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Review

Samsung Gear IconX (2018) review: Another worthy AirPods alternative

The Gear IconX (2018) from Samsung offers much more than truly wireless audio. It doubles up as an MP3 player and fitness tracker as well.

samsung gear iconx 2018 review

Gear IconX (2018) 4 5
BGR Rating :
4/5

Highlights

  • Priced at Rs 13,990, the Gear IconX (2018) is available via Flipkart and Amazon India.

  • The wireless Bluetooth headphones include fitness tracking and coaching features.

  • Comes with 4GB built-in storage that can hold up to 1,000 MP3 songs.

Stereo Bluetooth headphones have been around for a decade now, but they were all wired. After Apple introduced the AirPods, other manufacturers stepped into this nascent category as well. Last year, Samsung introduced the Gear IconX, but it had one major flaw – poor battery life. It would last for a maximum of 90 minutes in streaming mode, and the embedded heart-rate sensor was the reason to blame. With the new Gear IconX (2018), Samsung ditched the heart-rate sensor, and packed a bigger battery.

Besides the AirPods, the IconX (2018) headphones will also compete with the likes of Bose SoundSport Free, Jabra Elite 65T and Bragi The Headphone. You can buy the IconX (2018) for Rs 13,990, and it is available to purchase from Flipkart, Amazon India, Samsung eStore, and select retail outlets. I’ve been using the Gear IconX (2018) for a month now, and I can clearly vouch for the fact that they are much improved than their predecessor. But do they make for a good purchase?

Design and Comfort

In the past one year, we have got a handful of truly wireless headphones for review, and while I liked AirPods, I’m a fan of earbuds with silicon tips, as they are comfortable to wear for hours, offer good noise isolation, and don’t slip out of your ears easily. The Bragi and Bose earbuds may be good, but I couldn’t help but notice that they are too bulky, and stick out of your ears.

The IconX (2018), on the other hand, are one of the smallest truly wireless earbuds that you are likely to find around. Firstly, they don’t stick out of your ears. Secondly, they fit snugly into your ears. Lastly, you also get wingtips to ensure earbuds are securely fit, and don’t fall off during workouts and running sessions.

During the first couple of days, I could feel a bit of discomfort even wearing the earbuds for 20 minutes. But, I believe that was because I wasn’t used to them; and was still figuring out the best possible way to wear.

Talking about build quality, the earbuds are made of hard, but comfortable plastic. You get three wingtips and ear tips in small, medium and large sizes, and they can easily be changed as well to suit your ear size. The bottom side of the earbuds have charging contact points and an infrared sensor that detects when you wear them. After you wear them, the earbuds connect with your phone, and you can start listening to music.

Gesture Navigation

Unlike other earbuds, these ones don’t have any physical buttons for volume control or skipping tracks. All of this happens with gesture control. Each side has touch-sensitive controls – single tap to play/pause music, double tap to skip to next track, triple tap to play the previous track. Press and hold to switch between menus – turn on/off ambient noise, start workout, lock touchpad and to change playlist (workout playlist / all songs), and I had no issues using the gesture controls.

Press and hold gesture also lets you start voice assistant – on Android phones, it is Google Assistant, and on Samsung flagship phones, the default assistant is Bixby.

Watch: Bose SoundSport Free Review

Connectivity and Data Transfer

The IconX truly wireless headphones work with both Android (KitKat 4.4 and above) and iOS 8 and above devices. You will need to download the Galaxy Wearable app from Google Play Store to pair the IconX (2018) with your device, and for iOS devices, the pairing works just like you would with any other Bluetooth headphones.

Pairing with an Android device, unlocks a lot of features such as exercise coaching for fitness, read out text messages, and more. But in the case of iOS, you miss out on these features. To pair the headphones, there is a button located at the back of the charging case – press and hold that for a few seconds to enter the pairing mode.

The Bluetooth chipset does a good job in maintaining a rock-solid connection. I didn’t come across any instance where the was audio loss, both between the individual earbuds, and between the earbuds and connected smartphone. I use public transport to commute to work, that too during peak hours, and even when it is too crowded, the streaming is flawless. With all my previous Bluetooth headphones, there were instances when there was lose in connectivity.

You also get 4GB of onboard storage that can store up to 1,000 songs. To transfer data, you can do it within the Galaxy Wearable app and send songs via Bluetooth, but it is a painfully slow process. You can alternatively use the PC suite and connect the data cable to the Type C port at the back of the case, and transfer like you would on a flash drive. Lastly, you can also use the Type C to USB A adapter bundled in the box and transfer songs from a Pen Drive.

