I tested Samsung's $99 Galaxy Buds, but are they worthy of the ‘Fan Edition’ label?

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE in charging case
(Image credit: Future)

Samsung truly believes it can meet fans’ ridiculously high expectations at a low cost. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have created the ‘Fan Edition’ product line that includes brand devices packed with popular features based on consumer feedback.

We’ve seen Samsung do this with the Galaxy smartphone series. Now, they’re extending this service to their true wireless lineup, releasing the brand-new Galaxy Buds FE (Fan Edition). Samsung’s first-ever entry-level wireless earbuds sell for $99 and are marketed like all other FE products, promising upscale performance at a relatively affordable MSRP. 

Based on advertisements and press releases, the Galaxy Buds FE seem suitable for any best cheap wireless earbuds or best wireless earbuds roundup. However, the ‘Fan Edition’ label is highly questionable based on the buds’ overall assemblage, from the construction to the specs.

ANC can’t be the only premium feature… can it?

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE being tested for noise canceling

(Image credit: Future)

One area where Samsung really delivered is active noise cancellation. Not many sub-$100 buds can achieve the ANC performance of their flagship sibling, but the Galaxy Buds FE come close. The version on these buds eliminates 90% of unwanted noise, which is impressive. They blocked out most incidental sounds around my home, including household appliances, loud TVs, and my wife’s speakerphone calls. ANC performed similarly outside. Chatty bystanders, dump trucks, and slight breezes went unnoticed. My only complaint was that high-frequency sounds crept onto the soundstage, though that’s a common issue with most noise-cancelling buds at this price point.

Ambient Mode increased situational awareness. I communicated clearly with the missus from across the living room and heard my boy calling out for Daddy after naps. The feature served best outdoors, where I was always on high alert for oncoming foot and street traffic during nightly strolls. Something else that’s great about Ambient Mode is you can adjust it on either bud or enable the feature during calls to hear yourself louder, like Bose’s Self Voice mode.

Showing app control for Samsung Galaxy Buds FE and Buds2 Pro side by side

(Image credit: Future)

You get other Samsung hallmarks like Auto Switch, Bixby voice activation, easy pairing, Earbud Fit Test, and a low-latency Game Mode. Unfortunately, most of these are only accessible to Galaxy device owners. Not to mention several primetime Samsung features are missing: 360 Reality spatial audio, Conversation Mode, Voice Detect, wireless charging, and proprietary PowerShare technology to charge the case when placing it on the back of a Galaxy smartphone.

These are major omissions that every Samsung enthusiast wants.

Third-party support is available via Google Assistant/Siri and Spotify Tap to instantly access the DSP (digital streaming platform) directly on the buds. The Galaxy Wearable app also makes standard features like control customization and EQ available to all Android and iOS users.

A design that’s not fan fair

Samsung Galaxy Buds FE wireless earbuds held in the hand.

(Image credit: Future)

No one else will say it, so I will — the Galaxy Buds FE look remarkably generic. I’m talking prototype generic. It’s as if Samsung picked out an unfinished sketch of an early Galaxy Buds model and said, “we’ll go with that.” Their appearance isn’t the only thing that’s disappointing. The plastic construction with rubberized wing tips is solid, but older Galaxy Buds models have better-quality plastics and softer finishes. These buds also have one of the weakest IP ratings in the category: IPX2. That’s good enough to survive a couple of raindrops and minor moisture exposure, but not excessive sweat or submersion (the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro come with IPX7 waterproofing). 

As for the charging case, it’s practically the same as what you’d find on the two previous Galaxy Buds models, but without PowerShare and wireless charging.

What makes the Galaxy Buds FE more fan-worthy than past releases?

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2

Samsung's Galaxy Buds 2 look similar, support both wireless charging methods, have effective ANC and sound better. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I ask this question because there are other similarly priced Galaxy Buds models that offer the same, if not more, features. Take the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 for example. They are currently on sale for as low as $65 at Amazon, have a more attractive design, and support both wireless charging methods. ANC is just as effective, and sound is noticeably better. 

The other option is spending a little extra on the flagship Galaxy Buds 2 Pro, which can be had for $115 at Amazon. Doing so gets you the full monty, along with superior ANC and sound.

Final impressions

The Galaxy Buds FE are quality budget buds that provide dynamic ANC, satisfying sound, and terrific battery life for under $100. They’re also flawed in many ways and don’t deserve the ‘Fan Edition’ moniker.

A $20 markdown would make them more enticing for Samsung device owners. However, you must factor in the numerous other wireless earbuds out there that grant more functionality for the same price.

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Alex Bracetti

A lifestyle journalist with an affinity for consumer products, Alex has over a decade of experience and has worked with popular publications such as Complex, Thrillist, Men’s Health, Gear Patrol, AskMen, and Hoop Magazine. He currently focuses on audio, reviewing the most coveted headphones in the market for both Tom’s Guide and Laptop Magazine.