Samsung Gear IconX review

The distant sound of the future
Samsung Gear IconX

We're going through a wire-cutting renaissance. In 10 years' time, when wireless charging and earphones rule our tech, we'll probably look back and laugh at how silly and "retro" we all looked walking around with wires dangling from our faces.

Helping lead the charge into this wire-free future is Samsung, which has launched its wireless earphones, the Gear IconX. Wireless headphones have, of course, been around for quite some time, but cramming that same tech into earbuds that produce excellent quality audio, power for hours on a single charge, take calls and offer fitness smarts to boot – that's no easy task. Just ask Bragi. And as impressive as the IconX are in many ways, they don't quite hit the point they need to be at. The revolution will have to wait a bit longer.

Read next: The best hearables and smart earbuds you can buy right now

This is a generation-one product, and you can tell, but that's not to say the IconX are bad, only that they suffer from many of the same woes as the similar Bragi Dash. For those of you who have had it with tangled wires but don't want a pair of over-ears, there may still be enough reasons for you to cough up the $199 asking price.

Samsung Gear IconX: Design

Samsung Gear IconX review

We really like how the IconX look. Samsung's done a great job in design considering how much is being crammed into these buds. They're not as svelte as Apple's AirPods, but then Samsung's do more. Each comes with interchangeable wings and eartips, and it's important you have the right ones attached before you do anything; they're snug when they fit, but they won't hold if they're the wrong size.

The earbuds come in a small oval container that looks like something you'd put your contact lenses in, except this one charges the IconX when they're inside, emitting two small red lights that signify a charge in process; green when the batteries are full.

That means you charge both the case and the earbuds. It also means you can essentially get two cycles out of it if you pop the buds back in the charging case when it's time to juice. The earbuds can also detect when you put in/remove them from your ears, and will power up/down accordingly. These are both ways of alleviating some of the battery woes that plague the IconX, but you're still going to be plugging in that USB cable quite often. More on that later.

On the outside of each IconX is a flat touch-sensitive surface, which you'll use to interact with them, and a mic on each for taking calls. Now, there is a range of different touch inputs, and it takes some time to remember which do what. One tap starts your music; two taps skips a track; and holding your finger against either bud for three seconds will begin/finish a workout.

It's relatively simple, but you need to be direct and be sure to apply enough force with each tap. What's more annoying is accidentally tapping them when, say, adjusting them in your ears, or brushing your hand along the side. This is more a flaw of human anatomy than the IconX, but still, it can be annoying.

Samsung Gear IconX: Sound performance and setup

Samsung Gear IconX review

The IconX sound quality is more decent than we were expecting, but we wish it were better. Yeah, you might be buying these primarily for fitness, but that means ditching your best-sounding running headphones; which is why it's important that any hearables like these sound good. The audio is certainly clear enough, but it lacks bass. And we like bass.

The ambient sound mode is a nice touch that puts your music on gently, letting you still hear things in your surroundings you should be aware of – primarily oncoming traffic. It also means you can have a conversation with someone without switching off your music or taking the IconX out of your ears.

What we're less keen on is the set-up process, which is absurdly complicated for something that prides itself on simplicity. You'll first need to download the Gear Manager app onto your Android smartphone – so far, no biggy – and then connect the IconX case to a computer to install an app installed in the case's internal memory, which will then install updates on the IconX. Samsung, this is not how we reach the future.

Once you're finally up and running, you'll designate which earbud will be the dominant one for taking calls with. You can also use this moment to install any music you'd like directly onto the earbuds' 4GB of storage, so you can listen without streaming from your phone – just the same as the Bragi Dash.

Another thing worth mentioning is compatibility. Samsung says you should be running Android 4.4 or higher on a phone with at least 1.5GB of RAM. Despite what you might have heard, the IconX do work with iOS – but only for listening to music with.

And if you're not using a Galaxy device, you'll have to download an additional driver from the Play Store to ensure compatibility. If you're using an older handset (we're talking Nexus 5 era or before), we'd advise checking it will pair smoothly with the IconX before putting down the money.

Samsung Gear IconX: Fitness and heart rate tracking

Samsung Gear IconX review

The IconX are being pushed primarily as fitness headphones, and to that end they do a solid job. They can work with or without your phone, but you'll need to sync with S Health in order to get the most out of the IconX. You can also pair them with select third-party apps, like Strava and MapMyFitness, but only to track your heart rate. Alternatively you can connect S Health up with your platform of choice, so the info is transferred when you're done with your workout.

Particularly handy is the ability to take the IconX out for a run without your phone and still being able to track distance and heart rate. All you have to do is hold a finger on one of the buds for three seconds, listen for the voice assistant to confirm, and you're off.

However, without the phone you won't be able to track your location (no built-in GPS on these) or elevation, so it's worth bearing that in mind when you come to syncing the data back with S Health. You also won't be getting the extra motivation from Samsung's incredibly sarcastic-sounding trainer – just some of the basic prompts in the earbuds. However running without the phone means prolonging the battery life, which is a precious thing on the IconX.

