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Samsung Galaxy buds 2 review: Premium features, poor battery life

Boasting active noise cancellation, auto-pause and a gaming mode, we put the budget buds to the test

Alex Lee
Thursday 26 August 2021 15:31
<p>These entry-level earphones just got better – read on to find out why </p>

These entry-level earphones just got better – read on to find out why

Samsung’s line-up of wireless earphones is something that’s constantly expanding. The latest pair of wireless earbuds to join the collection are the Samsung Galaxy buds 2, which essentially replace the current Galaxy buds+ as Samsung’s new entry-level pair.

As well as announcing the buds 2 at the company’s August Galaxy Unpacked event, Samsung also showed off the book-like Galaxy Z fold 3, the clamshell-like Galaxy Z flip 3 and the new Galaxy watch 4. But how do the buds stack up?

They’re a huge step-up from their predecessors, improving on pretty much everything apart from the battery life, ultimately bringing them more in line with the more expensive Galaxy buds pro, thanks to the inclusion of active noise cancellation.        

Samsung probably isn’t the first name you think of when you say the word wireless earbuds – the AirPods usually come out top there, but with the company adding ANC to a relatively cheap pair of buds, Samsung is seriously undercutting Apple, and from what we’ve seen and heard from the buds 2, it’s doing it fairly well. Read on for our in-depth review of the tech giant’s latest earphones.

How we tested

We’ve spent a few days putting these headphones through their paces, gallivanting around with these buds plugged into our lugholes, and are ready to deliver our verdict. We tested them on a wide range of genres of music, and in different locations – including seated at a train station platform for a suspiciously long time.  

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Samsung Galaxy buds 2: £139,

  • Driver: Dynamic dual-drivers (woofer and tweeter)
  • Waterproofing: IPX2 (sweat resistant)
  • Earbud dimensions: 17mm x 20.9mm x21.1mm (buds)
  • Charging case dimensions: 50mm x 50.2mm x 27.8mm
  • Weight: 5g (each earbud), 41.2g (charging case)
  • Battery life: Up to 5 hours, up to 15 hours with charging case
  • Rating: 8/10

When you open up the buds’ white packaging, the first thing you’ll notice is that the plastic wedding ring-like box is back for the Galaxy buds 2. A contentious design choice, perhaps, but a consistent one. Instead of lifting up a lid as you do with the AirPods pro or the Pixel buds or the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 or, really, the majority of wireless earbuds on the market, you lift the lid up the same way you would a jewellery box.

The buds come packaged together with a charging cable and two other eartip sizes for you to swap out if you need to. It looks almost identical to the Galaxy buds pro case, except the latter has more of a premium matte finish. There’s a USB-C charging port on the backside of the case as well, but you can also plonk it down on a wireless charging pad if you can’t be bothered with cables.   

Inside the case, you’ll find a pair of cute egg-shaped buds tucked into magnetic holders for charging. We were really surprised by how truly small they were, despite Samsung revealing in advance that they’re 15 per cent smaller and 20 per cent lighter than the buds’ predecessor – the Galaxy buds+ . This is something that becomes really apparent when you’ve got them in your ears.

Olive also seems to be the colour of the hour right now in the land of tech, and we’re digging this shade on the Galaxy buds 2. You can also buy them in lavender, graphite or white.    

If you ever feel like an AirPod bonehead whenever you put Apple’s buds into your lugholes, thanks to those attention-grabbing white stems that slink down your earlobes, you’ll love the new Galaxy buds 2. They are compact, discreet and lie almost completely flush in your ears. People might not even notice that you’re wearing any buds when they look at you face-on, which can, admittedly, lead to a few awkward conversations when the other person realises that you’re not purposefully ignoring them, and you do actually have some earbuds in.

Essentially, the updated design of the buds do a solid job of blending in and not standing out, and are noticeably lighter than most other buds on the market – making them extremely comfortable to wear for long periods of time.

