Wireless earbuds are a popular item among the countless brands in consumer technology. Phones are no longer selling in record-breaking fashion, and smartwatches have completely fallen flat. Now these companies are seeking to introduce new accessories for their respective ecosystems. These days you can find options from the top names in the mobile industry.
Samsung started the trend with the Gear IconX in 2016, Apple followed with the AirPods a few months later, and soon Google is releasing the Pixel Buds. Who knows what we're going to see next year, but we do already have our first glimpse.
Sometimes you don't have to be flashy to be really good. That's what the Gear IconX (2018) from Samsung proves. It's a pair of wireless earbuds that don't look futuristic like Apple's AirPods, but they're comfortable and sound better than you might expect. In fact, they far exceeded my expectations. Normally I have a problem with earbuds even in short-term use; however, the new Gear IconX turned out to sit really cozy in my ears and remained enjoyable to use for hours on end.
Last year's Gear IconX wasn't an awful product in any way. Where it fell short was battery life and connectivity. But Samsung believes it fixed both areas in 2017. The Gear IconX (2018) should allow you to go longer on a single charge and maintain a connection to your phone.
As for the design, new Gear IconX looks a lot like the original. And that's not a bad thing.
These wireless earbuds don't stick out, which is probably what you hope for in the category. Just ask Apple what it's like to have awkward-looking wireless earbuds. The AirPods go right into your ears but then hang down toward the lobes. Samsung's Gear IconX, however, consists of two small pieces that get stores in your ears. There's just a small tab on them to grab for removal.
Over time, I've tried plenty of wired and wireless earbuds. Rarely have I found a truly comfortable pair. Often they dig into my ears or just fall out quickly. That's why I wasn't too excited to get the Gear IconX into my ears. Well, I'm very surprised after using them. It took some adjusting, but I figured out how to get them into my ears easily and securely. I went out for more than a couple runs with the Gear IconX, and only twice did I have to stop for adjustment.
Whether you're working out or doing something in the rain, moisture won't affect the Gear IconX. The materials used are meant to keep the wireless earbuds dry. It's simply a matter of making sure you have the right wingtips, eartips, and positioning. Achieve the three of them and you're going to have wireless earbuds that go in your ears and stay there throughout the time you use them.
If you need to express your personality, Samsung offers the Gear IconX (2018) in three colors. You can get them in black, white, and pink. Each comes with a matching case that stores the wireless earbuds and charges them.
Sound coming from the wireless earbuds is better than expected. Music isn't my area of expertise, but I've found the Gear IconX to play music that comes across as immersive. It's rich, and it's deep. It doesn't sound empty like most phones' speakers do. There's a handy feature, too, in which you can activate ambient sound so that sound nearby comes through alongside music.
On top of sounding really good, I didn't experience any drops in the Bluetooth connection between my unit and my Google Pixel XL. So, yes, Samsung appears to have resolved both issues that the original model suffered from.
Navigating through your library of music on the Gear IconX couldn't be any easier because you have different ways of doing so. Samsung's wireless earbuds work by tapping, swiping, and speaking.
If you want to switch songs, double-tap the earbud. When a call comes in, you can also double-tap to answer and start talking. Bixby or Google Assistant are also at the ready if you long-press on an earbud's touchpad. Both digital assistants do the same things they do on your phone, but here they're speaking directly into your ears. The practicality of doing these things is a major plus for the Gear IconX. A lot of what you would do on your phone can be done by using the touchpad and your voice.
Health and fitness are as important for this device as playing music. The Gear IconX links to Samsung Health to provide you with real-time coaching. Samsung's hardware and software work together to track how far you've traveled, how fast you're moving, and how many calories you've burned.
It's actually pretty handy to get all of that information from something in your ears rather than something on your wrist. Smartwatches aren't exactly blowing anyone away, so it's nice to have device as simple as earbuds analyzing my runs. Unfortunately, though, the heart-rate monitor found in its predecessor is gone. Maybe you'll have to still wear another activity tracker then.
By the way, a phone isn't necessary to go out on a run or workout with the Gear IconX. Samsung included 4GB of internal storage for up to 1,000 songs. If you decide to go phone-free, don't worry about losing valuable data. The Gear IconX will continue tracking your activity and sync with Samsung Health later on.
Battery life is the biggest change for the new Gear IconX. Now Samsung's wireless earbuds can go the distance, literally. Without a phone, you can get up to seven hours of music listening. That drops to five hours if you're using a Bluetooth connection. Both numbers are respectable, and you'll get more than enough time to listen to music during runs and workouts.
Samsung tweaked the charging case, too. It has a larger battery to give juice to the earbuds when you're not near a wall outlet. Just ten minutes of charging can provide about an hour of use. That turned out to be true. During my testing, the Gear IconX was able to get slightly under an hour worth of use after sitting on the dock for a few minutes. It's also wise for Samsung to include a USB-C port on the dock. Given that phones and other devices are making the transition, the Gear IconX's charging case fits right in.
Don't be surprised to see Samsung's Gear IconX receive an upgrade before Apple's AirPods. The company's been able to learn from the original's shortcomings and see what the competition is up to. While the Gear IconX (2018) may not look like a significant improvement, it accomplishes enough to be a worthy successor.
The price, though, is a little tough to swallow. Samsung wants you to pay $199 for these. That's a big ask considering competing products sit around $160 and, on paper, do mostly the same things. So battery life, wireless connectivity, and health analytics became three very important areas of focus for Samsung. All three areas have seen improvements, but it's up to individual consumers to choose whether or not that's enough to justify spending more money.
You can't really go wrong with the Gear IconX unless you don't care for activity tracking. If you do, then look no further — they're comfortable to use while breaking a sweat, music sounds crisp and clear, and the tie-in to a digital assistant and Samsung Health is pretty useful.