We found the heart rate tracking to be decent, but not quite hitting the readings of the chest strap gold standard. We tried it with a Polar H7 strap and got varying results depending on the intensity of the workout.

Samsung Gear IconX review
Polar H7 reading above, IconX below

On a gentle jog, pictured above, the heart rate readings between the two were very similar, with an identical peak reading of 164bpm, but on more rigorous runs we found the IconX fluctuated a little more aggressively, tracking higher rises in our HR than the strap – something we've become accustomed to seeing on many optical trackers.

Samsung Gear IconX
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While taking their readings from inside the ear instead of the wrist, the IconX are still using optics, and like wrist-worn devices are prone to added "noise" from clattering around during a run, which will always throw the accuracy off a tad. The key, again, is to ensure you've got the right wings and tips attached so it's a snug fit, which will mean better accuracy.

So how do they compare to the Bragi Dash in terms of fitness features? Much the same, including the heart rate tracker, but the notable omission in the IconX is waterproofing for swim tracking. They're sweat-proof, but you won't be able to take them for a proper dunking. On the other hand, they're $100 cheaper than Bragi's offering.

Samsung Gear IconX: Battery life

Samsung Gear IconX review

As we've already hinted at, battery life is where the IconX really fall down. We get that wireless earbud technology is in its infancy, and battery life is sure to get better, but it really stinks at the moment. Samsung estimates 1.5 hours of power for a workout with your phone, and we found that's about the maximum we ever got with these, with them sometimes managing even less when there was a lot of stop-starting. We also found that the "primary" earbud drained faster than its partner.

Without the handset, you'll go a greater distance, and while the fact the case can give them another full charge is a nice feature, it's not much use if the batteries go flat halfway through your run. If you're only using them for music, however, you can push the use time up by another hour or so. That's still poor compared to most over-ear cans, but then we wouldn't recommend you buy these for the sole purpose of listening to music with.


Samsung Gear IconX
By Samsung
The IconX are nice little pair of wireless earbuds that offer useful fitness smarts, but they're just a taste of what will surely come. The IconX do a lot of things well, but none of them brilliantly. Still, if you're looking for a wireless solution that lets you keep your phone at home, these are proficient enough. With some improvements here and there – maybe even get the fitness aspect working with iOS – Bragi et al might have something to really worry about.

Hit
  • Great design, impressively light
  • Built-in fitness smarts
  • Can track a workout without phone
Miss
  • Poor battery life
  • Sound quality could be better
  • iOS users: don't apply

27 Comments

  • Donnavin says:

    how much is it?

    • m.sawh says:

      Hi, it's $199. We don't have any other pricing info yet

  • bobbyrooney says:

    great to see true wireless without the cord, but the cord protects from losing your buds. if these things are not tight in the ear, you can easily lose one or both standing in a sweltering NYC subway platform if they ever come loose.

  • Kyy says:

    Hi, how do i know the battery level for the earbuds ? And also do i have to always keep them in the casing when not in use ? 

    • m.sawh says:

      When you drop them in the case, there's two separate LED lights on the outside of the case that indicates battery life. You can also see battery status inside the companion app.

      You don't have to always keep them in the case, but as I've found with other wireless headphones I've tried recently, it's good to keep the case close by to top up the battery life

  • Joshmonroe says:

    these headphones were really cool at first, I love not having a cord. The battery life is usually enough to last during my entire workout. The only problem I've had is that they turn off several times a day and I have to take them out of my ears and put them back in to reconnect them. It's either something with the Bluetooth or maybe they're not secure in my ears. At any rate I'm returning them. 

  • daesungkim says:

    When I run, my HBR(175 avg) goes above the rigorous line (about 168) and this device thinks I'm not running and always saves the exercise as Walking. I find this very frustrating. I guess there's no one in Samsung dev whose HBR can go higher than 170.

  • yb4real says:

    I need to return my IconX ASAP. If you are always on the go and you love to hear some music, this is not for you. Battery life sucks and it keeps disconnecting and the main ear bud discharges easily and this annoying especially when you are receiving a call. There's a lot to improve on but I'm impressed the ear buds don't fall out if inserted properly.

  • Pairiekat says:

    I'm have a volume problem with the left bud an advice 

    • Wands215 says:

      I'm having the same problem i had to call Samsung customer service and the representative sent me a ups label to ship them back and they gone send me another pair 

  • Stonewall60 says:

    hello.

    As everyone has said battery life stinks, I have 109 songs on the earbuds and only 18 play what causes that, and three hours from music on the buds it never happens hour and a half maybe, 199.00 is too much for these maybe 59.99 and that's pushing it. With the tab 7 and these earbuds Samsung is pushing me away from them as a customer.

    • dee-jay says:

      u have 18 songs on one and the rest on they other,u must put the song on both each ear bud both can work alone there's actually 8gb if one really wanted even if the songs are in different order the primary selected ear bud order will play the second will recognize the song and both play at the same time;I think there made more for sports and working out since the most one works out is two hours my problem is that my iPhone is can't use all its features like on my Samsung secondary phone which I never take any wear 

  • JJ123 says:

    Hugh (and others), 

    Question - you state:

    "If you're only using them for music, however, you can push the use time up by another hour or so." 

