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Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus review: AirPods competitor ramps up the performance – CNET

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The Galaxy Buds Plus is available in 3 colors.


Sarah Tew/CNET

When I put together a list of best true wireless earbuds of 2019 in a YouTube video, I took some heat from fans of Samsung’s Galaxy Buds (

$109 at Amazon

) for not including them in my roundup. I liked the Galaxy Buds, I said, but I thought they were lacking in a couple of areas: They sounded decent for their price — but not great — and they just weren’t good for making calls in noisier environments because callers complained about hearing too much background noise.

How it stacks up

Like

  • Improved sound, with dual drivers that deliver better bass performance.
  • Boosted battery life (11 hours).
  • Significantly better for making calls
  • New iOS app for Apple users
  • USB-C and wireless charging

Don’t Like

  • Same design as standard Galaxy Buds.
  • Priced higher than the previous model.
  • No active noise canceling
  • Only IPX2 water-resistance

But now Samsung gets a do-over in the form of the Galaxy Buds Plus, which have launched alongside the company’s new Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Z Flip smartphones. The new Buds Plus look essentially the same as the originals, but they have some improvements on the inside boost performance significantly: Their battery life is rated at 11 hours for music playback (up from 6), and they pack improved drivers for better sound and an additional microphone in each bud to help with external noise reduction while making calls. 

At $150, they cost $20 more than the Galaxy Buds. And they’re not bundled with Samsung’s new phones, but the $150 preorder credit with the Galaxy S20 Plus and S20 Ultra (when ordered via Samsung’s site) effectively knocks the price down to free. (UK and Australian prices are TBA.) Alas, while they feature the same noise-isolating design, they don’t offer active noise-cancellation like Apple’s AirPods Pro do. 

Available in three color options (black, light blue, white), the Galaxy Buds Plus have the same dimensions as their predecessor and look nearly identical. However, they weigh 6.3 grams (0.2-ounce), or 0.7-gram more than the Buds. That’s because they have a larger battery and two-way drivers (with a woofer and tweeter) as opposed to a single driver. The battery case, which charges via USB-C and wirelessly with any Qi-compatible charging pad, is also equipped with a larger battery (a three-minute charge in the case gives you one hour of juice). And yes, all of those new Samsung phones have the Wireless PowerShare feature, so you can top off your Galaxy Buds Plus just by resting the case on the phone’s backside.


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The other noteworthy changes are multidevice pairing — an often overlooked feature that many people appreciate — and an iOS app geared to make the Galaxy Buds Plus more friendly to iPhone (

$699 at Apple

) owners. At launch, the app garnered many negative reviews from current Galaxy Buds owners because it doesn’t appear to be compatible with the original Galaxy Buds. But I thought the app was fine.

The app gives iOS users access to firmware upgrades, EQ settings for tweaking the buds’ sound and “ambient sound” settings that allow you to adjust the buds’ transparency levels (off, medium or high), letting sound in from the outside world into the buds. In the app, you can also opt to have ambient sound on when making calls. That allows you to hear your voice in the earbuds while talking. (This is sometimes referred to as Sidetone.)  

Android users use Samsung’s Galaxy Wearable app and get a few small features not available to iOS users, the biggest of which are one-touch Spotify access from the buds themselves and a gaming mode to “minimize audio delay for vivid, synchronized gaming sound.” I used the buds with an iPhone 11 Pro and a Galaxy S9 Plus (

$643 at Amazon

).

The Galaxy Buds Plus keep the same touch controls as their predecessor. They work well and are quite responsive, although my double-taps to advance a track forward sometimes turned into triple taps that ended up restarting the track I was listening to (you triple-tap to skip back one track). In the app, you get some options for customizing the touch controls, including adjusting volume with a long press. There’s even an “experimental” setting that enables you to use the edge of the buds for volume and the center for other controls.

The Galaxy Buds fit my ears well, and the Galaxy Buds Plus felt very similar in my ears. These are pretty compact buds (they stick out from your ears a little, similar to Jabra’s Elite 75t) and should fit most ears well. The only issue I had was with the ear tips. With these types of noise-isolating earphones it’s crucial to get a tight seal to get optimal sound quality. I got a pretty good seal with the largest of the included tips, but things improved when I switched to my own ear tips (one of the advantages of reviewing a lot of headphones is that I have a lot of ear tips lying around). The ones I used were rounder and little wider than the included tips, which should work fine for many people’s ears. The Samsung tips — three sizes are included — are a little more convex shaped. 

