(Pocket-lint) - There's no let-up in the launch cycle of Samsung's true wireless headphones. While the original Galaxy Buds weren't the very best, Samsung has made progress in its headphones, with the Buds Live offering something different, and the Buds Pro offering premium features.
Now the Galaxy Buds move to version 2, very much taking the lessons learnt elsewhere, resulting in something a little better than before. Here's what we make of the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2...
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 offer a real improvement over the original Buds and the Buds+, offering and experience that gives you some of what you get in the Buds Pro but for less money.
While not offering the best active noise-cancellation (ANC) on the market, you do otherwise get a comfortable set of true wireless 'buds with a compact and practical case included, making these in-ears easy to live with.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2
- Compact design and case
- Good sound
- Customisation options via the Wearable app
- Wireless charging
- Good background noise supression on calls
- Not the best active noise-cancelling (ANC) around
- Only IPX2 splash proofing
- Only supports Bixby voice assistant
Buds 2 vs Buds Pro: What's different?
Let's start by pointing out some of the similarities and differences between these different headsets. The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 are cheaper, smaller, and don't have quite the same range of functionality. The Pro adds voice detection, additional levels of ambient sound passthrough, and different levels of active noise-cancellation (ANC).
While the Buds 2 are smaller, they use a round earbud, while the Galaxy Buds Pro have an oval earbud - and that might govern how well they fit into your ears. The Pro also offers a slightly higher IP rating for better water-resistance.
Design and build
- Dimensions: 20.9 x 17.0 x 21.1mm
- Weight (per earbud): 5g
- IPX2 water resistant
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 are designed to be more discreet than other true wireless headphones. With more compact bodywork and a light 5g weight per 'bud, they're certainly compact. The bodywork is all plastic with a glossy finish, and they come in a range of colours - the charcoal finish is shown here.
All Buds 2 come with a white glossy case, though, the same design as the Buds Live and Buds Pro - complete with a USB-C charging port on the rear and exterior and interior LEDs to let you know status. The case also includes wireless charging, so you can drop it on a pad to give them a boost, without scrabbling around for a cable.
The earbuds carry an IPX2 waterproofing rating which is sufficient to resist the odd rain shower - but not a complete soaking, so don't jump in a pool when wearing them.
Moving to the all-important fit, there are three different sizes of tip on the Buds 2, each with a round design. This was common to most headphones before some introduced an oval shape instead, as found on the Buds Pro.
From personal experience we find the oval easier to seat in our ears, getting an optimal position more easily than the Buds 2 with their round tips. To get the best from the Buds 2, you have to get that positioning and fit right, which can take a little more wiggling, but once they are well seated, you get the best results both in terms of noise-cancellation and audio performance.
They are comfortable to wear thanks to being nice and lightweight. Some true wireless headphones come with other attachments and devices to try to engage with other parts of your ear to keep them in place - but we find with the correct tip size there's no problem keeping these 'buds in place. However, the shape of your ear will likely dictate the type of headphones best for you.
Setup and control
- Instant connection
- Galaxy Wearable app
- Customisable tap controls
On most Android devices you'll be prompted to connect to the Buds 2 when they are detected, otherwise Samsung's Galaxy Wearable app will manage the connection and control of these headphones. In most cases, once a connection is made, there will be a small download to manage the headphones and then you're all set.
It's also easy to move from one device to another using the Galaxy Wearable app, but equally you can manually trigger pairing with a long press on both 'buds at the same time - to connect to anything that doesn't run the app, like your PC.
The app controls customisation, the settings, as well as handling firmware updates, and experience with other recent Galaxy Buds models suggests that updates will be fairly regular.
The Wearable app lets you controls the noise mode - ANC, ambient sound, or off - while also offering three levels of the ambient sound passthrough so you can choose your preference to the level of exterior sound allowed in. Samsung users also get the option of a widget to control these things on your Galaxy's display without having to open the app.
