Samsung Gear IconX - Review

August 21, 2016

We took a first look at the Samsung Gear IconX, termed as 'cord-free fitness earbuds', a few weeks back. After getting our hands on a unit, we gleefully put up some first shots of what there was in the box. Now, after a short trip to Krabi (with some testing), we look at these in totality by checking out the truly wireless earbud's features and how it performs. 
Samsung Gear IconX in use

(Note: If you came to see the product shots, check out the 1st part where we look at the unboxing and design. )

There are a helluva lot of features due to a lot of technology crammed into one tiny pair of buds. This is one of the rare products where reading the user guide comes in mighty handy. 
Samsung Gear IconX charging case

First, let's take a look at some fun numbers:

Now, let's break down the features:

1. Touch controls - There are no physical buttons to actuate 'cos the IconX bud exterior doubles as a touch panel for playback control. Here's how it works:
  • Single touch - Play / Pause
  • Double touch - Next track / Answer or end calls
  • Triple touch - Previous track
  • Swipe up / down - Volume adjustment
In addition, you can tap and hold to initiate or end workouts. Holding it longer triggers the ambient sound mode.  
Samsung Gear IconX touch panel

2. Ambient Sound Mode - When turned on by tapping and holding (or through the app), you can hear your surroundings clearly. It's certainly useful for safety purposes but could be improved as external sound appeared to be echoed back. 

3. Fitness Tracker - If you are a fitness nut, this is an excellent feature that elevates these Samsung buds beyond just an audio product. Just tap and hold for the 'Workout started' voice prompt. Walk / run and voice prompts will tell you how you are doing, measured by an in-ear heart rate sensor. Once you end your workout, you tap + hold and the data will be synced to both the Gear IconX and the S Health mobile apps.

The 'Exercise audio guide' in the mobile app configures the type of voice messages you get when jogging similar to apps like UA's MapMyFitness. You can set the interval and the type of information (eg duration / heart rate) to receive.
Samsung Gear IconX screenshots

4. Music - There's 4GB internal memory (of which 3.5GB is usable) for 1000 songs. 3 come by default to allow you to sample how music playback works out-of-the-box. To transfer songs, here are 3 suggested ways of doing this. 
  • Mobile phone (Gear IconX app) - Use the provided USB Connector that allows a linkage between your phone and the charging case. This allows the file transfer (MP3 / M4A / AAC / WAV / WMA v9) via the app.
  • Laptop (Windows Explorer / Mac Finder) - If you don't want to install the software, that's fine. Just note that you need to transfer the music files twice for Left and Right earbuds respectively. If you don't, you'll be hearing the track only on one bud.
    Samsung Gear IconX Mac Finder
  • Laptop (Gear IconX Manager software) - Upon installing the software found in the storage (for Windows / Mac ), the value is that you can perform firmware updates to the IconX for performance improvements. Also, you just need to transfer the music file a single time (instead of 2x). 
Samsung Gear IconX Manager on Mac

5. Gear IconX app - Now we move to mobile device pairing and usage. To make it absolutely clear, I'm talking about the mobile app now. This is one instance where an app is applied not because everyone else is doing it but because it actually brings much value to your experience. Once you tap 'Connect' in the app, your device will automatically start the Bluetooth and pair to the earbuds.
Samsung Gear IconX app - Info

On the Info tab, you can check the battery left in each bud, adjust the volume and view the current track played (internal player) In addition, you can check basic fitness stats when integrated with Samsung's S Health app. 

Samsung Gear IconX app - Switch main earbud
You can set what you want as the primary bud. Should you care? Maybe. This only makes a difference 'cos the primary bud's battery will drain faster than the other. Note that you cannot connect to the Gear IconX app using the secondary bud directly.

Samsung Gear IconX app - Settings
The Settings tab is very useful. This list gives an idea of what can be configured. For 'Read out menu options', the tap and hold functions can be reordered and there's up to 15 languages for voice guidance. 

