Automatically tracks running. Built-in coaching feature. 8GB of onboard storage. Relatively long battery life.
No heart rate monitoring. Some fitness features not available on iOS.
- Bottom Line
With the Gear IconX 2018, Samsung improves its fitness-focused wire-free earphones with smarter fitness coaching and longer battery life, but loses heart rate monitoring in the process.
Wire-free earphones have come a long way in the last year. The Samsung Gear IconX was one of the pioneering pairs, right along with Apple's AirPods. The latest version, the $199.99 Gear IconX 2018, brings much-improved battery life, automatic activity detection, and smart coaching. It keeps the same swipe-and-tap navigation system and portable charging case, but gets rid of heart rate monitoring. We're in the process of testing the earphones but have some first impressions.
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Not much has changed visually. The main difference is that the earphones now come in black, gray, or pink. The earbuds have the same protruding fin for stability, and touch-sensitive triangular shell, which you can use to control your music via swipes. Swiping up lets you toggle volume, while tapping and holding launches voice commands (you can choose from Bixby, Google Voice, or S Voice), ambient sound mode, or rejects a call. Double tapping and holding lets you skip to the next song. Each bud can hold up to 4GB of music locally, for a total of 8GB of storage.
Besides color options, another difference is that the earphones no longer feature heart rate monitoring. Samsung says this decision was made to extend battery life. A single charge on the original IconX only netted 1.5 hours of playback while using heart rate monitoring, or 4.5 hours without. This time around, the earphones are quoted to last up to 7 hours, which is impressive for this category. The included charging case provides one full additional charge.
The earbuds still have an accelerometer to identify when you're on the move, and will automatically record any activity directly to the Samsung Health app. I used the new IconX on indoor and outdoor runs, as well as outdoor walks. In each instance, the earphones were able to automatically detect that I was moving and would let me know whether or not I was keeping pace. I also got updates about my metrics at every one-mile interval. At the end of the workout, I could easily check my calories burned, distance, duration, and speed in the Samsung Health app. The fit is quite secure, and thanks to an ambient sound mode, it was easy to stay aware of my surroundings.
That said, these are the most basic of metrics. If you're looking for more insight into your progress over time, or more detailed stats with regard to steps, pace, heart rate, and splits, you're better off with a dedicated fitness tracker.
You can tweak the running coach settings in the Samsung Gear app, as well as select from 10 separate programs ranging from "light walking coach" to "speed endurance coach." You can also create your own programs in the Samsung Health app. And if updates every mile seems too frequent (or not frequent enough), you can also edit that in the Gear app.
However, it should be noted that iOS users don't get the same experience as Android users. When paired with an iOS device, the earphones don't support auto activity tracking, fitness coaching, or ambient sound mode. You also won't be able to access the readout menu from the touch controls.
As far as fitness earphones go, the Gear IconX 2018 are a pretty hefty investment at $200—especially since you can get our Editors' Choice JLab Epic Air for $50 less. But they do pack some advanced features, including Bixby integration for Samsung users, smart running coaching, and automatic activity tracking. And while you don't get heart rate measurements, significantly longer battery life seems like a fair trade-off. We're in the process of putting the earphones through their paces for a full review, so check back for our final results soon.
By Victoria Song Analyst, Consumer Electronics
Victoria Song is the wearables and smart home analyst at PCMag. Since graduating from Temple University’s Japan Campus in 2010, she's been found reporting and editing in every corner of the newsroom at The ACCJ Journal, The Japan News, and New York bureau of The Yomiuri Shimbun. In her spare time, she bankrupts herself going to theater, buying expansions to board games, and cleaning out the stacks at The Strand. Someday, she hopes Liverpool FC will win the league, but she isn’t holding her breath…. More »
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