Samsung Galaxy Buds PlusSamsung Galaxy Buds Plus

Sarah Tew/CNET

I opted to use the middle-size wing tip (three sizes are included) and got a nice secure fit. Although these have only IPX2 water-resistance, they are sweat-resistant (to a degree) and can be used at the gym and for running. That said, competing models like the Jabra Elite 75t (IPX5) offer higher water-resistance ratings and some are fully waterproof. 

I was impressed with the sound. It’s detailed and smooth, with deep, well-defined bass. The sound is richer and more spacious than that of the original Galaxy Buds. Well-respected Austrian audio company AKG, which Samsung acquired when it bought Harman, is behind the audio. While the original Buds were also “tuned” by AKG, these are a nice upgrade over the originals — and right there with what you get with Jabra Elite 75t, if not even a touch better. Like a lot of headphones these days, there is a tad of presence boost to help make your music sound more detailed and exciting but which leads to some faint sibilance in the highs. You can toggle between a few EQ settings — “Soft, Bass Boost, Dynamic, Clear and Treble Boost” — but I stuck mostly with the “Normal” EQ setting, which seemed the most balanced.

The buds look the same as their predecessor but weigh slightly more, thanks to new components on the inside.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Aside from the better battery life, the other performance enhancement you’ll most appreciate is the call quality. The added external microphone for better noise reduction during calls helps correct the earphones’ biggest weakness. The Galaxy Buds may not work quite as well as the AirPods Pro or Anker Liberty Air 2 for making calls, but they’re significantly improved in this area from the original Galaxy Buds. In our test calls from the New York City streets, external noise from traffic was effectively reduced and my voice could be heard clearly.

I’ll also add that my wireless connection remained rock-solid during my two days of testing. New York City can be notoriously difficult on true wireless earbuds with interference issues. But I didn’t experience any dropouts or glitches. I also didn’t notice any problem with audio syncing when using various video streaming apps (I tried YouTube, Netflix and DisneyPlus).     

Ultimately, I don’t think these will slow the sales of AirPods, but the Galaxy Buds have only become a better option for Android users and may even earn some fans who use iOS devices. Hopefully, they’ll come down in price a bit — I would have liked to have seen the original Galaxy Buds go to $99 and have these priced at $129. But if you do go the preorder route for your new Galaxy phone and can effectively get these for “free,” you won’t be disappointed. 

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Fortnite’s ‘safety and fairness’ ban actually hurts users and developers – VentureBeat

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When the news broke yesterday that Apple and Google banned Epic’s super-popular game Fortnite from their app stores, most people focused on the bans — how could this happen? — and Epic’s nearly instant, comprehensive lawsuits against both tech giants. Given how quickly everything was moving, they might have missed the specific reasons Apple and Google gave for the bans.

In prepared statements, Apple claimed its App Store “guidelines create a level playing field for all developers and make the store safe for all users.” Google used nearly identical language, saying that its Play Store has “consistent policies that are fair to developers and keep the store safe for users.” Both companies suggested Epic violated their policies by offering an in-app route to purchase Fortnite’s “V-Bucks” currency at a discounted price — something that’s currently possible on Mac, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch platforms, or in physical stores with Fortnite gift cards.

These might just be the companies’ canned explanations, but Apple and Google may well die on the hill fighting Epic over supposed developer fairness and user safety. Epic isn’t just any old developer; it’s a 29-year-old company with offices across North America, Europe, and Asia, relied upon by hundreds of developers for the widely respected Unreal Engine. It has operated the developer-centric Unreal Engine Marketplace for six years and the consumer-focused Epic Games Store for nearly two years. Both charge third-party developers a 12% fee — a “permanent rate” that Epic notes “covers the operating costs of the store and makes us a profit.” It has been generous to developers, using its profits to help them pay off student loans and awarding MegaGrants to create content.

