Samsung Gear IconX | $279.99
Wireless earphones are tricky. The idea of having earphones without wires is very freeing, and I’ve looked forward to owning a pair since the idea seemed even remotely possible, but because of limitations with current technology, there are certainly drawbacks. Make the battery too big, and they’re too bulky, or too small, and the battery life is too short. The Samsung Gear IconX achieves a good balance, with a design that fits beautifully in your ears, but not without some drawbacks.
The Samsung Gear IconX is made for the active user–someone who wants to take the functionality of headphones with them, but maybe doesn’t want to bring along their phone, and still wants to track their workout progress. With these earpieces you just pop the earbuds in, they start up automatically, and then you listen to your favorite music, and the IconX does all the tracking as you run, jog, hike, or bike.
The IconX design is elegantly simple. Included with the earpieces is a small pod-like case which is where the IconX earpieces are stored for charging or travel. Just close the lid and the case charges the earpieces, and you plug the case in to recharge both the case and the earpieces once they’re run down.
The earpieces themselves are lightweight, and small, without being too small that you would worry about losing them. Once you insert them in your ear, they turn themselves on and they have a touch-sensitive side that can be tapped or swiped to play or pause music, and change the volume.
In your ear, the IconX feels surprisingly natural, even after wearing them for an extended period of time.
Using the earpieces, the battery can last up to about 90 minutes, when used to play streaming music from a phone over Bluetooth, but the IconX can last a fairly impressive 3+ hours when playing music that’s been stored on them. And that is of course the other highlight of the earpieces–they can store up to 4 GB of music, so you can load up to 1000 songs, approximately, and leave your phone at home while you go out and run.
Used with your phone though, you can also make calls, listen to audio from your phone, and the IconX can play music while allowing the wearer to hear ambient sounds, so you know what’s going on around you while you exercise or get around town.
Plus, like the Gear Fit2, the IconX tracks your heart rate, calories burned, speed, and distance, so you know everything about your exercise regimen once you get back to your phone. The IconX just synchronizes data over Bluetooth, and then it’s all available to review on the phone app.
Here’s the thing though about wireless audio devices right now: the audio quality is still just not very good.
First, there’s the big issue of bass–there is none. Because of the power requirements, it’s next to impossible to provide decent bass in wireless earpieces. There’s simply not enough power to make them last with any bass, and there’s also a limit on how big the earpiece can get if a company were to include a larger speaker in the design.
And on top of that problem, the IconX was fairly quiet, by my standards. The little speakers inside the IconX simply aren’t very powerful, and that’s again a balance to keep the speaker size and battery size down, so audio quality and audio power suffers to some degree.
Using the earpieces on a trip to downtown Toronto, it was sometimes difficult to hear the music I was playing because the ambient noise was so loud, and the earpieces were so quiet, even after I turned the volume to the top, and that was without using the ambient noise feature. Perhaps that’s also partly an issue with how the earpieces isolate sound in your ear, but it made listening to music difficult in any busy space. Indoors the audio was a bit easier to hear, but it depends entirely on the environment and your own hearing as well.
My impression of the Samsung Gear IconX is a positive one, for the most part, but it’s a device that will disappoint serious audiophiles. With the short operating time on Bluetooth, and the volume issues, it seriously limits the audience, despite all of the other great features, and for the price, consumers would be better off with full-sized wireless headphones which provide much more reliable battery life and sound quality.