Truly wireless earbuds are growing in popularity quickly, but they’re far from perfect. While some have proven great, like Apple’s AirPods, others just aren’t. Now, Samsung is taking a second shot with these types of earbuds in the 2018 edition of the Gear IconX, and, well, they’ve still got some work to do.


A svelte design that fits well

First, let’s focus on the basics, because that’s what Samsung has done best here, and that starts with the design and hardware.

As someone who can’t ever decide between a pair of Pixel Buds or a set of AirPods, the Gear IconX 2018 present a pleasing middle ground. I get to ditch the wire of the Pixel Buds for the convenience of the AirPods, all while avoiding the horrid look of the AirPods.

One of the main things that makes the Gear IconX compelling is certainly design. The buds themselves are small and don’t draw undue attention (unless you buy them in pink).

Further, these earbuds actually fit in the ear quite well. To get them in securely, you’ll use a twisting motion, meaning you’ll put the bud in, then twist it to get the ‘wing’ in place. It’s a bit odd at first, but after using them a few times, the movement became second nature.

The build of these buds is also quite good. It’s sturdy, clearly thought-out, and everything makes sense. The only change I’d really like to see is swapping the pin charging system for something like Qi, simply for a cleaner look.


Solid battery life for this form factor

Battery life is pretty hit or miss on truly wireless earbuds, and Samsung’s first generation option was no exception. In fact, the original Gear IconX were pretty terrible when it came to endurance, but that’s been fixed with gen 2.

On a single charge, the Gear IconX 2018 earbuds are rated to last around 5 hours on a charge. In my testing, they seem to live up to that. One of the best parts when it comes to the battery, though, is a special quick charging feature that gives you an hour of playtime in just 10 minutes of charging.

A decent charging case, and is that USB-C?!

As with all truly wireless earbuds, the Gear IconX come with a charging case. The matte black pill-shaped design is pretty awesome, but I do have some complaints. For one, the case is too big. This is not something I can fit in a pocket easily, so it usually lands in my backpack.

Another small complaint is how the buds attach. You have to line up the pins to get them to charge and it’s unfortunately pretty easy to have them misaligned. As previously mentioned, it’d be great to see something like Qi implemented here.

Samsung does win back some serious points, though, by charging over USB-C rather than the microUSB that is on basically everything else.


Samsung’s apps are a little annoying, but you don’t really need them

One of the most annoying things about Samsung’s products that work on Android devices that aren’t sold by the company itself is that you have to download quite a few apps to get them working. As a Gear S3 user, this doesn’t bother me because it’s the same set of apps. However, if the IconX is your first Samsung wearable accessory, you’ll need to download several apps to gain full functionality.

Luckily, though, you don’t really need them. The IconX can still pair fully to your Android smartphone without these added apps, and you’ll still have basic functionality like streaming music and default gestures. However, you’ll be able to unlock a lot more functionality like notifications, workout tracking, and custom gestures with the apps.

More gestures than any of the competition

Speaking of gestures, I’m pretty sure the Gear IconX have the most complex set of gesture controls I’ve seen on any wireless earbuds so far. Where options like AirPods or Google’s Pixel Buds are somewhat restricted in what they can control, the IconX has options for everything. You can play/pause music with a single tap, double tap to skip a track or answer an incoming call, and a triple tap to go back a track. Further, a touch and hold gesture can read out menu options, while a swipe up or down can adjust the music volume.

Unfortunately, you can’t customize these (like you can with AirPods connected to an iPhone), but everything works really well and it’s great to have control over everything without ever pulling out your phone.


As good as you’ll get for truly wireless earbuds

Wireless audio has gotten better and better over the years, but with the arrival of truly wireless earbuds, it felt as though things took a step backward. The first few sets of truly wireless earbuds sounded horrible, but they’ve also gotten better with time and new releases.

Now, the second-generation Samsung Gear IconX are just as good if not better than most wireless audio options. The sound is clear with minimal to no skipping, but there’s very little depth to the reproduction. Lows and highs are unimpressive, but overall, I’m satisfied. These won’t beat a pair of wired earbuds at the same price point, but they’re very good overall.


In typical Samsung fashion, the Gear IconX offer a lot more features than the typical buyer is probably interested in. One of Samsung’s marketing points for the IconX are the fitness features integrated into the buds themselves.

That includes tracking workouts, coaching, calories burned, speed, distance, and more with various sensors. In the very limited testing I did with those features, they seemed to work well. However, I’d mainly look at these features as added bonuses rather than make or break features.

Another little added bonus is the ability to load MP3s onto the earbuds and play them independently of the phone. Again, this is cool, and I’m sure someone will use it, but I don’t see this being a reason to buy the IconX earbuds over another product.


Not Android’s AirPods, but you won’t be disappointed

Truly wireless earbuds are only going to continue growing in popularity, and Samsung has a solid option here. They don’t quite match the ease of use of Apple’s AirPods, but they are great earbuds nonetheless. At $200, they’re quite the investment, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you pick them up, especially if you score a sale

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Ben Schoon

Ben is a writer and video producer for 9to5Google.

Find him on Twitter @NexusBen. Send tips to schoon@9to5g.com or encrypted to benschoon@protonmail.com.