It’s therefore no shock that Epic’s view of what’s “fair to developers” isn’t the same as Apple’s or Google’s. The larger tech companies generally take a 30% cut of all app purchases and in-app revenues generated by their developers; Apple goes further than Google, preventing iOS users from installing apps that weren’t downloaded from its own App Store. Too many developers to count have complained about these 30% cuts as unfair and damaging to their businesses, but Apple generally brushes aside their complaints, suggesting that like it or not, everyone’s playing by the same rules. It doesn’t take much to conclude that 12% (or any number lower than 30%) will be more “fair to developers” than the status quo.

Apple’s claim of a supposedly “level playing field” for app developers is equally questionable. The iOS App Store and Google Play Store might offer the same terms to a two-woman independent developer and a company with thousands of engineers, but if they’re selling identical apps, everyone knows the big company will roll over the indie repeatedly on that playing field due to its other resources. It can rig search results with paid ads, acquire customers with cross-promotions, and brute-force updates to copy innovations with comparative impunity.

There’s also no shortage of evidence that certain developers have won different treatment by leveraging existing relationships, size, or legal threats to force either exceptions or changes to the rules. A Congressional antitrust investigation revealed that Apple agreed in 2016 to reduce its cut to 15% for long-time holdout Amazon — a concession undermining Apple’s claim that all App Store developers are treated equally. On the other hand, Epic says that Google used its power to force OnePlus and LG to kill deals that would have pre-installed Fortnite on Android phones using an Epic Games app, rather than the Google Play Store. Sideloading apps is permitted on Android, but Google is apparently willing to aggressively discourage it, citing trust issues.

Is either platform holder actually making these moves to “keep the store safe for users?” From a 30,000-foot perspective, sure. If Apple or Google controls the payment system, screens every app, manages every update, and acts as an intermediary for user-developer disputes, it can theoretically guarantee a safe experience. But so can experienced developers. Amazon has been selling products online since 1995 — years before Apple launched its modern online store (1997) and opened its first brick-and-mortar locations (2001) — so it’s not as if consumers can’t trust its infrastructure. Epic has been selling its own software since 1991 and content from others for years. Everyone else has access to alternate but well-trusted payment systems that merely deny the platform holders a cut.

What sort of additional safety are Apple and Google really providing here? At best, the promise that they will serve as a better intermediary than developers — not necessarily these developers, but less established or scrupulous ones — over time. In Apple’s case, there’s also some likelihood that added screening will keep malware or other issues from impacting users. Google has had at best mixed results and doesn’t seem to have done a very good job with this, but it’s trying, while Apple has achieved at least some of its success here by becoming stricter, forbidding things it previously either permitted or didn’t explicitly stop.

As I’ve said before, the root of Apple’s problem is its obsession with control and exorbitant profits, which Google has tried to emulate with its Play Store to the disadvantage of both companies’ users and developers. Thanks to Epic’s credibility and Fortnite’s popularity, Epic is ideally suited to challenge these platform holders in the courts of both law and public opinion, hopefully forcing the sort of large-scale changes that smaller developers have struggled for years to achieve — plus the benefits to consumers that will follow from greater competition and more reasonable prices.

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News You Might've Missed on 8/13/20: Epic Games Sues Apple, New Hitman 3 VR Details, & More – The Escapist

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It’s almost the weekend, folks, and we’ve got lots of video game news to hold us over until then. The biggest story involves Apple removing Fortnite from the App Store — and Epic Games subsequently filing suit. We also got a new look at Hitman 3‘s VR mode and more. Here’s the video game news you might’ve missed on Aug. 13, 2020.

Fortnite Has Been Removed from the App Store, and Epic Games Is Suing Fortnite

Apple has removed Fortnite from the App Store due to Epic Games implementing its own in-app purchase system. Epic did this to bypass Apple’s own system, which takes a 30% cut of all purchases.

Epic’s new system featured permanent price drops of up to 20% to incentivize players to use it instead of Apple’s system, though the consequence is that players on iOS are now unable to download Fortnite. Apple committed to working on resolving the issue with Epic but noted that a “special arrangement” would not be made. Epic has referred to the App Store as a “monopoly” and defends its decision.

