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Samsung Galaxy Buds FE review: a rare case of Android envy

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE in open case, sitting among plants.
Samsung Galaxy Buds FE
MSRP $100.00
“The Galaxy Buds FE are a great and affordable buy for Android users.”
  • Accessible price
  • Comfy and secure fit
  • Clear, powerful sound
  • Very capable noise cancellation
  • Good transparency mode
  • Excellent app support
  • No app for iOS
  • No wireless charging
  • No Bluetooth Multipoint
  • Only IPX2 water resistance

Samsung’s earbuds have always been unapologetically (and understandably) Android-centric. The company’s latest effort — the affordably priced Galaxy Buds FE — are no exception. Yes, you can pair them with an iPhone if you want, but because Samsung doesn’t make an iOS version of its Wearable app, there’s no way to access any of the Buds FE’s settings and features.

In the past, I haven’t had much reason to bemoan this situation. After all, there are plenty of amazing wireless earbuds that work perfectly with Apple’s devices, and which offer the same or better performance when compared to similarly priced Samsung models.

But after spending more than a week with the $100 Galaxy Buds FE, I find I’m now a little envious of Android users. Here’s why.

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE: design

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE in open case.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Whether you opt for the Galaxy Buds FE in graphite or white, the compact charging case is always dressed in a glossy white finish. Its smooth, rounded exterior feels great in your hand and requires little room in your pocket or purse.

It’s a small thing, but the lid, hinge, and magnet closure are all top-notch. The build quality is as good as Apple’s — maybe even better. Cleverly, Samsung has used identical measurements for the cases of its various Galaxy wireless earbuds. If you have existing case covers for the Galaxy Buds 2, Galaxy Buds 2 Pro, or Galaxy Buds Live, they’ll fit the case of the Galaxy Buds FE.

The case may not have wireless charging, but Samsung provides a very generous 38-inch USB-C to USB-C charging cable with which you can charge the case from a wall adapter, a laptop, or even a phone.

The buds themselves are small and understated, with large and flat touch-sensitive surfaces. These are fingerprint magnets, which is a little ironic given that you’ll be touching them constantly.

In typical Samsung fashion, the Galaxy Buds FE only possess the barest amount of water protection at IPX2. This means a bit of sweat is fine, but be very careful when cleaning them — running them under the tap is not recommended.

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE: comfort

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE: included accessories.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

If you’ve generally had no problem with closed wireless earbuds (the kind with silicone eartips), you’ll likely find the Galaxy Buds FE very comfortable and secure. They come with a fairly standard three sizes of eartips and the choice of using the default wingtips or the optional stability bands. Those with larger ears will probably find the wingtips preferable — they help with increasing skin contact — while smaller-eared people may prefer the bands instead.

The Samsung Galaxy Wearable app, like many companion apps these days, has a handy fit test to let you know when you’ve achieved a seal that’s optimal for noise canceling and sound quality.

Once I switched to the largest eartips, I found them to be very comfortable, even for longer periods of time, and secure enough for everything but the highest-impact workouts.

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE: controls, connections, and extras

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE: both buds in front of case.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The touch controls work well — it’s easy to hit them accurately and they respond to those taps with a matching set of tones to let you know your taps were recognized. But for some reason, Samsung chose to turn most of the touch gestures off by default. Out of the box, only the single tap and touch-and-hold options work. You’ll need the Samsung Galaxy Wearable app to enable the others and/or modify what the gestures control.

You can enable up to four gestures per earbud (single-, double-, triple-tap, plus touch-and-hold), but only the touch-and-hold gesture can be modified. Since the first three gestures are dedicated to playback (play/pause, track skip forward, backward) that means you’ll have to decide what’s most important to you for the fourth gesture. You can pick ANC mode, volume up/down, Spotify Tap, or voice control.

Speaking of voice control, as with other ecosystem-specific earbuds like the Apple AirPods, Google Pixel Buds Pro, and Amazon Echo Buds, the Galaxy Buds FE give you hands-free, wake word access to Bixby, Samsung’s voice AI for Galaxy phone users. I’m not much of a Bixby user — heck, I don’t really use voice AIs at all save for the occasional kitchen timer — but the assistant responded quickly and accurately every time I said, “Hi, Bixby.” From there, it let me start music from Spotify, check the time, and ask for a weather forecast.

As I noted in the intro, Samsung doesn’t make a version of the Galaxy Wearable app for iOS. And because the app unlocks so many useful features and customizations (I’ll touch on a few more in a moment), there’s just no way Apple users should buy these earbuds. The only exception is if you live in a multi-OS world — say, you use an iPad and a Galaxy phone.

The one thing I find baffling about the Galaxy Buds FE is that Samsung went to the trouble of giving them wear sensors — something that is hardly common at this price — and yet they’re only used for making sure your phone calls get routed to your phone instead of the earbuds when they’re not in your ears. That’s a nice feature, but what about using the sensors the way almost every other manufacturer does — to let you pause your tunes automatically when removing an earbud? Apparently, Samsung doesn’t think you’d want them to do this.

