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Hands-on: Galaxy Buds 3 are basically AirPods now, but that might be a good thing

Samsung is changing up its Galaxy Buds series in a big way for the first time in years and, oh, would you look at that, they’re AirPods now. But, hear me out. That might be a good thing.

The Galaxy Buds 3 and Galaxy Buds 3 Pro are Samsung’s latest wireless earbuds, and while they do seem to promise some good upgrades on paper, the elephant in the room here is that they look basically identical to Apple’s AirPods.

Galaxy Buds 3, the $179 base model, offers an open fit in your ear, like Apple’s base AirPods. Meanwhile, the Galaxy Buds 3 Pro have silicone tips, like AirPods Pro, for a proper seal while coming in at $249.

But an open fit and silicone tips don’t necessarily make for a ripoff of another company’s product.

What makes the Galaxy Buds 3 series look and feel so much like AirPods is their design.

Samsung settled into a design with a stem to improve the fit and feel, a decision the company explained it came to following scanning ears and, apparently, using AI in some capacity to determine the best fit.

And, yeah. As much as I hate to admit it because I still hate the look, earbuds with stems do tend to be a whole lot more comfortable. I can wear the Nothing Ear for a whole lot longer than I can a pair of Galaxy Buds or Pixel Buds. That’s in part because a good portion of the weight of the product is moved away from the inside of your ear. It’s more balanced. It also comes with the benefit of moving the microphone closer to your mouth. But it’s the particular shape of the earbud that makes it look identical to the AirPods. If you look at the two side-by-side, it’s just uncanny, especially for the base model.

Further cementing that is the case, with Samsung moving away from its square-ish case for a flattened case with a smaller lid that, well, is shaped and designed just like the one Apple uses on AirPods Pro. Samsung’s is a little different thanks to the “Silver” (more so gray) color and the use of a transparent lid, but it’s surely no coincidence that Samsung ended up on this particular design.

But, again, I can’t really be mad. I’ve used a lot of earbuds over the past few years, but I’ve never used a pair with a case quite as delightfully compact and easy to keep in my pocket as the AirPods. Google comes close with its Pixel Buds, but everyone else is in a distant third, including Samsung’s previous design.

The other big hardware standout is the “blade” on the edge. This is Samsung’s touchpad, which includes touch and squeeze gestures (again, just like AirPods). On the Galaxy Buds 3, the black accent is just there for aesthetic purposes (and perhaps to look just a little different from AirPods), but the Galaxy Buds 3 Pro throw an LED strip inside. This LED doesn’t do much, though. It lights up during events such as pairing or when trying to locate a lost earbud, and can also help show battery status. But like RGB lights on a pair of gaming headphones, I really can’t help but feel like this is pretty pointless.

To break down the full audio specs, Samsung is using an 11mm driver on Buds 3 and a 10.5mm driver with a 6.1mm Planar on the Buds 3 Pro. Both feature ANC, while the Pro also gets “Voice Detect” for adjusting the volume and ANC when you start speaking. There’s also improved Hi-Fi audio at up to 24-bit and 96kHz but only when paired to a Galaxy smartphone running One UI 6.1.1 or higher. Both also feature “360 Audio” and get up to 30 hours of battery life with their case.

There’s also a neat feature for users paired to a Galaxy AI smartphone, with the Buds able to tap into the new “Listening mode” and get translations fed to their ears using the on-device translation features.

It’s a little jarring still to see Samsung effectively making AirPods clones now, but I think the changes made here are for the better.

Of course, I’m saying all this while not yet having actually tried on these earbuds. I hope they sound half as good as Samsung says they do on paper because, if so, these might end up being a really solid option for Samsung owners.

Samsung is opening up pre-orders for Galaxy Buds 3 and Buds 3 Pro today for $179 and $249, respectively. Both ship later this month, and you can score 25% off if you bundle them in with the purchase of a Galaxy Z Fold 6 or Flip 6.

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