Samsung Gear IconX review: Great sounding cord-free fitness earbuds

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The Samsung Gear IconX are great sounding, cord-free, fitness tracking earbuds which allow you to go “phone-free” while running or walking.

TA-ratings-81While wireless earbuds are quickly becoming popular, there is a push for true wire-free earbuds. I’m not going to get into semantics but for the record, the audio industry refers to headsets and earbuds that don’t require a wire to connect to a smartphone or other device as wireless, while earbuds with no wires required at all are referred to as wire- or cord-free. That out of the way, our Samsung Gear IconX review takes a look at a pair of cord-free fitness earbuds that can store your music and track your fitness activity without needing a smartphone nearby.

Specifications

The Samsung Gear IconX Cord-free Fitness Earbuds have the following features and specifications:

  • Earbuds battery type: 47mAh Rechargeable Li-Ion
  • Charging case battery type: 315 mAh Rechargeable Li-Ion
  • Battery life
    • Earbuds: Standalone Music Play Up to 3.8 hrs, Standalone Music Play with Workout Up to 3.4 hrs, Audio Streaming Up to 1.6 hrs, and Audio Streaming with Workout Up to 1.5 hrs
    • Case: Number of recharges up to 2 times
  • Sensors: Heart rate, accelerometer, capacitive touch
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.1 LE
  • Storage: 4GB (3.5GB usable); up to 1,000 music tracks maximum
  • Supported audio formats: MP3, M4A, AAC, WAV, WMA v9
  • Water-resistant: Splash resistant (P2i Nano Coating)
  • Dimensions
    • Earbuds: 18.9 x 26.4 x 26.0mm
    • Case: 35.3 x 30.x x 92mm
  • Weight: 6.3g per earbud
  • Warranty: 1 year

What’s in the box

  • Samsung Gear IconX Wireless Earbuds
  • Charging Case
  • USB Cable
  • USB to Micro USB Connector
  • 3 pairs of wingtips (S, M, L)
  • 3 pairs of earbud tips (S, M, L)
  • Quick Start Guide
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The Gear IconX, charging case, and two extra sets of eartips and wingtips are included.

Design

Gear IconX Earbuds

The Samsung Gear IconX earbuds have a bit of a classy design. The outside touch interface is triangular in shape and has a thin gold trim piece around the edge. Below this, you will find the heart rate sensor which is encased in the flexible wingtip. The wingtip has a cutout which wraps around the heart rate sensor and then curves up into a loop which tucks into your ear to help keep it in place.

On the inside of the ear bud are a series of five charging contacts and the letter L or R depending which earbud it is. Finally, your typical looking earbud tip sits over the end of the earbud. The Gear IconX includes three sizes of wingtips and three sizes of earbud tips, so getting an optimal fit shouldn’t be too difficult.

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The Gear IconX earbuds with the heart rate sensor and charging contacts displayed on the right earbud.

Charging Case

The charging case itself looks like a pill shaped box and is constructed of a very hard, sturdy plastic with the Samsung logo across the top. On the front of the case is an oval button with two LEDs, one on each side. These LEDs turn red while it’s charging the corresponding earbud, and green when the earbud is fully charged. The back of the case is where you’ll find your Micro-USB port and another LED to the left of it. This LED is red while the charging case itself is being charged, and turns green when the case is fully charged.

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The charging case indicating it’s charging both earbuds.

Opening up the case reveals two receptacles marked L and R for each earbud. Inside each of these is a series of five charging pins which align with the charging contacts on each earbud. The receptacles are clearly marked and the earbuds only fit in one way, so there’s no confusion as to which earbud goes where. Once inserted, the earbud wingtips sit flush with the tip of the bottom half of the case.

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The charging case with the Gear IconX earbuds.

Ease of Use

When you first get your Gear IconX earbuds, you’ll have to connect them to your device, which can be a bit of a process depending on your device. It’s not a hard process, but there’s definitely a few steps involved. First, you’ll need to install the Samsung Gear app. Once you have that installed, you may be prompted to install the Gear IconX plugin if you’re not using a Galaxy device. After you’ve done so, the app walks you through connecting your IconX earbuds, as well as setting your main earbud. The main earbud is the one which connects to your phone, receives call audio, and records exercise date. You can switch the main earbud at any time using the Samsung Gear app.