6. Notifications - The sound / voice notifications are very forthcoming and rightfully so. Other products with physical buttons have the assurance of tactile feedback but this does not. Let's take some examples: There's a hum when inserting a single bud and another tone to indicate both buds are linked up. Proximity to the ear is detected via a sensor. 
Samsung Gear IconX (Blue)

The mobile app allows sound notifications for selected apps eg. WhatsApp, so you'll know when your message comes in. When the battery is dying, there will be a voice prompting you so you won't be caught offguard.
Samsung Gear IconX (Blue) box

I brought these buds along to Krabi, Thailand (a delightfully beautiful place, I must add) with my wife and some friends. As such, I had the chance to use these under various conditions. 
Samsung Gear IconX charging case

How to wear - On initial usage, they have to be placed into the charging case and removed to get them working. Pop the bud within your ear such that the wingtip is snugly inserted. Samsung provides 3 sets of fins and silicon buds of which I found that the default M-size fit nicely. You can use one earbud to play music in mono or two for stereo. Immediately after a full charge, they tend to feel really hot in the ears but this dissipates pretty quick.
Samsung Gear IconX wing and silicon tips

Noise isolation - This gave some really surprising results 'cos the blocking of the surrounding noise was effective. On the plane ride, I usually take noise canceling devices with me. I daresay the Gear IconX is a decent substitute as the engine roar was lowered quite significantly purely due to the product design. Even on MRT rides in Singapore, I was quite happy being in my own world.
Samsung Gear IconX (Blue)

Day to day usage - We hung around Krabi's Nong Thale beaches quite a bit. If you get to the right areas, the beaches are incredibly pristine. I used the Samsung mostly as a standalone device (no mobile phone pairing) so I could chuck my phone back in the resort to enjoy the beach. At the same time, I could actually wade into the sea and chill under the sun with spa music (Bandari's Indian Dreams). With the ambient sound mode on, the crashing waves can be heard clearly, though it does echo (think we already mentioned that). Just for fun, I passed one earbud to my wife to check if we could listen to the same track without any interruptions at a 10m range and interestingly we could. Only when I started to skip tracks, then we found out the secondary bud had a delayed response. Btw, I must emphasise, these are not water resistant though the P2i nano coating makes it 'splash-proof'.

Jogging - Just before my Krabi trip, I did some running around Redhill, Singapore while listening to music on Spotify via Bluetooth pairing. Upon starting, I initiated the workout tracking via Samsung Gear IconX's hardware and MapMyFitness app to have a comparison. The feeling of running with completely no cables is quite liberating, though you do hear the reverberation of your heel strikes every now and then. However, the good part is I experienced no sound drop offs. At the end, stopping the workout gave the results below after syncing to the S Health app. The data is similar though you can see slight differences (MapMyFitness tracked 1.15km for the record). 
 Samsung Gear IconX - S Health syncSamsung Gear IconX - MapMyFitness

Sound quality - And finally we talk about the sound. In line with the fitness-target users, a sampling of Solarstone's intense Seven Cities gives the impression that the emphasis is on the bass and not so much the treble clarity. 

Battery life - This is probably definitely the product's weakest point and something that Samsung was understandably not too keen to emphasize either. Powered by a 47mAh battery, it lasts 3.5 hours as a standalone player and a meagre 1.5 hours via Bluetooth pairing to your device. If you want to use this in the office, likely this ain't for you. Charge time is just over 1h where the LED will show red when powering up and green when charged.
Samsung Gear IconX charging case

When kept inside the charging case, the buds get up to 2 extra charges though the rate of battery drainage is pretty high. After getting a full charge and leaving it alone for a few days, the buds are almost depleted of power when taken out subsequently. 
Samsung Gear IconX charging case

Whew, there we have it. There are so many things to talk about in terms of product functionality. 

I kid you not when I say I enjoyed using these buds. With the fitness features and hardware / software integration, it just makes you sit up and say wow. Apart from the mediocre battery life, the amount of innovative tech squeezed in makes this a very decent lifestyle product to own. Its most direct competitor is the Bragi Dash which has a host of similar features and more, but for Samsung's price point, it's a great buy. It's the first pair of truly wireless earbuds produced by a big manufacturer and the effort involved in gelling the Gear IconX together is there for all to see.
Samsung Gear IconX - Blue Black White colors

Where To Buy
If you like what you have read, feel free to support me by buying from Amazon. Going for USD 199.99, here are the affiliate links for the Black , White and Blue variants. 

Samsung Gear IconXUSD 199 

Audio Sources
Voyage To Avalon - Kenji Kawai (Avalon OST) (256kbps MP3) on Samsung Gear IconX
Seven Cities (Original Atlantis Mix) - Solarstone (Spotify 320kbps MP3) on Samsung Galaxy S4

Credit to Samsung for an evaluation unit.

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  1. How you managed to listen to stored music on both earbuds? You can get only mono sound when you listen to stored music.

    1. You can either use the provided desktop software or you can transfer the songs twice (once to the left, once to the right bud)

    2. You just literally made this product perfect now :D


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