In fact, in a move that was clearly orchestrated far in advance, Epic Games has filed a lawsuit against Apple over the discrepancy and released a video (below), “Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite,” parodying the iconic “1984” Apple commercial and mocking the company’s current business practices. This is surely only the beginning.

Read More: Apple just kicked Fortnite off the App Store

Nintendo eShop Sale Has Discounts on Mortal Kombat 11, Aladdin and The Lion King, and Jackbox Games

In lighter news, you can hop on your Nintendo Switch right now to take advantage of some sweet deals, including discounts on numerous Jackbox Party Pack games, as well as Mortal Kombat 11, which is available for $19.99. You’ll also find a discount on Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King, available for $17.99. Many of the eShop’s current sales are good for a couple weeks, so you’ve got some time if you want to save.

Read More: Sales & Deals

Mortal Shell Will Get a Physical Edition Due to “the Number of Requests”

Upcoming action RPG Mortal Shell has garnered a lot of hype — so much so that it will be coming out in physical format after the game’s initial release on digital storefronts. This game closely mirrors the Souls series, focusing on combat and fantasy themes. The plan had originally been to release digitally only, but due to “the number of requests for a physical release,” publisher Playstack will be releasing hard copies on Oct. 2, 2020. If you can’t wait, you can download it digitally on Aug. 18 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Microsoft Considered Launching Halo Infinite in Multiple Parts Prior to Its Delay

While on Gary Whitta’s Animal Talking show, Microsoft’s Phil Spencer discussed some intriguing points about what could have happened with Halo Infinite. Spencer revealed that Microsoft considered releasing Infinite in multiple parts, but that it ultimately “didn’t feel, to all of us, like the Halo release that we would want.”

The decision to delay it was not taken lightly, and as Spencer explained, the team was “disappointed” by the delay but is committed to delivering a “great game” in 2021. Spencer dove into more on the future of Xbox and other interesting tidbits. And can we just stop for a second to appreciate that the head of Xbox was interviewed from within Animal Crossing: New Horizons? What a time to be alive. The full interview can be seen below.

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Read More: Halo Infinite could have been split up into separate parts, Phil Spencer reveals

Hitman 3 Developer Insights Video Dives Deep into VR Features

Today, IO Interactive released a video (below) that detailed some of the new features you can expect with Hitman 3‘s VR integration. In it, we got to see more footage of the game running in VR and it’s still a mind-boggling sight. Agent 47 sneaks up on an unsuspecting victim and taps them on the shoulder, before taking them out — all in first-person VR.

Enemies will apparently react to your movements in a much more realistic way this time around. The benefits of being in VR will be depicted in its immersion, but the change from third- to first-person will also alter the way you play. Hitman 3 is due out on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PC, and Stadia in January 2021.

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Spotify Issues Statement in Support of Epic Games – iClarified

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Spotify has issued a statement applauding Epic Games for taking a stand against Apple. The statement was provided to Recode Media host Peter Kafka.

“We applaud Epic Games’ decision to take a stand against Apple and shed further light on Apple’s abuse of its dominant position. Apple’s unfair practices have disadvantaged competitors and deprived consumers for far too long. The stakes for consumers and app developers large and small couldn’t be higher and ensuring that the iOS platform operates competitively and fairly is an urgent task with far-reaching implications.”

Yesterday, Epic Games launched a direct payment feature in Fortnight that saved users 20% but didn’t give Apple 30% of its revenue. Apple promptly pulled the app from the App Store; however, the company was expecting this response and was ready with a lawsuit accusing Apple of anti-competitive restraints and monopolistic practices. A similar scenario played out with Google and the Play Store but it’s possible to sideload Fortnight on Android so the impact to users isn’t as severe.

Epic Games also launched a #FreeFortnite campaign against Apple, complete with a video calling for users to join the fight to stop 2020 form becoming ‘1984’. Notably, Spotify already has a video and a website dedicated to its fight against Apple. The EU recently announced a formal antitrust investigation into Apple following its complaint.

It’s likely that Epic Games will have support for its lawsuit from Microsoft and Facebook. Both companies have publicly spoken out against Apple this month for refusing to allow their cloud gaming apps on iOS.

Please download the iClarified app or follow iClarified on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and RSS for updates.

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