Once you’ve connected your Gear IconX earbuds to your mobile device, insert them into the appropriate ear with the wingtip facing upwards and try not to place your finger on the heart rate sensor while you do so. Doing so may cause it not to function correctly due to smudges on the surface of the sensor. Once inserted, rotate them left or right to fit your ears, and you should hear a beep indicating that the earbuds have turned on.

Controlling music and your calls is easy with the touchpad on the side of the earbuds. A single tap pauses or resumes playback, double tap skips to the next song, triple tap skips to the previous song, and swiping up and down adjusts the volume of the earbuds. For calls, a double tap answers or ends the call, places the current call on hold, or switches between two calls. Touching and holding the button rejects the incoming call, retrieves a held call, turns off the microphone, or allows you to hear the readout menu options.

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The touchpad (shown on the earbud to the right) controls music, calls, and workouts.

Overall, the Gear IconX earbuds are fairly straightforward and easy to use, once you make it through the multiple app and software installs depending on what device you’re using them with.

Software

The Samsung Gear app is the main app you’ll use to adjust your Gear IconX earbuds. The app also displays how much battery life is left in each earbud and allows you to control and sync music on your earbuds. Syncing directly to the earbuds works only if you have a Galaxy device. If you’re using a non-Galaxy device you can add music to the earbuds while they are in the charging case and it is attached to a computer via the USB cable and the Gear IconX Manager software.

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Gear IconX Manager for PC screenshot.

As mentioned above, you can use the Gear app to switch which earbud is the main one. This setting, along with setting ambient sound is only available when both earbuds are in your ears, for obvious reasons. Other settings you can adjust include setting music volume, which notifications will be read out by your Gear IconX earbuds, toggling the exercise audio guide, reading out menu options, and selecting voice guide language.

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Samsung Gear Android app screenshot.

The other main app you’ll use is Samsung’s S Health app, which allows you to track your exercise routines, as well as other health information. While S Health does work with non-Galaxy devices, it does work best and you get full functionality when used on a Samsung Galaxy smartphone. I won’t go any further into the S Health app as that’s a review unto itself but it does work pretty well, I just wish it would work the same across non-Galaxy devices as it does on Galaxy devices.

Performance

As far as performance goes, the Samsung Gear IconX earbuds work best with a Galaxy smartphone. I’m not sure what the reason is, but the key feature of the IconX earbuds — the heart rate monitor — does not work on non-Galaxy devices. I’m not sure the reasoning behind this, but we tried it on a Moto Z running Android 7.0 Nougat, a Nexus 6P running Android 7.1.1, and a Moto Z Play running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. After hitting up Samsung support on Twitter, we were told the following:

To answer your bigger question, unfortunately at this juncture the heart rate monitor software in the IconX is not compatible with non-Samsung devices.

While it’s not the end of the world, it is one of the main components of the Gear IconX and I’m sure Samsung could expand their reach with these once they make it compatible with non-Samsung devices.

When used with the Note5, the heart rate monitor worked great and was very closely in sync with a fitness band which recorded heart rate as well. While you can use the S Health app to start a workout, you can also touch and hold the touchpad on the earbud until you hear the guide say “start workout,” followed by four beeps, and then “workout started.” Once it has started, you can get updates by holding the touchpad with your finger until you hear “workout details” and then releasing it. You can also toggle the ambient sound mode and end your workout by holding the touchpad until you hear “enable (or disable) ambient sound” or “finish workout.”

If you choose to go for a run or a walk without your phone, you can listen to the music stored on the Gear IconX and it will track your distance, duration, average speed, burnt calories and average workout, but will not track your actual route as there are no GPS capabilities in the IconX earbuds themselves. Hopefully, this will be something added in future versions as it’d be nice to be able to track your route without having to have your phone with you as well. In addition, while using just the earbuds you can only track a run or a walk. In order to track other types of fitness activities, you’ll have to use and initiate those from your smartphone.

One little quirk I noticed was that when you are streaming your music and remove one earbud, the audio stops completely. It’s not a huge issue and may be by design but I did find it annoying having to start the music up again just because I removed an earbud.

Sound

First and foremost, the Gear IconX earbuds have independent volume control! It’s something we’ve been complaining about quite a bit here at Techaeris. Most wireless earbuds and headphones directly control the volume on the phone, the few with independent volume control only control the volume on the earbuds. This lets you fine tune the audio volume even further as you can set your phone at a set volume and then use the earbuds to further raise or lower the volume.

