Samsung Galaxy Buds vs. Gear IconX: Is one better for fitness and commuting?

Fully wireless headphones have significantly improved over the past year and they are my preferred option for running, bodyweight exercises, and commuting. Samsung's latest model improved upon last year's model in some ways, while taking a step back in others.

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All attendees at the Samsung Unpacked event in San Francisco were handed a swag bag on the way out of the venue that contained some chocolates and a pair of Samsung Galaxy Buds. My bag contained a pair in that lovely Prism White color that matches the evaluation Galaxy S10 Plus.

Last year I tested out the 2018 Gear IconX wireless earbuds that improved significantly on the original IconX buds. That 2018 model improved the battery life, switched to the modern USB-C port for charging, and enabled connections via your smartphone for firmware updates and music transfer.

See also: Galaxy S10 Plus review: Long battery life, shareable wireless charging, and Samsung's One UI make this a leading business phone

I've been using the Samsung Galaxy Buds every day since I received them on 20 February. After two weeks of use, there are a few reasons to consider the Galaxy Buds over the Gear IconX, while there are a couple more reasons to stick with the IconX:

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Ways the Galaxy Buds are better

  1. Price: The Gear IconX was priced at $199.99 while the Galaxy Buds are priced at $129.99.
  2. Fit, finish and design: The Galaxy Buds charging case is about the same length, but significantly narrower and more compact overall. I can actually slip the Galaxy Buds case into my front jeans pocket without any large bulk making things uncomfortable. The wing tips have been improved so that the Galaxy Buds fit better too.
  3. Audio quality: Volume is great on both headsets, but the clarity and quality is a bit better on the Galaxy Buds (at least to my ears). The Galaxy Buds are tuned by AKG and I can hear the difference.
  4. Wireless charging case: USB-C is faster and present on both headsets, but the convenience of setting the Galaxy Buds down on my dual wireless charger I received as a purchase gift when I bought my Note 9 is awesome. Combined with the Galaxy S10 and Wireless Powershare, there is no reason you should ever have dead Galaxy Buds. You can also get almost two hours of listening time with just 15 minutes of charging.
  5. Long battery life: The Samsung Galaxy Buds are one of the longest lasting truly wireless earbuds with six hours of streaming playback time. The Gear IconX is rated at five hours for streaming, but at a higher seven hours when music is loaded on the earbuds.
  6. Bluetooth version: The Galaxy Buds use Bluetooth 5.0 while the Gear IconX has Bluetooth 4.2.
  7. Equalizer: In addition to being tuned by AKG, you have some ability to customize your preferences in an equalizer on the Galaxy Buds.
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Ways the Gear IconX is better

  1. Water/dust resistance: The Galaxy Buds only have an IPX2 water resistant rating, which is equivalent to water that hits the product at a 15 degree angle. The Gear IconX has an IP67 dust and water resistant rating, which means you really don't have to worry about wearing these when you are out exercising or commuting in inclement weather. The Galaxy Buds may be fine for most people, but I'm a bit leery since I run in heavy rain at times.
  2. Onboard music storage: With the Gear IconX you can load up your own MP3 music to the earbuds and then enjoy music while working out with no phone or watch connected at all. I personally only used the onboard music for my initial testing, but as a Spotify subscriber I prefer having a connected phone or watch for the largest music selection available.
  3. Exercise coaching: The Gear IconX supported audio coaching functionality and even automatic workout detection so you truly could leave your phone or watch behind and use these for working out.

I've used both sets of earbuds and I prefer the Galaxy Buds due to the better sound and sleeker charging/carrying case. The price is also less than most other high end wireless earbuds.

The Samsung Galaxy Buds are available for $129.99. If you buy a new Samsung Galaxy S10 phone, you may be eligible for a free pair so keep an eye on special deals from Samsung and carriers as these products start to become readily available.

Stay tuned here on ZDNet for the full review of the Galaxy Buds coming soon.