Samsung has grown their ‘Gear’ brand into being .. well .. exactly that, gear to complement your mobile experience. Gear started life as Samsung’s wearable brand, with various wearables including fitness trackers and more recently their Gear S line of premium smartwatches (and I’m enjoying a Samsung Gear Sport smartwatch right now, actually). However, Gear isn’t just about wearables, and in today’s review, we’re taking a look at Samsung’s Gear IconX (2018) cordless Bluetooth earphones. As you can see … they’re very pink.
So what are they, exactly?
Gear IconX is – in the most simple terms – Samsung’s answer to Apple’s Airpods. With me now? In the box is a charging case (bright pink) and it contains the two in-ear buds. Unlike Google’s Pixel Buds, they’re not connected to each other by a cord that has to go around the neck, which makes them significantly more comfortable to wear longer term. Nope, they’re entirely wireless, and they work really rather well.
Being relatively small, the sound quality simply can’t be the same that you’d expect from a quality pair of over-the-ear cans from Bose or Sennheiser. However, for a tiny pair of in-ear buds using Bluetooth, they do really rather well.
They aren’t just earphones though. They have fitness smarts built in (which frankly I find rather annoying), as well as the ability to be used for hands-free phone calls and more. You can have your notifications read to you, and there’s apparently a way to summon the Google Assistant too if that’s your thing.
What do they do well?
In short, they do mostly everything well. I understand that the first generation of IconX (these are the second) had battery issues and woeful Bluetooth stability. Rather fortunately, both those issues no longer exist; the battery life is great, considering the tiny size of the buds themselves. You could reasonably expect 5.5 – 6.5 hours of listening on a full charge, though that’s a bit shy of the 7 hours quoted by Samsung.
If you do manage to drain them, just ten minutes in the charging case will give you another hour’s listening time or so. The ear buds do charge rather quickly. Better still, if you’re a user of a modern phone with USB-C, you’ll be pleased to note that the IconX charging case charges from USB-C too, so it tops itself off rather quickly.
While there’s no noise cancelling (the technology required would have a detrimental effect on battery life, no doubt), I quite often found there wasn’t really a need for it. Due to the tight fit in the ear canal, and the way the buds are designed, most noises from the outside world simply don’t get by. If you’re in an environment where you’d like to hear what’s going on around you though, that can be done by changing a setting to allow an amount of noise passthrough .. though if you do this, you’ll find the battery life drops a little because the noise doesn’t actually pass through, but it’s sampled using the built-in microphone and passed straight into the ear canal electronically.
If you’re the kind that would like to go running without your phone, amazingly the IconX earbuds have 4GB of built in storage, so you can actually transfer some tracks to them to enjoy without having them paired to anything. I’ve not tried this feature – as all my music is locked up in streaming services – but from what I’ve read elsewhere, it works rather well.
Are there any downsides?
There’s only a few.
For one, the microphones built in just aren’t that special, and the technology behind them isn’t either. While you can conceivably hold a phone conversation using only the earbuds, unless you’re in a nice quiet environment, the other party is going to hear an awful lot from your surroundings, and a lot less of you. I found that walking in city pedestrian traffic made a conversation almost impossible, though if I walked off and stood somewhere quiet, away from jibbering crowds, a conversation was much easier.
The user interface isn’t as well designed as perhaps it could be. Rather than opting for a tap or hold setup, you can short tap, long tap, swipe or hold, and it can be a little confusing to remember which command does what. On the plus side, you can use either earbud to give commands (so you could wear just one, if you wanted) but I found Google’s Pixel Buds a bit more intuitive here. Fortunately, you can forget the fancy things and just tap to start/stop music, and for me, that does just fine. If I need to do anything more remarkable, I can pull my phone out.
Should I buy these?
With the asking price varying between about $200 and $250 depending on your place of purchase, Samsung’s Gear IconX 2018 really aren’t super expensive for what they offer. Pretty good audio quality in a tiny, comfortable package that you can wear quite easily for hours on end. On that, I do recommend thoroughly experimenting with the included ear tip sizes and the ear-holdy-inny bits; I used the standard medium size for a couple of hours and found my ears excessively sore after a while. Switching to the smaller holdy-inny bits made the IconX significantly more comfortable for longer term wear.
The battery life is on par with the competition, and in some cases, probably better than it, and though they don’t integrate as nicely with Google Assistant as say Google’s Pixel Buds (surprise surprise), they make up for this in spades by doing without a hideous and uncomfortable neck cord. This is true wireless audio, and for me, that’s a priority.
All up, I’d recommend the IconX 2018 as good enough to encourage long-term use with comfort. They mightn’t have the same magic as Apple’s Airpods, or the same Assistant integration as those from other brands, and they don’t have incredible built-in features like taking your pulse from your ear.
Instead, Samsung’s Gear IconX 2018 deliver just enough to be worth every cent, and to deliver an audio experience you’ll enjoy. I even find myself quite liking the fact that these earbuds are hot pink — it’s different from the same-old black or grey of most hideous earbuds.
If you want to buy Samsung’s Gear IconX 2018, you can find them at Samsung Stores with a recommended retail price of $299, though you can find them online for a bit less if you shop around.
Ed: An earlier version of this review referred to prices starting at $150. Sadly, that was for last year’s model. The best price we’ve found for IconX 2018 is $203 plus postage and handling. Apologies!
As these are in-ear earbuds, it wouldn't exactly be sanitary to re-use them for review, and so Samsung has allowed Ausdroid to retain the earbuds for future use.