The best part here is that the 4GB storage is on individual earbuds, so even if the battery on one earbud is drained out, you will be able to listen to music on the second one. Samsung hasn’t mentioned this anywhere, but one day I went on a walk, wearing just one earbud and listening to music. I called my sister at home as asked her to wear the other earbud to listen to on-board music, and it worked. This is a good thing, not something that you would otherwise find on other truly wireless earbuds.

Audio Quality and Performance

I had the headphones connected to a Galaxy Note 9 for streaming high-quality audio from Apple Music. The IconX (2018) supports Bluetooth v4.2 with A2DP, AVRCP and HFP profiles. Audio output is clear and detailed, with no compromise on mids, highs and lows. I’ve been listening to different types of songs, right from Pop to Hip Hop, Electronic to Dance and Alternative, and unless you are an audiophile, you’re surely going to be pleased with the audio that it delivers.

Noise Isolation, Ambient Mode, Call Quality

No, the IconX (2018) doesn’t feature active noise cancellation (ANC), but they fit so well in your ears that the passive noise cancellation works really well. And when you are listening to music, you won’t be able to listen to any ambient noise, even at 60 percent volume. Now, I know you would want to listen to music while jogging, walking or running. But I won’t recommend that while crossing the road as you won’t be able to hear even if the driver is honking.

There is also ambient mode, activating which, you will be able to listen to whatever is happening in the surrounding, while listening to music at the same time. In the app, you can adjust the amount of ambient audio that gets in. You can also set it to voice focus, which will basically amplify voices of people around you. Call quality is pretty good on the headphones, where I was able to hear the recipient’s voice crystal clear, and the caller was also able to hear me without any issues.

Fitness Tracking 

The IconX (2018) comes with built-in running coach that advises you to run certain kilometers in 30 minutes or 45 minutes with 5-minute warm-up and a 5-minute cool down. If you are running slow, the coach will ask you to speed-up, and if you are too fast, it will ask you to go slow.

The earbuds have a built-in accelerometer that logs the steps you take, can calculate distance traveled and calories burned. The readings were not accurate, but compared to what the Gear Sport smartwatch logged, there was a difference of 250-280 steps. This data can then be synced with S Health app using Galaxy Manager app. 

Battery Life 

Each earbud comes with 82mAh battery (total of 164mAh on both), whereas the charging case comes with 340mAh battery (which offers one full charge). On a full charge, I was able to stream music continuously for about 4 hours and 45 minutes, which is close to 5 hours that Samsung is committing. In standalone mode, I took the earbuds on a walk for an hour with music and coaching feature on, and then used it for listening onboard to music for 2 hours after reaching home. With all off this, the battery drain was just 50 percent, as per the app, which means it should easily last close to 6 and a half hours.

When the battery is completely drained out, even 10 minutes of charging offers close to one hour of music playback, thanks to fast charging tech. Now, if you think that 82mAh individually and 340mAh on the charging case should offer three charge cycles, it is not so. It is similar to a power bank – if you have a phone with 4,000mAh battery and a 10,000mAh power bank it should ideally offer 2.5 charge cycles, but it generally offers 2 charge cycle, with some energy being lost somewhere.

Nevertheless, in the case of IconX the earbuds and the case can offer you streaming time of close to 10 hours before needing a charge, which is not bad. And thanks to Type C charging cable, I didn’t have to carry around two different cables for the phone and Bluetooth headphones.

Verdict

Should you buy the Gear IconX (2018)? Well, Rs 13,990 may look like a lot of money for a Bluetooth headphone, but it’s not something that the mass audience will buy. The premium headphones are for the ones who want truly wireless freedom and have the kind of money to spend. If you are an athlete or a fitness freak who wants to listen to music during the workout sessions, and don’t want those tangling wires, the Gear IconX (2018) is a good choice.

The Bluetooth headphones are sweat and rain proof too. I’ve worn them while walking in the rains, and despite getting wet, they work like a charm. I had concerns that the water drops may cause the gesture controls to go haywire, but that wasn’t the case. The IconX 2018 are overall all-rounder, and cheaper compared to the Bose SoundSport Free. For the same price, you can also pick the Jabra Elite 65t, which is not a bad option either.

  • Published Date: September 23, 2018 12:37 PM IST