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Samsung Gear IconX review: the future of wireless audio is here but it needs more work

|October 27, 2016 |accessories, Reviews, Audio devices, Headphones, Bluetooth, Futuristic tech

"Samsung has cut the cord with the Gear IconX but is it worth the asking price?"

The future of headphones/earphones are truly wireless earbuds that actually eschew the wires for ultimate portability. Essentially, you get two separate earbuds that maintain a Bluetooth connection (or any other sort of wireless connection) with the device - and themselves - to provide stereo audio without any wires. Some might even come with extra features for fitness tracking therefore giving rise to a new kind of wearables called ‘hearables’. First made popular by the Bragi Dash, bigger brands like Samsung, Motorola, and Apple are also throwing their hat in the ring therefore clearly indicating that the trend is here to stay.

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While the Apple AirPods haven’t launched in India yet, we managed to review the Gear IconX, Samsung’s idea of a truly wireless earbuds. In typical Samsung fashion, the company throws everything but the kitchen sink into these tiny earbuds. The Gear IconX not only work as Bluetooth audio headsets but also double up as an MP3 player with dedicated storage. Moreover, they offer touch sensitive controls and an optical hear rate tracker. Since this is a fairly new kind of product we decided to write a review in the form of easy to understand FAQs. If you are interested in cutting the cord and want to know more about the Gear IconX read on.

What do you get in the package?

Samsung ships the Gear IconX earbuds in a box with a pill-like charging capsule, a Micro-USB charging cable, USB OTG adapter, four differently-sized wing tips, and four ear tips in various sizes. You also get a few quick start guides and a full-fledged manual for the Gear IconX. We can’t think of anything else that Samsung could have bundled in the box for the Gear IconX. It is quite sufficient.

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A pill-like charging capsule? Tell me more.

Well, this capsule has slots to hold the Gear IconX earbuds and it also doubles up as a charging dock. With its 315mAh internal battery it can charge the earbuds - which come with a 47mAh battery each - at least twice fully from zero to hundred percent. This capsule (and the earbuds) can be charged using the provided micro-USB cable by connecting it to a laptop or directly to a power outlet using a dedicated charging adapter (not bundled in the box). There are two LED lights on the front to indicate the charging status of each earbuds, and a separate one on the rear for the capsule itself. Remember to keep the capsule door shut while charging. Also, if you want to transfer music to the in-built storage of the Gear IconX earbuds you will have to do so by placing them in the capsule. Overall, the capsule has a conservative design that is quite functional as well.

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Wait, the Gear IconX has in-built storage?

Oh yes, the Gear IconX has an in-built storage of 4GB in each earbud and you can play music directly off of it. However, they don’t add up to provide 8GB overall. In fact, if you are adding songs using a PC or a Mac it shows up as two separate drives. For the Gear IconX to play the same song on both the earbuds you will have to load the same set of songs on both the drives. If you wish, you can also add songs directly from your Samsung phone using the USB OTG cable. Quite cool, we must say.

How do they look and fit?

The Samsung Gear IconX, made entirely of plastic, look unassuming and come in Grey, White and Blue colour variants. We quite like the polished, no-nonsense look of the earbuds. Note that you will need to find the right sized ear tips and ear wings for the perfect fit, which shouldn’t be too much of a problem considering you get four size options anyway. We used them for fairly long listening sessions and didn't have any sort of discomfort. Moreover, even with rigorous exercise they don’t fall of the ears. We are very happy with what Samsung has achieved here. Two thumbs up.

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Is it easy to set up a Bluetooth connection?

One thing to note is that Samsung claims that the Gear IconX are only compatible with Android 4.4 KitKat and above, and the phone needs to have a minimum of 1.5GB of RAM. We got them to work with the Apple iPhone 7 Plus and the MacBook Air as well, apart from the Samsung Galaxy A9 Pro, InFocus EPIC 1, Sony Xperia XZ, and Moto Z Play. Having said that, the Gear app available on the Play store is quite annoying. The app failed to download on an Xperia XZ and it didn’t work on a Samsung Galaxy A9 Pro. On the flipside, weirdly enough, it worked relatively well on the InFocus EPIC 1. In any case, setting up a Bluetooth connection with Gear IconX is fairly simple. Just remove the earbuds from the case and put it in your ear to enter pairing mode, and then connect it to the device of your choice.

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How do the controls work?

Samsung has integrated touch-enabled controls directly on the surface of the earpods. You can tap once to play/pause the music or accept calls, swipe up or down to increase or decrease the volume levels respectively, and more finger-based gestures — all of which are highlighted in the image below. Now, if you have pudgy fingers, like this reviewer, then swiping up and down registers as a tap sometimes. In any case, it is not very accurate and your gestures have to be very deliberate.

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What about the fitness features? Are they worth it?

The in-built accelerometer and the hear rate monitor work in conjunction to track any fitness activity like running, walking, swimming, and the likes. It can track your movement, heart rate and distance travelled, which then calculates the calories burned. It is pretty accurate considering the earbuds sit in your ear firmly and don’t move around arbitrarily. After connecting the Gear IconX to the phone and starting the workout, you can check the final results on apps like Samsung’s very own S Health, Endomondo, MapMyRun, Runkeeper and Strava. This is pretty useful for users who are already hooked to these apps. We think the Gear IconX could be a great fitness companion.

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How’s the battery life?

This is the major downside of the Gear Icon X. In our testing, we got the battery to last an hour and a half max when listening to music over Bluetooth. The battery life drops even more if you start a workout session along with it. The battery life is way better when you play music from the songs stored in your Gear IconX — you can play music for at least three hours at a stretch - which is good. In any case, the major downside of most completely cordless earbuds like the Gear IconX has been the battery life.

Coming to the most important thing, how do they sound?

Since the Gear Icon X use the older SBC codec for wireless audio instead of aptX — which transmits much better audio quality — the overall sound fidelity takes a hit. The sound signature is more tuned for vocal performance than tight reproduction. However, the soundstaging and the imaging on Samsung’s first “truly wireless" earbuds are top notch. The bass is there but it is not very tight. One thing we noticed is that, at maximum volume, the sound is louder than when you are streaming music through Bluetooth but the sound signature is mostly the same. People who listen to Pop and Classical music should appreciate the sound signature of the Gear IconX. But when the Jaybird X2 is in touching distance of the price of the Gear IconX, we cannot possibly recommend Samsung’s earbuds over it.

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Should I buy it?

The Samsung Gear IconX is one of the first “truly wireless” headphones but it is far from perfect, which is sort of expected. With decent fitness tracking features and a serviceable sound signature, the Gear IconX is not a bad product by any means. However, when we look at the Rs 13,490 price tag of the ear buds, our entire perspective takes a paradigm shift — one where we question why would anyone spend so much for convenience and futuristic features alone. For example, the really top class Jaybird X2 bluetooth headphones are available for a slightly higher price and the sound quality is totally worth it. And, if you can live with wires, you get headphones like the Audio-Technica ATH M50x, Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro, Shure SE215, RHA T20, and many more that sound much, much better than the Gear IconX.

All said and done though, one thing’s for sure - the future of wireless headphones is here with even the world’s most revered tech label Apple jumping into the fray with its AirPods. Brands are hell bent on cutting the cord and that is a good trend.



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