Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 full review
Three pairs of Galaxy Buds have launched since the first pair arrived a few years ago. Still, thanks to the arcane ways of tech naming, here we are with the Galaxy Buds 2 – the fifth pair in the series, but apparently the second that counts.
These have had a price bump relative to the original Buds, but improved design, better sound, and premium features like active noise cancellation should help to justify the extra cost.
The bigger question is whether Samsung’s latest Buds hold up in a market that’s simultaneously dominated by Apple and flooded with third-party rivals, from tech and audio brands alike.
Design and build
- Range of colours
- Slightly sensitive touch controls
- Lightweight plastic finish
The Galaxy Buds are Samsung’s answer to Apple’s AirPods, but to the Korean tech giant’s credit they’ve always struck their own path, rather than aping that now iconic stemmed design.
That means a compact, stemless bud that sits entirely in your ear, with the entire outer surface used for touch controls.
This time around the Buds 2 are smaller than before, and extraordinarily lightweight - just 5g each - thanks to the specific plastic used for the body. Keeping the Buds 2 light does help make sure they’re comfortable over extended use, but I’ll admit that my initial impression on picking them up is that the earbuds feel a bit cheap, not helped by the glossy finish coating them.
Still, that impression doesn’t last long, and ultimately comfort trumps. With a choice of three sizes of silicone ear tips you should have an easy enough time finding a good fit – though for some reason my right ear specifically always felt like it was between sizes, and never quite right. Those with more symmetrical (or normal) ears likely won’t have this problem.
The buds are also waterproofed, but only lightly. They have an IPX2 rating, which means they’ll survive some sweat or a brief splash of rain, but won’t last long if you submerge them.
The biggest challenge with the shape of the buds themselves is the touch controls – a problem that’s plagued essentially every pair of Galaxy Buds so far. With the whole outer area touch-sensitive, making any small adjustments to the buds tends to trigger the touch controls. Every time you try to adjust the controls you’ll likely find your music pausing or the ANC switching off, which never stops being irritating.
There are no such irritations with the charging case, which is pretty straightforward. A small, slim square, it’s compact enough to slip into a pocket or purse, and both seals and holds the buds securely and magnetically.
The design is an extra welcome flourish here, with a two-tone case in which the interior matches your chosen colour of buds (white, purple, olive green, or black), while the outer side contrasts in white – a simple touch, but one I really enjoy.
Specs and sound
- Strong sonics
- Decent ANC
- Transparency mode
Thanks in part to its subsidiary AKG, Samsung has never struggled too much when it comes to the audio quality aspects of the Galaxy Buds.
Once again that holds here. Since they’re small there’s a limit to the sheer bass oomph the Buds 2 can manifest, but a well-balanced default sound profile from the two-way dynamic speakers leaves these headphones suited to most genres.
Mids can get a little muddled – a typical problem for smaller headphones, which tend to have a smaller soundscape – but vocals still cut through well, especially on poppier tracks or hip hop.
The sound is supported by the inclusion of active noise cancellation, a feature borrowed from the more expensive Buds Live and Buds Pro. The implementation here certainly won’t match the Buds Pro on quality, but as long as you found a good fit (and so have a good noise seal) the ANC does a pretty capable job of blocking out repetitive noises – like the thrum of train tracks – and muffling less predictable ones – like train announcements.
Yes, I am writing this from a train – why do you ask?
In addition to ANC, you have the option of a transparency mode, called ‘ambient mode’, that amplifies external noise. That’s ideal if you want to make sure you can hear traffic noise around you or want to carry out a conversation without taking the earbuds out.
By default, transparency automatically kicks in when you used the Buds 2 to take a call, which might seem counter-intuitive, but does serve a purpose – it helps you to hear your own voice, which if nothing else will help stop you from bellowing down the phone at someone because you can’t tell how loud you are.
Call quality is otherwise impressive, with those I called reporting that I sounded clear even when calling from fairly noisy conditions.