That out of the way, the Samsung Gear IconX sound fantastic as far as wireless/cord-free earbuds go. The levels are nicely balanced and there is that slight emphasis on the lows, providing a nice solid bass tone, which we all know is super important for getting you pumped during your workouts. Most headphones and earbuds I’ve tested require some tweaking with the phone’s equalizer but I didn’t even bother with it on these earbuds considering how good they sounded out of the box.

Even at low to mid volumes, these earbuds do a good job of tuning out the outside world, allowing you to focus on your workout. When you do need to hear what’s going on around you, the ambient sound mode works well and allows you to still enjoy your music while being able to be aware of your surroundings.

Reception

When streaming music from a smartphone, the Gear IconX earbuds have a very decent range and to be honest, I was a bit surprised considering the luck I’ve had with other wireless headphones recently and poor range. At any rate, the range on the Gear IconX is definitely enough to have you covered while working out at the gym or other areas where you may be setting your phone down and not carrying it with you.

Call Quality

Call quality on headphones and earbuds usually leaves something to be desired, and with wireless and cord-free earbuds it can be an even greater challenge. The Gear IconX aren’t too bad while on a call, but you do have to speak rather loudly in order for the other party to hear you which might not be optimal depending on your surroundings.

Battery Life

Unfortunately, the Gear IconX earbuds don’t have great battery life, and that’s something that is going to be a challenge for cord-free earbuds for the foreseeable future. That being said, they do fall in line with Samsung’s battery life expectations. The company mentions that you should be able to get the following battery life out of them:

  • Standalone Music Play Up to 3.8 hrs
  • Standalone Music Play with Workout Up to 3.4 hrs
  • Audio Streaming Up to 1.6 hrs
  • Audio Streaming with Workout Up to 1.5 hrs

During our testing, we definitely saw between just over 1.5 hours and just under 3 hours before needing to recharge the earbuds. Depending on how hardcore you are, this is definitely enough to make it through a workout, but then you’ll have to make sure you have them charged and ready to go for your next one.

If you recall, the Samsung Gear app lets you set which earbud is your main earbud. The plus side to this is that you can extend the battery life of your earbuds by only using one at a time. Once the right one is almost dead (you do get an audible warning when there is 10% battery life left), simply use the Gear app to switch the main earbud to the left one and you’re good to go for another couple or few hours.

Charging the earbuds is as simple as placing them into the charging case on the appropriate side. When the earbuds are completely drained, recharging fully takes about two hours. The charging case should get you roughly two recharges of the earbuds, so you should be able to get between 4 and 9 hours (based on our tests) before needing to plug the charging case into an outlet.

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The Gear IconX earbuds ready to charge.

While the Gear IconX battery life does meet and exceed what Samsung states in some cases, it is on the low side considering the battery life in some other wireless earbuds and headphones, granted they don’t have a heart rate sensor and other fitness tracking included either.

Price/Value

With an MSRP of $199.99USD, the Samsung Gear IconX are currently selling for $152 and change on Amazon.com. They’re also on sale on Amazon.ca for just under $200, which isn’t bad considering the exchange rate. If you have a Galaxy device and can take full advantage of the features, it’s a decent value especially considering you can track your running, hiking, or cycling route and listen to music without needing to bring your phone along with you.

Wrap-up

The Samsung Gear IconX are great sounding, cord-free, fitness tracking earbuds which allow you to go “phone-free” while exercising. Unfortunately, you require a Samsung device to take full advantage of them and, like the Gear Fit2 smartwatch, I think Samsung could sell a whole lot more if they made them fully compatible with other Android devices.

*We were sent a review unit of the Samsung Gear IconX Cord-free Fitness Earbuds for the purposes of this review.

Samsung Gear IconX

$199.95 USD
Samsung Gear IconX
8.1

Design

8/10

    Ease of Use

    9/10

      Software

      9/10

        Performance

        8/10

          Sound

          10/10

            Reception

            8/10

              Call quality

              7/10

                Battery life

                6/10

                  Price/Value

                  8/10

                    Nailed it

                    • Fantastic sound
                    • Ability to store music
                    • Independent volume controls
                    • Accurate fitness tracking
                    • Drowns out the outside world nicely
                    • Ambient mode works great

                    Needs work

                    • Poor battery life
                    • Heart rate monitor only works with Galaxy devices
                    • Requires phone nearby for GPS tracking
                    • Music stops when removing one earbud when streaming
                    • Limited fitness tracking options when used by themselves
                    • A bit on the pricey side at full price
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