After pairing is complete, the Galaxy Wearable app is where most of the magic happens. You can expect to install an update to the app itself right off the bat, which should take about 5-10 minutes. From there, the software walks you through the on-board controls, explaining what various taps will do. After that guide, I had to install a firmware update for the Galaxy Buds themselves -- a process which took another 3-5 minutes.
These updates weren't that frustrating, but it does take up some extra time; it's annoying when you just want to get the music going. Having to install an update to wireless headphones right out of the box is required from time to time, but it's pretty rare. And I test a lot of headphones.
The Galaxy Wearable app is where you'll find battery levels, EQ presets, the option to customize the press-and-hold function and a Find My Earbuds tool. As far as EQ tweaks go, there's only a handful of options: Bass Boost, Soft, Dynamic (default), Clear and Treble Boost. (You can also turn the feature off entirely.) During my testing, I found the Dynamic setting to be the best. It's an evenly tuned mix of bass, mids and treble that has noticeably more oomph than using nothing at all. The others are fine, but this was the only one I used more than a few seconds.
There's also a tap-and-hold feature, which you have a limited ability to customize. You have a few options to choose from, and you can set different options for each earbud. Voice command, quick ambient sound (transparency mode) and volume controls are the choices here. I found putting access to Bixby or Google Assistant on one side and the quick ambient sound tool on the other was the most useful. However, this meant I had no on-board volume control, which is, frankly, terrible. And it gets worse.
The app forces you to put the volume down control on the left bud and the volume up on the right. There's only a single touch pad on each earbud, so there's no way to have up and down on one side. If you do want both, you're taking up both of the tap-and-hold slots on the Galaxy Buds. Having to give up handy features in favor of something basic like volume control is a major issue for me. I got more angry every time I had to reach for my phone to turn down music or a podcast.
That's not the end of the frustration. You have to choose between voice control/virtual assistant, ambient sound or volume controls for the tap-and-hold slots, but the other tap combinations function the same on both sides. It's terrible for the user experience. I'd much rather have some of those controls dedicated to something I really need, like volume, than to have so much repetition.
At any rate, a single tap will play/pause whatever you're listening to, double tap plays the next track or answers/ends a call and a triple tap plays the previous track. The first two work reliably, but the third -- the triple tap -- was a source of constant struggle. Basically, without fail, the first few times I'd try it, the Galaxy Buds would read the triple tap as a double tap, or even a single tap. I got better with practice, but I still can't consistently skip back to the previous track when I want.
Another feature that caused frustration is automatic pause. It only works when you remove both earbuds at the same time. Other true wireless earbuds I've tried pause when you remove one or the other, which means you can quickly pull one out to listen to or respond to people and then resume your music. Speaking of which, the Galaxy Buds don't automatically restart when you put them back in. You have to single tap on either side to resume whatever was playing. There's also the quick ambient sound feature available if you set the earbuds up that way -- another option if you need to have a quick chat. Even then, that feature doesn't pause the music, and you'll still be able to hear it subtly while you're ordering your latte or talking to your running mates.
If you like to live dangerously, the tap controls do work on iOS, but I wouldn't recommend them for iPhone owners. The Galaxy Wearables app isn't available for iOS, so you'll lose a lot of the key features available through the software. You can't tweak that tap-and-hold behavior and mess with EQ presets. Those handy pop-ups don't display when you connect the Galaxy Buds either. Basically, you'll get the core functionality, but the more unique features are only accessible on Android. And still others, like PowerShare and the connection pop-ups, are only available on Samsung phones.
I've seen reports of basic Bluetooth connectivity issues on other Android devices, specifically the Pixel 3 XL. I tested the Galaxy Buds with the OnePlus 6T and didn't experience any of the drop-outs or disconnection woes I've read about. Once I had the Galaxy Wearable app and the Galaxy Buds plug-in installed, everything worked fine. I haven't done enough testing to say if this is a wider Android issue or just Google's latest phone, but either way, you might want to proceed with caution.
With Samsung subsidiary AKG handling the audio on the Galaxy Buds, I hoped the sound quality would at least be above average. And for the most part, it is. For a $130 pair of true wireless earbuds, these sound pretty good. But again, they do sound best with that Dynamic EQ preset switched on. When that's enabled, there's a bit more depth to the sound than the default tuning. Highs, mids and lows all pop a little more, and there's more openness to everything -- it doesn't seem so flat.
You can really tell the difference on booming or layered tracks like Punch Brothers' "Movement and Location," Florence + The Machine's "What Kind Of Man" and Run The Jewels' "Mean Demeanor." The Alice In Chains MTV Unplugged album also sounds really good on the Galaxy Buds thanks to that Dynamic setting. The acoustic guitars sound big and deep, and even though the drums are restrained, there's still plenty of pop to the kick drum and snap to the snare. Styles like rock, bluegrass and country sounded the best on the Galaxy Buds, but they don't perform well across all genres.
Bass-heavy genres like hip-hop and some electronic tracks I tested on the Galaxy Buds did lack a bit of thump. It's probably enough for some, and I'll admit l demand more than most, but some songs lack depth and full sound that more bass would allow. I could also use a couple more levels of volume too. Again, the maximum setting is likely just fine for a lot of folks, I just like to get super hype at times -- like at the gym. That requires extra decibels, of course.
While the audio here is solid, it's not anywhere close to the best. As far as I'm concerned the best-sounding true wireless earbuds are still Sennheiser's Momentum True Wireless, with Master & Dynamic's MW07 in second. However, both of those are more than double the price of the Galaxy Buds. With that considered, I'd imagine most people would opt for "good" over "the best" if it means saving around $170 and getting a few device- and Android specific features.