What does it take to beat Apple’s AirPods? Most headphone companies have landed on the idea that the answer is better performance, noise isolation, and battery life — but every time they’ve achieved that, they’ve done it at a higher price and with a much larger charging case. Samsung, Apple’s most direct rival in the consumer hardware business, is trying to win without compromise, introducing today the true wireless Galaxy Buds that will cost $129.99 starting March 8, or come bundled for free with Samsung’s new folding phone or preorders of the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus. They’ll be €149 in Europe starting March 29.
I got to see and touch (but not hear or wear) the Galaxy Buds ahead of their announcement today, and everything that Samsung presented made them look like a winner. Their pill-shaped enclosure is as close as anyone’s yet come to the AirPods’ unbelievably tiny bijou of a case. With six hours of battery life in the buds and a further seven hours in the case, the Galaxy Buds take the lead in terms of case autonomy, even if the AirPods have a longer total endurance with more pauses to recharge.
The rather futuristic feature that sets Samsung’s Galaxy Buds apart from most true wireless earphones is their ability to accept wireless charging. Samsung has built reverse wireless charging into its Galaxy S10 devices, so you can literally top up your earbuds with some spare juice from your phone. This is going to be useful in two scenarios: emergencies and when you want to show off to your friends. But being able to just pop your earbuds down on a wireless charger when you get home — thus ensuring they’re always full and ready to go when you need them — is going to be a boon on an everyday basis.
Impressively, Samsung seems to have cloned Apple’s incredibly easy pairing process for its wireless earbuds as well, just lift the lid and pair:
Samsung is touting the fact that the sound of the Galaxy Buds has been tuned by AKG. This is supposed to make us all immediately assume it’ll be awesome, but I’d be cautious about that. Samsung owns AKG (via its ownership of Harman), and so it could slap the “sound by AKG” marketing on whatever it wants. AKG is a recognized brand in pro audio, and it has built some very good headphones in the past, but that doesn’t necessarily mean its engineers will know how to perfect true wireless buds on the first try. This just reminds me of the Leica and Hasselblad camera branding that Huawei and Motorola, respectively, use to sell their phones and accessories.
More than anything, the Samsung Galaxy Buds appeal to me for their diminutive size and curvy, pebble-like design. They embody a designer’s recognition that gadgets which are supposed to be in close contact with the human body should have a soft and pillowy shape.
I think there’s good reason to be excited about the Samsung Galaxy Buds. With their promise of strong battery life, compact dimensions, and a lower price than the AirPods, they’re going to nudge the entire market for true wireless buds forward. 2019 will be a year of big leaps and improvement for this budding category of headphones, and Samsung is making a good contribution to that effort nice and early on.
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