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Review: Samsung Gear IconX is a unique set of fitness tracking earbuds

Samsung Gear IconX is a biometric sports tracker/earbuds hybrid that allows wearers to listen to music and check their heart rate during workouts, without a single strap or wire in sight. It is a unique offering in the steadily growing wearables market.

Design and hardware

My Gear IconX review unit received its fair share of inquisitive and admiring looks as soon as it was unwrapped. The first thing that catches the eye is the capsule-shaped charging case. It’s sleek, with a push button to release the top (it doesn’t spring open, sadly), a USB port and three indicator lights.

Charging cases aren’t a completely new idea – and is the most suitable method of stowage and charging the IconX buds. Once out of the box, they turn on automatically – there are no buttons to turn them off. They do have a proximity sensor so they become active only when placed inside the ears.

It dings and chimes to indicate that they’re connected to each other, and also to indicate that they’re connected to your phone’s Bluetooth. It’s intuitive, elegant and feels hi-tech. The indicator light at the back shows the case’s charge and the two on the front indicate the charge level for each individual bud.

Being splash resistant (no swimming with these, sorry!) is important for exercise buds, but it inevitably means charging and data pins dot the bottom.

Features

There are no buttons on the buds (except for a reset pinhole) so everything is done via remote controls. Menu navigation is via voice prompts. The only nitpicking complaint I have is the delay between the initial touch-and-hold and the voice prompt activating, so nothing happens immediately. Touch and hold applies to ambient sound mode, start and finish workout and announce workout progress. They can all be reordered or removed completely from the companion Gear Manager app on the phone.

Having a touch-sensitive surface, and such a large one at that (it covers roughly 80 per cent of the surface) means you do have to be careful not to brush against it by accident. A single tap will pause or play music and swiping up and down changes the volume level. And speaking of ambient sound mode, this has to be one of the most used features for me. Instead of taking your buds off every time you need to speak to someone, activate ambient sound mode and all the outside noise will be passed through to the speakers in the buds. Very handy.

There are two music playback options. You can either transfer music to its internal 4GB storage and use the IconX in standalone mode, or you can bring your phone with you and have it stream music via Bluetooth. I tested both modes and even watched a movie and everything worked as any Bluetooth headset should.

Audio quality

The IconX offers sufficient music playback quality. Typically Spotify streams are fairly bassy but minus the thump, and the rest of the audio range leans toward being warm and slightly lacking in treble. Volume is not an issue; it has built-in volume limit and will tell you via voice prompt that you’re about to exceed the safe limit. Though the desktop manager suite hints at it by offering a “sync buds” button, I never experienced any synchronisation issues between the wireless pair. Various ear tip sizes are available and I found one that had the perfect seal, keeping most outside noise out. In fact they fit so well, I never felt any danger of them falling out no matter what exercise I was doing.

Fitness tracking

During my runs, the IconX tracks my heart rate, distance and reports on the workout progress. Compared to most other trackers, its data appears to be just as accurate, which is quite a mystery because there is no GPS, nor a pedometer. There is just the accelerometer. It’s also clever enough to pause a workout if I took the buds off and then resume once they’ve been put back on.

Conclusion

The Gear IconX is packed with technology, good looking and does what it says on the tin. But I do have two potential deal breakers to consider – compatibility (again) and battery life.

The buds work with most recently released Android phones but not with the iPhone. The battery life is sadder still: the Gear IconX is rated to work up to three hours when used in standalone mode and 1.5 hours when connected and streaming audio. There is only 47 mAh worth of battery when effectively two connections are active – one between the buds and the phone, and one between the main bud and the secondary. The charging case does have 315 mAh and will give the buds about two charges. For me, that’s barely enough to see me through the day.

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