Samsung Gear IconX review: Impressive fitness capabilities, hampered by battery life

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  • Editors' rating
    6.5 Good
  • $199.99

Pros

  • Completely wireless.
  • Sound quality.
  • Accurate heart rate and activity tracking.

Cons

  • Battery life is enough for a workout, and that's about it.
  • Fitness features are limited to Android devices.
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Samsung Gear IconX in charging case. (Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

In June, Samsung announced a pair of completely wireless earbuds as part of the company's push into fitness and activity trackers. The Gear IconX earbuds are truly wireless, save for the cord you need to charge the carrying case.

The Gear IconX earbuds rely solely on Bluetooth connection between your smartphone and each other to stream music, monitor your heart rate, and track your workouts.

For the past few weeks, I've used the Gear IconX earbuds with a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, my iMac, and an iPhone.

Specifications

  • Battery: 47mAh in each earbud; 315mAh in case
  • Waterproof: Splash resistant
  • Storage: 4GB in each
  • Sensors: Heart rate, accelerometer, capacitive touch

Initial setup

Inside the Gear IconX box is a pill-shaped carrying case that doubles as a charging cradle for the earbuds. Also included are various sizes of ear and wing tips to ensure a proper fit.

The moment you put an earbud in your ear, it powers on. The Samsung Gear app on an Android device walks you through the setup process of pairing, updating software, and setting the main earbud.

When you assign the left or right earbud as the "main" earbud, it will connect to your phone via Bluetooth, handle incoming calls, and initiate exercise recording.

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Setup on a non-Android device follows the same steps as any Bluetooth accessory. Unfortunately, you can't adjust any settings when paired with a non-Android device.

Works with more than just Android

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The Gear IconX earbuds have a snug fit. (Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

When you look at the compatibility section on any product listing page for the Gear IconX, you won't find a single mention of iOS, macOS, or even Windows. Instead, you'll find "Android 4.4 and above, with 1.5GB of RAM" listed.

The truth is, if you're OK with using the IconX earbuds solely as earbuds, and not tracking your workouts or monitoring your heart rate, they will pair with any Bluetooth-capable device.

I've gone from using the earbuds with my iMac to my iPhone to my iPad Pro over the course of a day without issue.

Music first

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Indicator lights on the Gear IconX charging case let you know when each earbud is charged. (Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

With the Gear IconX earbuds, you have two options when it comes playing music: you can either stream directly from a paired device, or you can use the 4GB of internal storage in the earbuds to store your own music catalog.

Battery life is the biggest differentiator between the two options, with an estimated 1.5 hours of battery life when streaming. However, that battery life estimate goes up to 3.5 hours when playing music stored on the earbuds.

In testing, the 1.5-hour estimate is fairly accurate. On a few occasions, I was able to squeeze an extra 15 minutes out of the battery, but for the most part, I would start receiving battery warnings just after the hour mark.

Loading music onto the earbuds is done via a wired connection -- either by connecting the earbuds and carrying case to your smartphone using an included adapter or connecting to your computer using a microUSB cable. At that point, the process of putting music on the earbuds is the same as transferring files to a USB drive.

Controlling playback is done through a series of taps and gestures on each earbud. Tap once to pause, twice to skip songs, three times to go back, and swipe up or down to adjust volume.

I enjoyed listening to music on the Gear IconX earbuds. They are comfortable, and take a lot of jostling before they begin to shift or fall out. The sound quality wasn't the same as the Jaybird Freedoms, for example, but I would have no complaints about using them as my main earbuds when looking solely at sound quality.

Despite a carrying case that doubles as a charger when you're out and about, battery life is my main frustration point. For example, 1.5 hours of streaming isn't enough time to get through airport security and board a plane, let alone fly from Colorado to San Francisco, Calif., (a trip I frequently make).

If I were to take IconX earbuds on a trip, I would either have to carry a backup pair of headphones or periodically go without music. Neither solution is ideal.

The convergence of devices

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Heart rate sensors on the Gear IconX. (Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

To be fair, Samsung isn't marketing the Gear IconX as a pair of earbuds for long flights or traveling. These earbuds are designed for fitness enthusiasts.

You can start a workout directly from your main earbud with a long-press on the touch pad, even without your phone nearby. When in workout mode, the earbuds will track distance and monitor your heart rate.

It's an interesting approach by Samsung, usurping its own Gear Fit 2 fitness band. Of course, I'd imagine Samsung's official stance is the Fit 2 and Gear IconX earbuds compliment one another quite well. And perhaps they do, but when it comes to fitness users, there's no denying they directly compete with one another.

Comparison tests of distance and heart rate monitoring between the Gear IconX earbuds and my Apple Watch were close enough for me to trust results from either one. Heart-rate recordings from the IconX earbuds were usually two or three beats higher than my watch, with distance estimates close enough for my liking.

Should you buy them?

The amount of technology Samsung has packed into these tiny earbuds is undoubtedly impressive. But, at the end of the day, the IconX earbuds are a very niche product for a very specific type of user.

If you have an Android device, and love to workout but hate carrying a smartphone, wearing a fitness band, and worrying about headphones, then the Gear IconX earbuds are something you should consider.

Outside of that, it's hard to recommend Bluetooth headphones -- no matter how impressive the tech is -- when there are better options available at the same, if not lower, price point.

Specifications

General
Digital Player Type Flash based
Color black
Included Accessories 3 pairs of ear tips (small, medium, large), USB charge cable
Carrying Case
Type charging case
Battery Capacity 315 mAh
Audio System
Audio Formats ACC, M4A, MP3, WAV, WMA
Sound Output Mode stereo
Additional Features P2i nano-coating
Type earphone digital player
Digital Player Type flash based
Functions digital player, hands-free, tracking
Sensors accelerometer, heart rate
Water Resistant Yes
Battery
Rechargeable Battery rechargeable
Technology lithium ion
Capacity 47 mAh
Header
Brand Samsung
Product Line Samsung Gear
Model IconX
Packaged Quantity 1
System Requirements
Additional Requirements 1.5 GB RAM
OS Required Android 4.4 (KitKat) or later
Miscellaneous
Color black
Color Category Black
CE Input Device
Type touch buttons
Network & Internet Multimedia
Connectivity Interfaces Bluetooth 4.1 LE
Audio Features
Water Resistant Yes
Microphone
Microphone Form Factor built-in
Flash Memory
Installed Size 4 GB
Digital Storage
Capacity 4 GB
Audio Output
Product Type headphones
Headphones Type binaural
Headphones Form Factor in-ear
Connectivity Technology Wireless
Frequency Response 20 Hz
Headphones
Frequency Response 20 Hz
Audio Input
Type two microphones
Microphone Form Factor built-in
Tracking
Tracking Data calories burned, distance, heart rate, speed, steps taken
Battery Life Details
Usage Mode music playback
Battery Technology lithium ion
Run Time (Up To) 3.8 hour(s)
Dimensions & Weight
Width 0.7 in
Depth 1 in
Height 1 in

Where To Buy

Price
$199.99

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Where To Buy

Samsung Gear IconX (black)

Part Number: SM-R150NZKAXAR
Price
$199.99