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Samsung Galaxy Buds FE Review: Nicely balanced

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE
The Samsung Galaxy Buds FE balance price, feature set, sound quality and battery life to a near perfect level. They’re not the best wireless buds you can buy – but they might just be the best value.

Pros Cons
Affordable price point No multipoint connection support
Good battery life No pairing button
Very comfortable for longer wearing periods No wireless charging

Score: 3/5

 

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Samsung’s FE products – the suffix isn’t anything to do with giants eating beanstalk climbers, but instead stands for “Fan Edition” – are its lower cost, cut-down-to-the-essentials line of devices that typically sit just below the premium space while still offering most of the features of its premium line phones.

In the past, I’ve quite liked Samsung’s Galaxy FE phones, because they’ve typically taken the best bits of a given year’s Samsung devices, cut the price down and offered good value, but approaching the same idea with headphones gave me pause for thought.

Put bluntly, there are a lot of cheap headphones (and even some cheap and terrible headphones) for consumers to buy.

Cutting corners on quality here while still retaining a “Samsung” level price would be a tricky balancing act, I thought.

It is – and it’s a balancing act that Samsung’s got mostly right. The Galaxy Buds FE won’t please audiophiles, and you absolutely can get better buds, but for everyday use where comfort, quality, battery life and above all tight budgets collide, they’re a very good value set of true wireless headphones.

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Design

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE
The Galaxy Buds FE start out simple with only two colour options; Graphite (Black) or White. It’s not even “Stellar” White or “Mysterious” White or indeed “Superfluous Prefix” White.

It’s just white, a plan, square shaped case that’s generally reminiscent of other Samsung true wireless headphones I’ve tested in the past.

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE

That’s in line with Samsung’s general design style of course, but it might have been nice to see some variety in colours here, given that the Galaxy S23 FE that these launched beside ship in six different colours. If you bought the Mint, Purple or Orange Galaxy S23 FE and wanted the accompanying headphones to pair with them, they’re not exactly going to be a colour match.

The actual buds themselves have a mostly-simple design with one notable feature, specifically a wing tip that’s designed to make them fit more comfortably in your ears.

The reality here is that everyone’s comfort levels with these kinds of buds differs wildly, and this will work for some but not others. Thankfully the wing tips are made of soft rubber that’s easily removed if you don’t like the feel of them.

Installation

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE
Installation? Stick ’em in your ears… well, OK, there’s a little more to it than that.

Pairing the Galaxy Buds FE will depend on the device you’re connecting them to, with (predictably) Samsung devices having an easier time of it. Samsung sent me the Galaxy Buds FE along with a loaner Galaxy S23 FE, and it picked up the presence of the buds from the moment I opened the case. It’s also supremely easy to manage audio settings, touch settings and firmware updates on Samsung devices too.

That’s a classic ecosystem play – everyone from Apple to Google does the same – but where does that leave you if you’re connecting to other Bluetooth-ready sources?

It leaves you having to put them in pairing mode, which utilises a system of opening and closing the case after a specified period.

It’s fiddly and not always easy to do, especially if you haven’t already unpaired from an existing device. If I had control of the tech ecosystem as grand emperor, one of my first edicts would be to force all bud makers to put pairing buttons on cases… but I digress. Vote Alex, by the way.

You can then download Samsung’s wearables software and the add-on for the Galaxy Buds FE to enable advanced features on a smartphone, but that’s considerably more fiddly if you’re on a non-Samsung device.

It’s also totally feasible to pair to other Bluetooth devices, but naturally there’s no app tweaking for laptops or game consoles or similar. The big catch here is that there’s no real support for multiple paired devices with the Galaxy Buds FE. If you want that, you’ll need pricier headphones than this.

Performance

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE
Samsung’s headphones have generally impressed me in the past, while not quite sitting at the top of the tier in the premium space.

However, this isn’t where the $199 Galaxy Buds FE play, because in the sub-$200 market, there’s a whole lot of variance in terms of audio output and features – and here I’m mostly impressed.

The Galaxy Buds FE feature active noise cancellation and a simple transparency mode for audio passthrough in situations where you might be safer hearing your outside environment. The former is reasonable and a nice inclusion at this price – though hardly revolutionary – though it’s on the lighter side. Don’t expect to be placed in a world of only your musical choices when out and about with the Galaxy Buds FE in your lugs, basically.

Here the wing tips do help, because they form a considerably more solid isolation barrier against external sound. You don’t need ANC for that to be in place, naturally.

While Samsung does provide a range of equalisations to tailor the noise output of the Galaxy Buds FE to your taste, the default settings are quite pleasing across a range of musical genres.

The Galaxy Buds FE don’t support Samsung’s 360 Audio profiles, but you do get good enveloping sound on tracks like Prince’s “Purple Rain” losing little of the staging of that track. Because it just came out, I also had to run Dolly Parton’s version of the same song past the Galaxy Buds FE as well. Her take is naturally enough a little different – and to my ear a tad overproduced – but the Galaxy Buds FE do it justice.

Jumping over to a track that’s often muffled by lower-quality headphones, The Beastie Boys “Too Many Rappers” generally presents well with just the right quantity of thump to its presentation – at least for the price point of the Galaxy Buds FE, at least.

That’s an important qualification to make, because while I was pleasantly surprised by the general audio presentation of the Galaxy Buds FE, I wouldn’t be throwing away a higher-end set of Samsung (or competitor) buds for them. They’re good within this price space, for sure, but if your budget can go higher, better audio quality is also available.

It’s the same story for using them for calls or audio recording, with a predictably hollow sound that does allow you to be heard and understood, but not at a quality level where anyone wouldn’t pick you were on some kind of external speaker or headphone setup.

Battery

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE
The battery endurance of the Galaxy Buds FE will vary depending on how much you use their active noise cancelling features, with Samsung advising of up to 6 hours with ANC enabled and up to 8.5 hours with it disabled.

Those are good figures, but in most cases I’d opt for ANC enabled most of the time. The case can add another 15 hours of ANC playback (up to 21 hours) or 21.5 hours with ANC disabled, up to a maximum of 30 hours – though naturally you’d have breaks in-between to recharge the buds.

I tended to find around 5 to 5.5 hours as more of an achievable level with ANC enabled, but that’s typically going to be enough for everything but quite lengthy international travel for most purposes. Here the comfort level of the Galaxy Buds FE was greatly appreciated, as I’m solidly in the camp that often finds buds quite painful to wear for more than a few hours.

One of the bigger omissions that you’ll find on most premium buds but not on the Galaxy Buds FE comes in the lack of support for wireless charging. It’s USB-C only, and you’ll have to supply your own actual charger, with only a short USB-C cable in the box.

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Galaxy Buds FE: Alex’s Verdict

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE
The Galaxy Buds FE are good value, and that’s their primary selling proposition, as it is with Samsung’s other FE products.

They’re not going to excite the audiophile crowd, and naturally Samsung has its plays in that space as well. But if you’re after a more moderately priced pair of true wireless buds, they’re a good option.

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE: Pricing and availability

The Samsung Galaxy Buds FE retail in Australia for $199.

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