Samsung Gear IconX (2018) review: Samsung’s smarter earbuds

Alex Kidman 19 January 2018

Samsung's take on totally wireless earbuds offer fine sound quality but rather twitchy touch controls.

Quick Verdict
Samsung's updated Gear IconX headphones provide good quality audio and decent battery life, but its touch controls and fit comfort can leave a little to be desired.

The Good

  • Easy pairing, especially with Galaxy phones
  • Relatively subtle in the ear
  • Good battery life for their size

The bad

  • Pink is really, really pink
  • Touch controls are twitchy
  • Can be uncomfortable when twisted into the ear

Samsung's second take on its Gear IconX wireless headphones addresses many of the core problems that the first set had, with improved battery life and solid wireless range when paired over Bluetooth to a smartphone.

If you're very much in the Samsung camp when it comes to your mobile device selection they're well-suited with simple pairing and Samsung-exclusive features, but then there are now more than a few competitors in this space for the Gear IconX to contend with.

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Longer battery life and better wireless range make the latest model of Samsung's Gear IconX earbuds a solid choice for Galaxy phone owners. Pick up a pair from Amazon Australia today.

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Design

Where Apple went with its very particular "stalk" design for its AirPods, Samsung's take on what a consumer is likely to want in a set of earbuds rests more on the idea of being relatively inconspicuous. The 2018 Gear IconX headphones aren't much more than a set of very small buds with an inner ear tip and fixing fin that twists up into the upper part of your ear to keep it firmly in place while exercising.

The overall effect is (mostly) one of subtlety because for most colour combinations you're really not going to stand out while wearing them. You might have noticed how I qualified that statement with "mostly", and that's not by accident.

The pair of Gear IconX I was sent for review was the bright pink pair, and they're definitely more on the ostentatious side. Personally, I think they're so pink it hurts, but tastes do vary and it's nice to have options.

As is the case with most headphones of this type, you're also supplied with a carrying case that doubles as a battery charging pack. The Gear IconX battery pack is on the larger side for a headphone battery pack, so it may not suit runners in tighter shorts, for example. Although it's nowhere near as big as the case for the BlueAnt Pump Air True Wireless headphones.

The Gear IconX's carrying case is also relatively unique in that it's one of the very few cases of this type that charges using the USB C standard, rather than micro USB. The big benefit here is that if you've got a newer phone, you don't need to lug around extra cables to keep the case and headphones charged.

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Installation

Samsung's promise with the Gear IconX headphones is that you can automatically pair them with any Samsung phone simply by lifting them out of the case the first time. It's the same kind of Bluetooth magic that Apple generally manages to pull off with its AirPods and that Google promises with the Pixel Buds, although my experiences there suggest it occurs rarely.

Thankfully, testing with a Samsung Galaxy Note 8 saw the IconX headphones pairing via the existing Samsung Gear app without any issues at all. However, if you're installing on another Android phone or an iPhone, you'll need to install the Samsung Gear app beforehand.

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Performance

The particular pitch for the Gear IconX is that they're not only wireless buds for general audio purposes, but also work as fitness companions in roughly the same way that you might use the Jabra Elite Sport or Bioconnected HR+ headphones.

However, unlike those headphones, the Gear IconX lacks integrated heart rate monitoring, which was a feature of the original iteration of the Gear IconX headphones.

Instead, what you get when exercising using the Samsung Health app are prompts that encourage you when you're out running, automatically track your progress and give you regular updates as you go. That's if you're using a Samsung phone, because like the Pixel Buds, Samsung saves a few key features for its own ecosystem. Pair the Gear IconX buds up to an iPhone and what you get is a set of Bluetooth earbuds.

The Gear IconX headphones have 4GB of storage onboard, so they're capable of holding enough music for a pretty exhausting workout before they repeat the loop if you don't fancy running with your Galaxy S8 or Galaxy Note 8 attached to your hip.

