
Both these earbuds magnetically clip in to their cases for storage and to recharge the battery. The Galaxy Buds have a slightly larger case that looks a bit like a cylindrical pillbox or contact lens case, while the AirPods have a smaller case that reminds me of dental floss.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy Buds for a more custom fit (although we do prefer the AirPods case)
Features: What else can these buds do?
The AirPods and the Galaxy Buds pair automatically with their respective devices (iOS and Galaxy) as soon as you crack open the case. The first time you bring the buds near the phone, just tap to connect and you should be ready to go. The connection experience is not as seamless with devices outside of their respective ecosystems, but you can still pair them both manually from the Bluetooth settings on any phone, tablet or laptop.
Once paired, both buds let you tap to control calls, music playback or summon a voice assistant (Siri or Bixby). Customize the AirPods controls from the Bluetooth settings on your iPhone and pick from four different options: play and pause, skip forward, go to the previous track or summon Siri.
When paired with Android, the Galaxy Buds can be customized through the Galaxy Wear app. They offer the same tap controls as the AirPods, plus the ability to adjust the volume from the buds. You can increase or decrease ambient noise and tune the sound quality from the app. However if you’re using the Galaxy Buds with an iPhone, you’ll only be able to use the default controls. The level of customization on the Galaxy Buds is unbeatable, but if you do choose to customize the taps, remembering what gesture controls what feature may take some time to master.
If you lose either of these buds, you can use your phone to find them, but neither of the “find my buds” features is perfect. On the iPhone they only show the last location where they were paired, and sometimes didn’t ring or show up as found until they were next to the phone. The Galaxy Buds don’t show their location on a map and only play a chirping sound when you ping them — an effect that only works if the buds are turned on and connected. Remember, you won’t be able to ping either of the buds if you’re using them with a device outside the ecosystem. Bottom line, try not to lose either one.
Winner: Galaxy Buds for the level of customization
Sound quality: Galaxy Buds offer more for audiophiles
Out of the box, the sound quality on the Galaxy Buds is notably richer. Because of its tighter fitting design, you don’t have to pump up the volume as much to hear your music. If you’re listening to the AirPods by themselves, the sound quality is perfectly adequate. It’s only when listening to them side-by-side with the Galaxy Buds that we noticed they sound a littler thinner and weaker. The AirPods’ more open design also means you also need to crank up the volume if there’s a lot of ambient noise competing with them.
Sound on Galaxy Buds is tuned by AKG, and you have the option to customize the sound profile in the Galaxy Wear app. The app also gives you an Ambient Sound setting that brings in more outside noise when paired with Android devices and has a Voice Focus option that makes voices stand out. In the real world, these features do let in more ambient sound and let you hear voices more clearly, but it can sound like you are in an echo chamber, and you still don’t get as much ambient noise coming through as you do with the AirPods. The AirPods don’t have a native app, but you can use an equalizer in your music app to adjust the sound. We still preferred the AirPods over the Galaxy Buds for walking commutes or runs where you have to be aware of your surroundings, even with the Ambient sound option enabled.
For calls, we had the opposite experience. Both buds have dual microphones, but the AirPods isolated the voice better in the call while the Galaxy Buds let in more ambient noise. The AirPods sounded much clearer and louder to the person on the other line.
Winner: Galaxy Buds for sound quality, AirPods get points for call quality
Performance and Battery: Which one can go longer?
The Galaxy Buds support Bluetooth 5, while the AirPods have Apple’s W1 chip. We conducted an informal range test where we paired them both with their respective phones, started streaming from Spotify and left them on a table. Both were able to get an impressive distance from the table before the music started to cut out, but the AirPods were able to get about five feet further than the Galaxy Buds.
The Galaxy Buds did however outlast the AirPods in terms of battery life by almost two hours. We were able to get about five hours of continuous playback with the AirPods and almost seven with the Galaxy Buds. But the AirPods hold more charge in the case than the Galaxy Buds, so you’ll be able to get more juice out of them on the go if you don’t have access to an outlet. The AirPods use a lightning cable to charge, while the Galaxy Buds have a USB-C port.
But the Galaxy Buds have a charging super power up their sleeve that the AirPods don’t have yet: wireless charging. Not only can the case be charged on a charging dock, if you have a newyou can use your phone to charge them in a pinch.
Winner: Toss up. The AirPods have a slightly longer range and more total battery life, but the Galaxy Buds last longer on a single charge and can charge wirelessly
Let’s break it down: Which one is the best?
The Galaxy Buds are the clear winners. They have more features and offer greater customization at a cheaper price than the AirPods. But it also depends on your use case. The Galaxy Buds are the obvious pick if you have a Galaxy or Android phone and your main priority is sound quality, while the AirPods may be better if you’re looking for seamless integration with other iOS devices and want a well rounded set of buds that you can wear in just about any scenario.
That said, it’s important to keep in mind that the AirPods are two years old at this point and can still hold their own against the brand new Galaxy Buds. Apple is expected to release a sequel to the AirPods in the coming months, so check back for updates to this comparison when that happens.