Samsung's Gear IconX wireless earbuds over-promise and under-deliver

IDG.TV | Oct 31, 2016

Let’s dig into the sound, comfort and exercise features of Samsung’s completely wire-free earbuds.

Once you set them up just right, the IconX sound awesome. And that’s why I can still give Samsung’s heart-rate tracking earbuds a positive review despite a bunch of nagging issues.


Wire-free means tangle-free, and that’s why I’m a huge believer in
wireless earbuds. You can wear the IconX in any workout situation without having to worry about cabling get caught up in machinery or flailing arms.


Shake your head with aggression, and the IconX still won’t pop loose. The earbuds are also fairly comfortable to wear over extended periods -- but you need to make sure you’ve chosen the right sizing options.


The packaging contains three sizes or eartips and wingtips, and you’ll want to find just the right ones for your ears -- not just for comfort, but for sound quality,


Right out of the box, the IconX produced spectacular volume, but crappy bass. But once I swapped the medium-sized eartips for the largest set, bass improved fan-frickin-dramatically. I am not an audiophile. For workout earbuds, all I care about are volume and bass, and the IconX deliver in both areas.


To adjust volume, you swipe up and down on the touchpads. It’s a seemingly easy gesture, but I often found myself initiating the pause control -- which is just a single tap -- instead. You double-tap to skip tracks, but that was problematic too. I never found a tapping pressure that was both reliable in terms of interface control, and also totally pain-free. Because all that tapping will hurt your ear holes.


You can stream music directly from your phone, or listen to tracks stored in 4 gigs of onboard memory. Frankly, listening to the onboard tracks is a better experience. Not only does this eliminate occasional Bluetooth dropouts -- and that’s a problem with all wire-free earbuds -- but onboard listening also helps preserve battery life, which is major pain point for the IconX.


When the IconX were first revealed, Samsung said battery life would be one and a half hours for streaming music over Bluetooth, and 3.6 hours for onboard tracks. But I found that the earbuds delivered far less than Samsung claimed -- for example just 2 hours and 40 minutes for onboard music during a long hike.


Finally, there’s heart-rate monitoring care of optical sensors on each earbud. I can’t attest to the accuracy of the sensors, but I can tell you that Samsung’s S Health app won’t connect to the sensors unless you’re on a Samsung phone. It all works as Advertised on an S7 Edge, but on my Nexus 6P, the IconX connected and then disconnected every time. This made it impossible to get real-time heart rate info during ellipitical workouts. But on the plus side, you can always hear heart rate data from a synthesized voice directly through the earbuds.


So I just threw a lot of shade in the IconX’s direction, but these earbuds sound good and are comfortable if you’re careful with your tapping. Samsung has tons of improvements to make, but the bottomline is I still enjoyed my time with the IconX.