Exploding phone woes aside, Samsung has been creating some really innovative and high tech mobile devices lately. While Apple made a big splash with their decision to kill the headphone jack, they were far from the first company to create completely wireless earbuds. In this case, Samsung’s IconX earbuds complement the rest of their Gear line with surprisingly good sound and functionality.
As usual, Samsung insists on using their own eco-system for connecting to your Android phone. Before going any further it’s important to note that Apple users are left out in the cold here. While Samsung certainly recommends their Galaxy phones as the ideal platform for the IconX, other Android users can just download the Gear app and be on their way.
That said, getting the IconX set up was one of the most maddening device experiences I’ve had in a long time. The documentation is absurdly light and according to the Gear app, the IconX immediately needed an update. Okay, I expect that. What I didn’t expect is that it can’t actually update itself through the app. A message kindly tells me to download the Gear software for my Windows machine. That’s strike one. Why, in this day and age, would I need a PC to update my mobile anything?
It got worse. See, Samsung provides no links to where this software might be. I spent about an hour searching for it and the closest I got was a potential file from their Hong Kong website. Further research revealed the awful and ironic truth. The program’s installer was sitting there the whole time in the earbud’s internal storage.
So, after I regained consciousness, I installed it, updated my buds, and went on with my life, which is probably several hours shorter thanks to sheer frustration and amazement over how absurd this whole experience was.
From here on out, it was (mostly) rainbows and sunshine. The IconX acts as several devices at once. It’s heavily focused on fitness tracking and has a heart rate monitor and motion sensors to keep up with your activities. Unfortunately, it doesn’t integrate with any other fitness app besides Samsung’s own S Health.
There’s some oddities in how the IconX works as a fitness device as well. I had to puzzle through it, because I’m used to heart rate monitors that just, you know, monitor my heart whenever I wear them. Not so here. The only time the IconX monitors anything is when you intentionally start a workout in S Health. So, if you’re a sedate cube monkey like me, you can’t have it checking your pulse while you’re merely sitting around.
Once a workout is started (in my case, walking slowly out in the awful sunshine, because this is the kind of sacrifice I make for you people), the IconX is actually quite the wonder. It gave me regular, quick verbal reports on my progress, used the app’s GPS to track my route, and the heart rate meter seemed to detect that I had one. Is it accurate? No idea, but it had close parity with Samsung Gear Fit 2’s reading, so that’s something.
Past the fitness features, the IconX are surprisingly good headphones. While the bass could use a bit more punch and I really wish there was an equalizer in the Gear app, the overall sound quality is impressive. There’s even a toggle to let ambient sounds in, which is sort of like reverse noise reduction, but worked well.
You’ll need that ambient noise toggle, because unlike every other earbud-style headphone I’ve ever used, the IconX sticks in your ear no matter what. Magically locking itself in, I’m convinced I could slamdance in these things.
On the flipside, when you take them out, either put them back into their handy charging case or tap disconnect within the Gear app. The buds understand when they’re removed, but I made the mistake of putting them in my pocket. One very confused phone call later, I realized that somehow they’d been activated and the phone was routing the call straight to the buds.
The IconX comes with about 4GB of internal space, which can be filled with music. This serves two main purposes. First, it allows you to leave your phone at home when you go off to exercise or do whatever fit people do. This also prevents problems with sketchy Bluetooth connections, which frequently seem to have trouble keeping up with motion.
The second reason to add music directly to the ear buds is battery life. The buds last about 90 minutes when streaming from your phone, but will go for 4-5 hours on their own. Unfortunately, the interface for dumping music on them is about as barebones as you can get. It requires connecting them to your PC, where they register as external hard drives and you literally just copy and paste your music in.
Alternatively, you can use the included USB adaptor to manually add tunes from your phone. There’s absolutely no option to do it wirelessly and the buds need to be in their charging cradle for this to work. The touch controls are funky too. The surface area of the touchpad is so small that swiping is unreliable. It’s mostly an issue when using just the earbuds, otherwise I just used my phone to control everything.
Still, the pluses far outweighed the minuses, but if Samsung is really serious about getting their Gear line out there, they need to open up the architecture to other hardware and apps. You can only connect through the Gear app and the health features only work with Samsung’s health app. That’s absurdly limiting and prevents the IconX from being quite as recommendable as it could.
Add to that the very questionable installation documentation and UI, and there’s plenty of room for improvement in making the IconX more user-friendly. The hardware itself could use a bit more bass and battery life, but is overall very impressive. If you’re already committed to Samsung’s micro eco-system of hardware, these are great headphones to compliment your Galaxy.