Battery and charging
- Average battery life
- Wireless charging
Battery life on the Buds 2 is fairly typical for the industry – which is to say it’s plenty for most people, but you won’t be able to use the earbuds non-stop on a long-haul flight.
Samsung rates the Buds 2 for five hours of use with ANC activated, and seven and a half hours if you switch the feature off. You can certainly find better battery out there, especially if you’re willing to forgo ANC, but for day-to-day use this will be enough for the average user.
Factor in the charging case and you’re looking at a total of 20 hours with ANC and 29 without – again, fairly average, but likely sufficient for most of us.
Where Samsung does excel is charging. Not only can you charge the case by USB-C, but the company includes wireless charging as standard – something Apple still charges a premium for, though it is now working its way into cheaper buds like the OnePlus Buds Pro and the Nothing Ear (1).
With such a small cell, the case charges up quickly even over slower wireless charging, so the convenience of just dropping the case onto a charging pad when you notice the battery LED turn red is well worth it.
Connectivity and smart features
- Android-only app
- Customisable controls & EQ
- Poorly implemented in-ear detection
The Galaxy Buds 2 are supported by Samsung’s free Wear app, which is also used to control other devices like the company’s recent Galaxy Watch 4 wearables. It’s available for any Android phone running Android 7 or later – not just Samsung ones – but isn’t supported by iOS. So while you will be able to pair the Galaxy Buds 2 to an iPhone, you won’t be able to access the extra app features.
The app gives you a few extra options. You can customise the buds’ touch controls (though you don’t get too many options here), pick from a range of pre-set equalisers, and decide on other options like whether to use ambient mode during calls or not.
The app also lets you update the Buds 2’s firmware, take a fit test that will assess how well you’ve chosen your silicone tips, and help find the Buds if they’re missing by having them blast a noise out – though of course there is a limit to how loud this will go.
If you use the buds with a Samsung phone then you can activate the virtual assistant Bixby with a wake word through the buds, though if you want to use Google Assistant or Alexa you can only do so through one of the customisable touch controls.
It’s also worth mentioning the slightly awkward implementation of earbud detection here. Unlike on most earbuds, taking one out of your ear doesn’t pause your music or activate ambient mode. Instead you have to remove both buds before your music pauses, and it still takes a couple of seconds or so for it to work. Music won’t begin playing automatically when you put the buds back in either – you'll need to hit play again.
Finally, connectivity is handled by Bluetooth 5.2 – the latest standard, so you’ll have reliable connections and low latency.
Price and availability
The Galaxy Buds 2 are available now worldwide for £139/$149/€149.
That’s a fair bit cheaper than the Galaxy Buds Pro, despite having a similar feature set – though the Pro models do have better waterproofing and a few extra features.
It also undercuts key rivals like the Apple AirPods – especially since the Buds 2 include wireless charging for less – though iPhone users are unlikely to look at these anyway.
There is cheaper competition out there, most notably the £99/$99/€99 Nothing Ear (1) buds, but it might be worth paying extra for the polish and portability where the Buds 2 clearly trump.
For more options, check out our guide to the best true wireless earbuds out right now.
The Galaxy Buds 2 are a capable addition to Samsung’s headphone range, and are probably the best pair for most people, and a sensible default for anyone also buying a Samsung phone or smartwatch.
Solid sound and a well-rounded feature set make these compelling for the price, though those concerned about battery life can definitely find rivals that out-perform the Buds 2.
These are also some of the best looking and most comfortable wireless earbuds around but the design comes at a price: fiddly, over-sensitive touch controls and a slightly cheap feeling as a result of just how lightweight these are.
Anyone on Android should be very happy with these for the price, though limited software support means iPhone owners are better looking elsewhere.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2: Specs
- Wireless earbuds
- Dynamic 2-way speaker
- Active noise-cancellation
- Touch controls
- Accelerometer, Proximity, Hall, Touch, Ear on/off detection
- Bluetooth 5.2
- IPX2 water-resistance
- Charging case with USB-C and wireless charging
- Earbud: 5 hour battery / Charging case: 20 hour battery
- Graphite, White, Lavender, Olive
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