Samsung announced the Gear IconX wireless earbuds as a truly wireless solution to listening to music, but also as a way to track fitness without having to keep your phone with you at all times. Crafting completely wireless earbuds that also house a heart rate monitor and some other features makes for a compelling package, but that’s still a tall order for current technology, especially in the $200 price range.
There are certainly some trade-offs to get what Samsung is offering with the Gear IconX, but were they worthwhile trade-offs for a unique pair of earbuds? Let’s find out.
The Gear IconX earbuds are, well, earbuds. There are zero wires here, which is a standout feature for Bluetooth earbuds, but otherwise you’re getting a fairly typical looking pair of sporty earbuds.
You’ll notice some tiny aspects of the earbud that stand out, however. On the inside of the earpiece you’ll notice a heart rate monitor, and on the outside you’ll find small, capacitive touch screens. For a pair of earbuds, that’s some incredibly fancy tech that we only see on high-end smartphones.
Those extra features are what really make the Gear IconX stand out, for better or worse. You can pair them with your phone and use them as plain, wireless earbuds, or you can ignore the phone and let the Gear IconX handle your heart rate, notifications, and fitness tracking.
The heart rate monitor was decent, not any better or worse than what you’ll find in Samsung’s Galaxy S line. Phones aren’t as accurate as medical heart rate monitors, anyway, so as long as we’re in the ball park, there’s no issue here. Step tracking was also pretty closely aligned with what the phones and other smartwatches track. I compared the Gear IconX next to a Pebble Time, and the steps and distance were all closely aligned. Again, none of them are perfect, but you’ll be hard pressed to find any consumer smartphone or smartwatch that’s 100%.
If you’re interested in using the Gear IconX to track your fitness, keep in mind that it must use S Health. You won’t be able to merge that data into your Fitbit app, Google Fit, or anything on Apple’s ecosystem if you’re over the fence. S Health is freely available on all Android smartphones, but if you don’t like Samsung’s ecosystem, you might not be happy with that.
Controlling notifications and playback on the earbuds was actually pretty accurate and not nearly as bad I was expecting for such a small device. There a handful of gestures you can use to play and pause music, and the earbuds will read off notifications (like text messages and phone calls) to you over the music if you’re still within range of your phone. There’s even a setting in the Gear manager that keeps audio in check so you’ll still be aware of what’s going on around you, which is very useful for using these earbuds to jog around with music blaring in your ears.
The only problem was actually learning all of those commands. Swiping up and down to adjust volume made sense, but triple tapping to play the previous song is not intuitive. Unfortunately, things only seemed to get tougher from there.
Pairing the earbuds isn’t a great experience. If they become unpaired with each other you have to re-insert them into the charging case, then take them back out to put them in pairing mode. If you don’t have the case with you, well, that’s useless.
If you want to transfer music to the earbuds, you also have to put them in the case, then connect them to either your smartphone or PC. Again, kind of clunky. Why can’t I just sling music to it via Bluetooth since that’s how it’s connected to my phone anyways?
On the bright side, the case is actually really neat to use, and it holds a massive improvement in the battery department. Each earbud has a 47mAh battery, but the case holds a 315mAh charge.
But now, we have to talk about the bad parts again. Battery life on the Gear IconX is awful. Not just kinda frustrating, but really legitimately bad. You’re looking at about an hour of usage before you’ll start to hear low battery warnings, when they’ll need to be docked in the charging case again. You can significantly stretch the battery life out by about two hours if you put your music on the earbuds instead of streaming from your phone, but you’ll lose all those fancy notifications. Plus the earbuds only have 4GB of internal storage to work with, which is definitely not enough for my massive music library.
With that in mind, Samsung designed the Gear IconX for fitness, not listening to music all day. You probably won’t be jogging for more than 90 minutes at a time, and if you are you’ll probably be taking some kind of break in the middle where you’ll have an opportunity to charge them up a bit to keep going.
So, the last big question is how good can these tiny earbuds possibly sound. The answer? They’re pretty meh. They’re tiny, so you can’t expect much bass out of them, and wireless buds always lose some quality, but they hardly sound like $200 earbuds. Again, there have been a ton of concessions to integrate fitness tracking and a complete lack of wires, but this is somewhere that there had to be a trade-off.
The Gear IconX is a really, really cool device. It feels futuristic, and as far as earbuds go they sound okay and are incredibly comfortable. With that being said, it absolutely feels like a first generation device. Syncing music is clunky, battery life just isn’t there, and it feels like its trying to solve a problem we don’t really have. Samsung already offers the Gear Fit 2 as a fitness tracking device that can handle music streaming (and so much more) and that puts the Gear IconX is a weird place, especially since it costs $199. That’s slightly more than the Gear Fit 2 and the Gear IconX isn’t being given away for free with Samsung phones, either.
Should you put the Gear IconX on your Christmas list? Only if you’re really, really into fitness tracking and you really, really hate wires. Otherwise, the Gear Fit 2 and a decent pair of some other Bluetooth earbuds will make for a more pleasant, if slightly wired, experience. I can understand and appreciate what Samsung is trying to do with the Gear IconX, but for most us waiting out the Gear IconX 2 is probably the better idea.