Samsung Gear IconX Cord-Free Fitness Earbuds Review

By Caitlin McGarry Review Source

They don't have a heart rate sensor, but better battery life makes the second-gen Samsung Gear IconX earbuds worth considering.

So, for the 2018 model, Samsung stripped out the heart rate sensor to cram in a larger battery. Now, the Gear IconX can last for 5 hours with Bluetooth streaming or 7 hours with local music playback, Samsung claims. That's up from 90 minutes of streaming and 3 to 4 hours of local music playback in the older, more expensive model. This and other changes make the 2018 IconX a solid improvement over its predecessor, though it's still not perfect.

New added features

Samsung released a software update on April 10 that introduces new features. These include a new equalizer that lets you choose from five presets (such as Bass Boost and Dynamic). The Ambient Sound function is also improved, as you can now specify how much ambient audio gets let in. There’s a new Voice Focus feature, which amplifies the voices of people around you when indoors.

If you want to take advantage of the 4GB of storage for taking music on the go, you can now wirelessly transfer multiple tracks at once. You can access the upgrade by downloading the updated Samsung Gear app.

We tried out the new features and found the equalizer tools were by far the most useful. The Dynamic setting is the best for most songs. Bass Boost is great for running to a beat. Treble and Clear made music sound a little too tinny.

The Voice Focus feature allows you to hear people talking while you're listening to music without lowering the volume of the song you're listening to. I tested it out with a colleague and found that it made our voices sound like flight attendants making announcements over an airplane's PA system. It was so bizarre that we both cracked up laughing. It also amplified the sound of me typing on a keyboard, which wasn't ideal. With some fine-tuning, this feature could be a little more useful, but I don't see myself relying on it too much.

The new wireless transfer feature, which lets you send multiple songs from a Galaxy smartphone to the Gear IconX earphones, wasn't as streamlined as I had hoped. The connection between the devices kept dropping, making what should've been a quick, smooth process into an arduous one. I kept having to activate the Bluetooth button on the Gear IconX case to force it to connect to the Galaxy S9 so I could transfer another song. It took me 20 minutes to move three songs onto the IconX, which is much too long. Like Voice Focus, wireless transfer needs improvement.

Easy setup, with some limitations

The Samsung Gear IconX earbuds work with both iOS and Android devices, though, as you might expect, you'll get more out of the earphones if you pair them with a Samsung Galaxy phone. With an iPhone, the Gear IconX works just like any other pair of Bluetooth headphones. However, pairing these earphones with a Galaxy device unlocks a suite of features.

Like the first-gen Gear IconX, the updated model comes with an oval-shaped charging case that juices up the buds when you're not using them. The case on the 2018 version has a bigger, 340-mAh battery than the 315-mAh battery in the original, which means it can also last longer on a charge (and provide more fuel to the earbuds). More on that later.

Install the Samsung Gear Manager app on your Android device running version 4.4 of the operating system or later to pair the headphones and then customize the settings. Just open the charging case (with the buds inside) near your phone, select the Gear IconX from the device list, and the headphones will start pairing.

The Gear IconX is the rare pair of cord-free headphones that offers expansive local storage for MP3s — 4GB, or enough for up to 1,000 songs — and can also track your walking and running workouts thanks to an accelerometer. Like the original model, the new Gear IconX features a voice coach for workouts, which you can activate by long-pressing the designated exercise earphone. I chose the right one, but you can customize that in the Gear Manager app.

If Samsung developed a Gear IconX app for iOS that offered all of the same controls, these earphones would be much more versatile and reach a much larger market. Just sayin'.

You'll have to learn some gestures to control the music playback and workout coaching on the IconX, such as one tap on the earbud to pause a track or a long-press to launch a run. The only gesture I had trouble with was the swipe up/down on one earbud to control volume. You have to delicately swipe; otherwise, the device thinks you're tapping to pause. As you might imagine, this is incredibly difficult to do while running, and after I accidentally paused the music enough times, I gave up trying to control the volume from the earphones and relied on my phone's volume rocker instead.

Fitness: These earphones fall short

You also use the IconX app to choose the pace you want to be coached to. Because it lacks a heart rate sensor, the new Gear IconX uses its accelerometer to figure out how fast you're walking or running, and advises you to speed up or slow down according to the pace you've picked in the Gear Manager app. The coach isn't as advanced at stat tracking or as detailed in its advice as the assistants in other sensor-packed fitness headphones, such as LifeBeam's Vi, but it's good enough.

I used the Light Running Coach workout, which advises you to run 2.85 kilometers (1.77 miles) in 30 minutes, including a 5-minute warm-up and a 5-minute cool-down. It was a little too lightweight for my usual running routine, and the coach kept telling me to slow down, but there are more rigorous workouts designed to boost running speed and endurance.