Audio quality is mostly fine for buds this size, with a slight tendency more towards treble tones over proper bass representation. For example, the low growl of the guitars on Prince's "Bambi" is a little higher than it really should be, while more pop-centric fare tends to represent well. Realistically if you're using them as workout headphones they're fine, and there's not really a contender in the "high quality" small Bluetooth bud market yet anyway.

The Gear IconX headphones use touch controls exclusively for track selection, skipping and volume control, and you're not limited to a single ear for this task. That's a nice bit of flexibility, but the touch controls are still rather finicky even after extended testing.

Far too often I'll find myself pausing where I want to skip or when I wanted to adjust volume, no matter which ear I choose to make my adjustments with. It's all too likely that you'll make a few inadvertent taps simply while putting them into your ears, too.

Speaking of ears, the Gear IconX uses a similar "fin" style arrangement to lock each bud into your ear as the Bioconnected HR+ headphones. It's great for heavy-duty running because they really do lock into place securely, but this also means that they can get a touch uncomfortable when you come to take them out, especially if you need to do so in a hurry.

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Battery life

Samsung's stated battery life for the Gear IconX headphones is that they will supply up to seven hours of playback time on a single charge, which is pretty impressive for a set of buds this small. However, seven hours might be slightly overstating it. I typically manage around five to six hours depending on whether I'm playing music stored on the Gear IconX or streaming to it from my smartphone.

One neat factor here is that using the USB C on the Gear IconX's charging case results in a speedy top-up to the headphones with an approximate ten-minute charge, giving you 60 minutes of play time if you use the charger that comes with most Galaxy phones.

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Verdict

Apple's AirPods are very clearly aimed at iPhone users, and Samsung's Gear IconX headphones are likewise best suited to folks who already use Samsung phones. Sales figures suggest that's quite a few folks, so if you're after a set of headphones to complement your existing use of Samsung's Android health apps, the Gear IconX are mostly recommended.

The touch controls could be a little less twitchy, and if you're an ultra-marathon runner the fit might not be comfortable enough for very long sessions. However, for average gym junkies, they're a great way to hear your favourite tunes while getting fit.

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Alternatives

While Samsung notably hasn't dropped the standard headphone socket on its smartphones just yet, plenty of phone manufacturers have, and that means that you've got plenty of choices when it comes to standalone Bluetooth bud-style headphones.

If money is tight, consider Flowfonix's Buddies or Cygnett's Freerun headphones.

If the sports aspect of Bluetooth headphones is important to you and the IconX doesn't appeal due to the lack of heart rate tracking, consider Jabra's Elite Sport or Bioconnected's HR+ headphones.

Google's Pixel Buds aren't quite wireless (or for that matter quite as good as Google seems to think they are), but they could be a worthwhile consideration if you're rocking a Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL handset.

You could always lead folks astray with relation to your smartphone brand allegiance and opt for Apple's own AirPods too.

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Samsung Gear IconX 2017: What the other reviewers say

SiteCommentScore
The Verge"A well-rounded pair of truly wireless earbuds"N/A
PCWorld"You'll love the strong bass and 4GB of onboard storage, but these wire-free earbuds have scads of nagging drawbacks."3/5
Wired"They’re far from perfect, but these buds get a lot of things right."N/A
Tom's Guide"They don't have a heart rate sensor, but better battery life makes the second-gen Samsung Gear IconX earbuds worth considering."7/10
CNET"Samsung has improved the second-generation Gear Icon X to become one of the better totally wireless headphones, especially for Galaxy phone owners."7.3/10

Pricing and availability

Samsung sells the Gear IconX headphones in Australia for $299 outright.

Specifications

Product Name
Samsung Gear IconX
Size
21.8x18.9x22.8mm
Weight
8g per earbud
Connectivity
Bluetooth 4.2
Battery
Earbud: 82mAh / Charging Case: 340mAh
Storage
4GB
RRP
$299

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