Importantly, however, there's also touch controls on the 'buds themselves. The headphones are controlled by tapping either the left or right one, with single-, double- and triple-taps supported, along with tap-and-hold.
The single-, double- and triple-taps can't be customised - they offer play/pause, next, and back respectively - but you can disable these actions if you don't want them. You could equally turn off the single tap if you use your watch to control your music, for example.
Touch-and-hold offers greater customisation, allowing switching through the noise mode, volume up or down, and the option to launch Spotify - but only Spotify - and you can set one of these options on either side.
Hiding deeper in the app you'll find the Labs options, which includes a double-edge tap, which can be used to adjust the volume up and down - which we've found works well, meaning you can really get a lot of control of these headphones.
Within the app you can also adjust the sound profile with an equaliser (EQ), while there's also an audio fit test you can run to ensure you're wearing the 'buds properly for optimum sound.
There's also the option to have ambient sound during calls and we love that you can turn this off. We've been in situations where we can't hear the caller talking, because the ambient noise is so loud.
Essentially, it's worth diving deep into the Galaxy Wearable app, because there's plenty to explore to get the performance you'll want from the Galaxy Buds 2.
Performance and ANC
- Dual driver design
- Active noise-cancellation (ANC)
Like some of Samsung's other Buds, there's a dual driver design with a woofer and tweeter in each, giving you nice rich audio. The default settings are rather neutral, however, and we found the bass boost to give a more acceptable sound to music, but this is easily adjustable to personal preference via the app.
The sound is similar to the Galaxy Buds Pro and so is the ANC that's offered. However, the Buds 2 only offer the one level of ANC, whereas the Buds Pro offers two levels, although it's a similar experience that's better at reducing lower external tones. That will reduce background noise to a hiss in some cases, removing the lower frequencies.
That means that when you're walking along a road, you'll still hear the traffic, it just won't rumble past. It isn't the best ANC that we've encountered, though, and it can't compete with the likes of Jabra's headsets, which will cut out a wider band of that noise out more efficiently.
Switching sound modes to ambient noise and the three levels don't differ hugely. The low and medium are pretty similar, but the high seems to give a noticeable volume boost to exterior noise, which is slightly hissy. Unlike the Buds Pro, you can't have this turn on automatically when you start talking.
Fortunately, you can switch with a press-and-hold motion, but each mode change is accompanied by a tone - which is a little primitive considering many headphones will talk to you and tell you which mode you’ve just switched to.
Call quality is excellent, however. Making calls alongside a busy road caused no problems in our testing - which is the same as our experience with the Buds Pro. There's one thing to watch out for though: ambient sound on calls is optional (in the settings in the Wearable app) and this can mean that while your caller can hear you, you can't hear your caller in busy locations - so worth playing around with.
There's the option to have some notifications read to you, but on regular Android devices this just seems to be missed calls, whereas Samsung devices can also get messages, appointments and alarms, but only from Samsung's default apps - if you really want voice feedback, Google's Pixel Buds A-Series are an obvious alternative.
There's also no support for voice assistants apart from Samsung's Bixby. In that sense the experience from the Galaxy Buds 2 is the best for Samsung users, followed by Android phones, and finally iPhone.
Battery life and charging
- 5 hours with ANC
- 20 hours total
Samsung cites that you'll get five hours of charge from the Buds 2 - and this includes with ANC activated. You can extend that to over seven hours of life if you turn off ANC.
Slotting the Buds 2 into the case will charge them, where you can expect to get around 20 hours of use overall. Again, you might squeeze out a little more if you aren't using ANC.
There are some true wireless headphones that will give you a little longer, but considering the size of the Buds 2, we don't think it's a huge disadvantage to not run for quite as long. You'll get 150 minutes of playtime from 10 minutes in the charger anyway.
A marked improvement over the original model, sharing features with the higher-priced Galaxy Buds Pro, these headphones importantly sound decent. They don't offer the best active noise-cancellation (ANC) around, but they do offer great call quality.