    How do you use them only for music? Can I disable the heart rate monitor and fitness tracker?  If yes, how so?

    The battery life is a major issue and I am determining whether to return this product. 

    Thanks in advance.

  • Ericksech says:

    After less than a day of using these, the positives include great fit for the ear, pretty good sound, easy connection via bluetooth to my Samsung S7 Edge. However, the poor battery life is a major issue, in which I should have done some research before purchasing these at Best Buy. So if you can wear ear buds at work and also like to run and workout with ear buds after work. then this becomes a question of how long does it take for them to become fully charged. If it is over 30 minutes, then I will likely return them. Listening time of 1.5 hours streaming spotify, then you have to charge them 30 minutes or more. This is extremely inconvenient, and annoying. I do hope they extend battery life for the next go around, because the design and the product as a whole is excellent. But for now, the battery life is probably a deal breaker, and I will be returning these for a product with a longer lasting battery life. 

  • jo3jo3 says:

    my thing is loudness everything about the headphones is hella dope but the sound is boo boo and what i mean by sound i mean how loud they go.

  • sourabhpatil says:

    Have been using these for about 50 days now. Everything about the IconX seems good, except the battery life. But you have to realize these are fitness earbuds, and aren't meant to use all day long. 1.5 hours on a single charge with activity tracker and HRM switched on isn't that bad.

    Here's what I do to get the best battery life out of them. I don't connect them to my phone, but use the tracker in the buds and listen music stored into the buds itself.

  • Upnadam says:

    I received these as a Christmas gift and at first glance I was very impressed! The sound is decent but don't expect Bose quality. I stream my music from Spotify so the battery barely lasts more than an hour. Once I have some time to play on the computer I'll load music right on them and see if that helps any. The fit is great! I normally hate the style of bud these things have but it fits comfortably! I didn't want them for the fitness technology so I won't likely ever use that. Just increase the battery life and these are a solid choice!

  • wilbur119 says:

    Have these earbuds. Was very impressed at first but now the sound BARELY works. I tried turning up the earbuds themselves, the app, my phone, my Bluetooth, my phone media...they are just a whisper now, can barely hear the music. Sending them back.

  • tedkim says:

    No battery remained after 3 days without using.

    I should plug it in to charger just before I go out.

    There are severance of sound and echo between earbuds.

    Asked Samsung but they explained it's normal on the wireless product.

    It sucks...never buy

  • cmboomin says:

    I lost one of the earbuds iconX, what can I do in this case? Can I buy them in separate piece?

  • SamBahnan says:

    Hi 

    What should we do when not using them? 

    I mean should we just put them in the case and leave them or we must charge them every few hours?

  • Tedw says:

    Is there an ETA on when Samsung will come out with the next gen IconX with improved battery life?  Also 2 things that bothered me, first, when making/taking calls, I can hear out of only the primary earbud.  It seems to me that's an easy software fix considering both earbuds have 2 mics each and you can choose which is your primary earbud.  Also, when reaching max volume, I appreciate being told I"m exceeding recommended limits, but then let me increase higher. Thanks, Ted

  • dcime says:

    The presentation is top notch as they are a Samsung product. The fit and finish is awesome too. Even the sound and controls are amazing. My biggest problem, and why they are going bye bye, is the battery life. Its 2017, batteries are getting smaller and smaller and capacities are getting larger and larger. Having 1 hour streaming is unacceptable! I love music. I love headphones. I love Samsung products. The battery is so poor, even for a 1 hour workout...what if I want to workout for 2 hours? Im screwed. Nice attempt Samsung, need a new generation to fix them with the implementation of a larger battery capacity. So sad really!

  • VINAI says:

    Does it automatically cuts the power off when the light is green,because when its full and green after a 5miinutes of time the lights will disappear????

  • The_lean_korean says:

    I use these like normal headphones, though theyre more primarily for workouts. I do find the battery life sucks, but at the end of the day i still find these little guys worth it. I stream videos a lot, so i always have an extra pair of headphones on hand, but when not streaming i use my IconX with music already put on them. To me the sound quality is perfect. If i want more bass ill just put in other headphones, but being that only so much can be placed in an object this small, i feel these do more than expected. For those wondering, these will notify you when one bud is at 10%. Definitley worth giving a try, unless youre an avid apple user, that is. (But even so, apple users should check these out too lol)

  • Cheeze says:

    I love mine.  I use my Jaybird X3's for loud, thumping long term use.  I use my Icon X's for fitness and watching movies/YouTube in bed.  I've gotten up to 2 hours out of them when streaming from my S7 Edge and 3+ hours when listening to them solo.  Must have gotten a good set.

  • Asmokla says:

    dears. 

    Could u plz feed me back if it works with oppo smartphone f1s or not? 

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