The Buds FE’s Bluetooth connection is rock solid. Once you’ve paired them with a device, you can force them to reconnect to that device just by tapping the Galaxy Buds FE listing in your Bluetooth menu — even if they’re currently connected to another product.

That’s not the same as true Bluetooth Multipoint (which allows simultaneous connections to two or more devices), but it’s the next best thing. If you have a Samsung account, the Galaxy Buds FE can be automatically added to all of your registered Samsung products, making device switching even easier — it’s similar to Apple and Google’s account-based, cloud-driven device switching systems.

Want two more reasons to use the Galaxy Buds FE within the Samsung/Android ecosystem? The finder and reminder options. With the Wearable app, you can be notified via Samsung SmartThings Find if you walk away from your earbuds accidentally. Should you do so anyway and need to locate them, you can pull up a map, and then force the earbuds to emit a loud beeping sound so you can figure out exactly which couch cushion they’re under.

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE: sound quality

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE: Right bud in front of case.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The Galaxy Buds FE might not meet audiophile standards of sound quality, but unless you are genuinely obsessed with sound, you’ll be thrilled with how these buds perform. Before you even begin to mess around with the EQ preset options inside the app, the Buds FE offer a clear, full-frequency sound signature, with a generous soundstage. There’s plenty of low-end bass and Samsung has managed to keep it free of bloat, something that budget earbuds often fail to do. There’s enough detail to appreciate a wide variety of genres.

I put them in a comparison test against some of the best $100 wireless earbuds we’ve reviewed, including the Jabra Elite 4, Soundcore Liberty 4 NC, and the Pixel Buds A-Series, and I think the Galaxy Buds FE come out on top. They absolutely demolish the Apple AirPods Gen 2.

Sidebar: The Galaxy Buds FE are the first Samsung earbuds I’ve reviewed. Somehow, over the course of 10 years contributing to Digital Trends and other publications, Samsung’s buds have never crossed my desk until now. All this time, I’ve been forced to read the positive-to-glowing assessments of Samsung’s gear as written by Caleb Denison, Phil Nickinson, Parker Hall, and Andrew Martonik. Now, don’t get me wrong, I respect these guys like crazy. But in the back of my mind, there was always this nagging feeling of, “Oh yeah? I’ll believe it when I hear it.” Well, I’ve now heard it, and I believe it. Samsung knows how to make a great-sounding set of wireless earbuds.

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE: noise cancellation and transparency

Simon Cohen wearing Samsung Galaxy Buds FE.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

When you’re looking at spending $100 on a set of wireless earbuds, you shouldn’t be expecting world-class active noise cancellation (ANC) or transparency. The goal should be to take the edge off of the most annoying daily background noises while letting you have the occasional conversation or increase your awareness of your surroundings — all while never needing to remove your earbuds. The Galaxy Buds FE exceed these expectations. Not by a lot, but by to an extent that I’m prepared to say most people won’t feel the need for anything better.

Whether wandering busy streets or taking transit, the ANC easily provided much-needed quiet. The transparency mode isn’t as good as what you’ll find on the Jabra Elite 4 — your own voice won’t sound as clear to you — and yet I could hear everything I needed to hear, from public address announcements on the subway to traffic coming through a busy intersection.

Samsung lets you choose whether you want to cycle between ANC, transparency, and off modes, or between any two. This not only makes it more convenient to use these modes, it also gives you the ability to save on battery life if you’re running low.

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE: call quality

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE: in front of case.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Like most wireless earbuds these days, the Galaxy Buds FE are very good for making calls or jumping on video chats when indoors. Your voice will be nice and clear, and with the Ambient Sound During Calls setting turned on in the Wearable app, you’ll hear your own voice clearly too.

Outside, or where conditions are noisy, it’s a mixed bag. You’ll still be audible, but clarity can take a real hit. At some points, my voice became extremely muffled as loud traffic passed by.

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE: battery life

Samsung claims the Galaxy Buds FE will give you 6 hours of playtime per charge with ANC turned on, and a total of 21 hours when you include the case’s capacity. That’s on par with the Jabra Elite 4, but still on the low side when you compare them to models from Soundcore or Earfun. Still, you have the option of disabling ANC, which brings the Buds FE up to a very capable 8.5 hours and 30 hours, respectively.

There’s a quick-charge option in case you find yourself running precariously low: five minutes of charging will buy you an extra hour of (ANC on) playtime.

If you’re looking for a set of $100 wireless earbuds that do it all and work with both iOS and Android, my favorite pick is still the Soundcore Liberty 4 NC. But if you’re all-in on Android — and especially if you’re a Samsung Galaxy phone user — the Galaxy Buds FE are amazing. With a comfortable and secure fit, great sound, highly effective noise cancellation, and tons of features via the Samsung Wearable app, they’re everything you need (even if they may not be everything you want).

Editors' Recommendations

Simon Cohen
Contributing Editor, A/V
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like…
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