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One of the best products I bought in 2017 was the Apple Airpods and not so much for the quality of the audio or the fit, but for the convenience of connectivity and charging. The Apple Airpods were not the first truly wireless headset, but the ease-of-use made them one of the best.
As a runner, the AirPods are not an option due to the loose fit and lack of any water resistant rating. For the last couple of weeks, I have been running with the new generation Samsung Gear IconX (2018) headset that adds water resistance, stand alone music support, and more control options on the headset when compared to the Apple AirPods. The Gear IconX is a better wireless headset for runners and improves in a couple of key areas over the previous IconX model.
Mics: Two mics per earbud with ambient sound option
Water resistance: IP67 rating
Battery life: 82 mAh for each earbud for up to 7 hours of stand alone music playback or up to 5 hours of Bluetooth streaming from your watch or phone. Battery case has a 340 mAh battery.
Wireless connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2
Earbud dimensions: 21.8 x 18.9 x 22.8 mm and 8 grams
Improvements in this years IxonX, compared to the previous model, include the vastly improved battery life (partly due to the removal of an in-ear heart rate monitor), use of USB Type-C instead of microUSB for charging, and the ability to update the headset firmware and transfer music via your mobile phone instead of just through a computer. Overall, this new model is a vast improvement over the last model that I would never recommend.
The Samsung Gear IconX retail package includes the left and right wireless earbuds, a charging case with integrated battery and USB Type-C port, a USB Type-C cable, a USB Type-C to USB Type-A dongle, small/medium/large silicone earbud tips and wings (medium is installed on the earbuds by default). You can choose to purchase a black, pink, or gray set of headphones with the black one arriving for testing.
The two earbuds rest securely in the case with a clear label for the right and left earbud. Four small gold pins make the charging connection from the case battery to the earbuds with the earbud tips resting down in the case. The touch sensitive outside of each earbud fits into the lid when closed.
Once closed, there are indicator lights on the front of the case to inform you if the headset is charging or not. Between these two indicator lights is the lid release button and when you press it the lid should spring load and pop up for easy access to the earbuds.
Swinging around the back you will find a USB Type-C port centered in the case for charging. To the right of this port is the Bluetooth pairing button that you will need to setup connections with various Android and iOS devices.
The outside of the earbuds are touch sensitive and there are a variety of taps, swipes, and other actions to carry out various functions. For example, a single tap plays or pauses a track, a double tap plays the next track or answers/ends an active call, a triple tap action plays the previous track, a touch and hold will launch the menu readout where you can choose to start a workout right from the headset, and swipes up or down control the volume. You can also launch a voice assistant and even choose Google Assistant instead of Bixby if you like.
With music loaded on the headset, you may see up to seven hours of battery life. If you are streaming that music from your phone or watch, then you may see up to five hours of battery life.
Samsung Gear IconX (2018) review: in pictures
The same Samsung Gear app that you use to connect Gear smartwatches to your phone is used for the Gear IconX. There are two tabs for customizing and controlling your Gear IconX experience; info and settings.
The info tab contains an earbud status indicator (with tips), a volume slider, a music widget with ability to initiate music transfer directly to the earbuds, a music selector (phone/IconX), and an area to connect you to Samsung Health.
Settings include music, notifications, exercise, find my gear, ambient sound, read out menu options (you can toggle on/off and reorder them), voice guide language, and About.
There is a built-in running coach that may be useful at times as the coach prompts you to speed up or slow down and encourages you to improve in other ways. To start, tap on the exercise option in settings and then tap on coach. Here you can choose the type of coaching you need from beginner to advanced running events. Make sure to also then toggle on the audio guidance to hear the coach speak to you through the IconX during your run.
The smartphone app also provides you with reference images to the touch controls on the IconX so you can learn these touches over time. It has taken some practice, but I have most of the touch controls down now and am enjoying the headset even more than when I first tried out the earbuds.
Price and competition
The 2018 Samsung Gear IconX has a MSRP of $199.99. However, the Samsung website currently has a $40 reduction in price so you can pick up a pair for $159.99.
Other competing truly wireless earbuds include the Bragi Dash Pro that has 4GB of storage and automatic activity trackings. These are priced at a rather high $329. The Jabra Elite Sport headset, one of my faves, is priced at $249.99 and can also be found for sale down to $199.99 at times.
Daily usage experiences and conclusion
We have seen smartwatches adding in more capability to function as stand alone devices for runners who want to leave their phones behind. With the Samsung Gear IconX, you can listen to music, receive coaching, and track some basic data (speed, distance, and calories) without a watch or a phone in hand. The basic data is synced to Samsung Health, but it is not capturing GPS data so there are limits to how accurate step tracking is via the earbuds.
There has also been an eruption of fully wireless earbuds, but battery life, solid connectivity, user interface elements, and sound quality have issues on most of them. Samsung improved on last years IconX with longer battery life and improved wireless performance that has been verified with my time spent commuting and running with the headset.
The first day I went running, I had the medium earbud tip and wing on the IconX. This ended up being just a bit too small for my ears so the earbud moved out a bit and the proximity sensor detected I removed the earbud. I installed the large tips and wings the next day I went running and the IconX did not move in my ears and the sound was consistent.
I've had low sound on some headsets in the past, but the IconX provides good volume and a solid listening experience.
The Samsung Gear IconX works with the Gear app on Android and iOS devices. This feature compatibility chart details what works with Samsung, other Android, and iOS smartphones. I tested the IconX on all three and for my needs found the experience to be solid on every device.
With my Samsung Gear S3 Frontier connected via LTE I truly can leave the phone behind with this watch and the new Samsung Gear IconX. With the current $40 discount, $159.99 for the IconX is a good buy.