If you’ve got a Samsung phone, the buds will automatically fast-pair with your device. Galaxy devices – to no one’s surprise – are what the buds work best with. They’re a doddle to use, and everything can be adjusted from either the buds themselves or from the wearables app.

Got an iPhone? You’re not going to have a fun time with these buds. They don’t connect easily, you can’t do much (if any) tap adjusting, and they didn’t sound as good transmitting over AAC.   

You control the buds using a few taps on either side of the touch-sensitive exterior, but some of these settings – like skipping and pausing tracks – frustratingly have to be toggled on inside the wearables app. Controls can be a bit difficult to get to grips with, though. You have to hit the touch-sensitive panels dead in the centre, or they just won’t register. The in-ear detection and auto-pausing of music works well – only losing a few points because we sometimes accidentally ended up skipping tracks when plugging them out of our ears, due to the buds mistakenly registering a tap.  

Getting down to the nitty gritty. How do they sound? Honestly, with a pair of buds at this price tag, we weren’t expecting a lot, but they actually sound great for what they provide. The bright and bubbly highs of Grimes’ 4ÆM come across well, allowing us to hear the vocals clearly and distinctly. 

The richness and detail in some tracks can get a bit lost on these buds, but if you’re a fan of bass-heavy music, then your RnB tunes will sound solid, but not too beefy. The Galaxy buds pro (£189, certainly sound better, but they do cost more. Overall, the audio is a little less crisp and detailed than say, Sony’s XM4s, but they’re definitely good enough for everyday use.

As mentioned previously, they sound better if you have them paired with a Samsung Galaxy device. And that’s really because it uses the Samsung’s scalable codec, which will deliver the best sounding experience to the buds, depending on what you’re listening to.

ANC definitely works well thanks to the three microphones embedded into each of the buds. We never felt triggered by the low rumble of cars when walking down the street, although higher frequency screeches of trains colliding against tracks weren’t blocked out as well as we’d like. That’s to be expected from an earbud of this calibre, however. The Galaxy buds pro may have slightly better ANC, but it can’t be faulted on the whole.

Ambient mode is a bit of a highlight here. It’s surprisingly good, letting in a whole load of the outside world when toggled on, which can be achieved by long-pressing on the left earbud. The level of sound you let in can also be adjusted – a definite one-up the buds 2 have over rival AirPods pro.

We were also pretty pleased with the Galaxy buds 2’s gaming mode, which the company calls an experimental feature, and can be found in the buds’ settings. It reduces the delay in audio output, synchronising the sound as close to real-time as possible. Not many earbuds are designed for gaming, simply because the latency issue is a tricky one to get around when it comes to transmitting audio over Bluetooth, but this feature is an extremely welcome one.

Other features of note include SmartThings Find support, the ability to listen with just one earbud in, EQ presets and other nifty toggles like a Spotify shortcut.

Sadly, the one big step-down from the Galaxy buds+ is the battery life. The cheaper buds+ were particularly impressive because you could eek out 11 hours on a single listen. Samsung says you can get five hours of battery life on a single listen with ANC turned on before the buds 2 need a recharge, and seven hours with ANC turned off. It’s the price you pay for more compact earbuds with ANC built-in.

The verdict: Samsung Galaxy buds 2

With the Galaxy buds 2, Samsung has managed to improve nearly every aspect of the Galaxy buds+, launched in February 2020. But it has also manage to stuff everything good about the Galaxy buds pro – except for 360-degree audio – into this smaller, lighter and cheaper pair of earphones. They’re mighty comfortable, sound pretty decent and have a great level of active noise cancellation. It’s just a shame about the battery life.

The sheer number of features you get with these buds are astounding, and you’ll no doubt be fiddling with all the settings for hours on end. Better yet, they deliver almost all of the same features – again, besides spatial audio – for a much cheaper price than the AirPods pro, plus expands on it with things like an adjustable transparency mode. Sound quality and ANC might not be the best they can possibly be, but we think they’re a great everyday pair of earphones.

Samsung Galaxy buds 2

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Looking for more top-rated audio gear? Check out our round-up of the best wireless headphones in 2021

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