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.
Subtle, inconspicuous design
USC-C support on the charging case is handy
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.
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.
Onboard storage lets you listen to music without carrying around your phone
Decent audio quality for wireless buds
Impressive battery life compared to the competition
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.
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.
Pairing is simple enough, though not quite as seamless as marketed
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.
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.
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.
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.
Alex Kidman was the tech and telco editor at Finder and is now a freelance technology writer. He's been a technology writer with experience spanning more than 20 years, writing and editing at Gizmodo, CNET, PC Magazine, Kotaku and many more. Alex has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of New England and a serious passion for retro gaming.
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