When Samsung announced the Gear IconX together with the Gear Fit2, I was impressed with the specs. The Gear IconX is one of the more innovative and feature-packed earbuds coming out from a large tech company that does not specialise in audio products.
Cord-free earbuds is not new, having first commercialised by Earin and followed by several other Kickstarters to improve on the technology. The heart-rate monitor on the earbuds is also a feature I have experienced on the Jabra Sport Pulse. The built-in music player is a common feature in Sony headsets. The fitness tracker is also implemented on Sony Smart B-Trainer headset.
What’s innovative is that all these features are now built in a single product, the Gear IconX. It captures your heartrate, workout activity and gives updates on your workout data like speed, distance, duration, heart rate, calories burnt via voice guide recorded by real humans in 15 languages.
Navigating controls is via touching the surface of the IconX. Both earbuds can work together or independently, you can choose which earbud is the master in which case all the voice prompts will come from that earbud. You can also use either earbud to control playback. Tap once to play-pause, tap twice to skip track, swipe up or down to adjust volume. Tap and hold to go into voice menu, where selection is by lifting the finger off the touch sensor.
The Bluetooth audio quality is poor when I tried on non-Samsung smartphones. Audio streaming is scratchy akin to poor transmission. The audio also feels unbalanced between the 2 ears, and there is no way to manually calibrate. When I tried on a friend’s S7 Edge, the IconX sounded much better and L-R is balanced.
To ensure I test the earbuds without audio distortion, I uploaded music files directly into the IconX, which comes with 3.5GB usable space to play up to 1000 music files. The files can be uploaded either using PC or smartphone, and obviously the latter seems more convenient. Herein lies another challenge: not all smartphones appear to work. The LG G5 and Zenfone 3 did not detect the IconX nor display any option for me to initiate the upload.
After failing to get any of my smartphone to work, I decided to upload with the PC option by installing the Gear IconX Manager app, and that worked flawlessly. It is interesting to find that both earbuds come with 4GB of storage each, and identical music files will be uploaded to both earbuds. Such implementation negates the need to transmit the audio to either earbuds during playback. Samsung clearly puts audio quality and battery life above manufacturing cost. Tip: the earbuds appear as independent drives on the PC, so you can technically upload files to either earbuds, effectively getting 8GB of storage on-the-go!
Listening to audio directly from the earbuds is so much more enjoyable. The treble and bass are well-balanced for clarity and impact without any strong audio signature. The treble is not too overly-bright, the bass is also not too heavy. However, audio lacks stereo imaging – music sounds like they are next to my ears instead of in front of me – and I felt the L-R is still off-balance. If Samsung were to offer an option to calibrate the L-R balance via the app, it would eliminate any user dissatisfaction.
There is only 2 ways to play the audio: either in alphabetical order or random. There is no way to select the tracks even from the smartphone. Samsung should consider creating an app to remotely manage the playback and even provide EQ capability.
Putting audio quality aside, I brought the IconX out for a run. The earbuds stay snugly in my ears thanks to the ear fins that don’t look too prominent like the Jaybird X2 or the Jabra Sport. Activating the Ambient Sound Mode allows the user to hear the surrounding. However, its effect is not as good as the Sony WS413 headset. The ambient mic generates wind noise while running.
Since the IconX only has accelerometer, the stats are not accurate. The IconX recorded that I ran 3.5km when I probably did slightly below 3km. The recorded pace appeared dubious too as it recorded a flat pace which I doubt I did. The heartrate monitor graph appears to be moving relative to my workout intensity, though I am not able to ascertain if it is clinically accurate.
Notifications and Battery Life
There is an option for the smartphone notifications to be read out on the Gear IconX, and for each app, you can choose either read the summary or in full. Oddly, I never got it to work on non-Samsung smartphones. On my friend’s S7 Edge, the voice notifications eventually works but it does not read out the message, which makes me wonder the difference between “read aloud full content” and “read aloud summary”.
On battery life, the Gear IconX can only sustain about 1-odd hour when listening with Bluetooth audio, and double that when listening music from direct storage. The hard case can charge 2 more times. There are 2 LEDs to indicate charging for each earbud, and turns from red to green once completed. There is no on-off button, so the earbuds will turn on once you remove from the case, and auto powers down when it detects no activity for a while. To reactivate, insert the earbuds back to the case and remove again. The same action will also start Bluetooth pairing.
The Samsung Gear IconX offers innovative wireless features in a small package and works better on newer Samsung Galaxy devices. The workout stats may not be as accurate but otherwise it is quite liberating to wear it for jogs. Listening to music stored in the earbuds ensures disruption-free enjoyment and extends the battery life by twice compared to Bluetooth audio streaming. The recommended retail price is S$298.
I personally would not get it mostly because it does not work well with non-Samsung devices. For the same price, I would prefer Gear Fit2 because it works great with other brand smartphones, the activity stats are more accurate and offers comprehensive on-screen information. I could enjoy music stored in the Fit2 by pairing it with my choice Bluetooth headset that can deliver better audio quality.
Earbud: 6.3g each
Charging Case: 315mAh, up to 2 times of recharges
Usage time: Standalone 3.4-3.8 hrs. Companion (Bluetooth) 1.5 hrs.
Memory: 4GB (usable memory 3.5GB, max 1000 tracks regardless of total file size)
Sensor: Heartrate Monitor, Accelerometer
Water Rating: P2i Nano Coating for Splash Resistant
Frequency: 20 – 20000 Hz
Sensitivity: 89.5dB +- 3dB / 1mW
Speaker Impedance: 16 ohm
Audio format: MP3, M4A, AAC, WAV, WMA v9
Official Product Website: http://www.samsung.com/sg/geariconx/