The Samsung Gear series expands into fitness-centric earbuds with the launch of its latest member, the Gear Icon X. These truly wireless earbuds, a first from a Samsung, offer freedom from wires — and from your smartphone, with a new standalone playback mode. And there's also a big fitness angle, with workout coaching features, and the ability to sync back to S Health.
Samsung's Gear Icon X buds are unassuming little gadgets. They're each about the size of a small Bluetooth earpiece, and fit neatly into the bundled, pill-shaped dock. And we found them comfortable in our short time wearing them at a meeting ahead of today's announcement. There's a little more weight to them than your average set of wired earbuds, and that's to be expected — there's a lot going on in a relatively small space.
Gear Icon X has lot going on in a relatively small space.
First, the basics: The Icon X earbuds come in three colors: black, white and blue, and they're described by Samsung as being "sweat-proof," meaning you can use them on a run out in the rain. Just don't expect to take them underwater for any length of time.
Like any other pair of Bluetooth earphones, the Icon X pairs to your phone, erm, over Bluetooth, allowing you to use them with your streaming music service of choice. But what's really smart is the built-in 4GB of storage, letting you load a few albums worth of MP3s directly onto the buds themselves, so you don't have to carry a phone with you. Samsung tells us the storage is duplicated across each bud to avoid having wireless crosstalk when they're in standalone mode.
The dock doubles as a backup battery for Samsung's new buds.
Battery life is estimated at 3.5 hours in streaming mode and 1.5 hours in standalone mode — so enough time for a solid workout away from your phone, but less ideal for a day out in the wilderness. The charging dock will help you out with its built-in battery, which can deliver up to an additional two charges.
As for audio quality itself, we'll reserve judgment until we've spent more time with them in a real-world setting.
Unlike the new Gear Fit 2, announced alongside the Icon X today, Samsung's new earbuds are targeted at the casual fitness crowd. They'll sync back to S Health on phones running Android 4.4 and up, and provide distance, speed and heart rate tracking when you're exercising. And with an update to S Health landing soon, you'll be able to push this data to third-party services like Endomondo, MapMyRun, RunKeeper and Strava.
There's also a useful audio passthrough mode that can pipe ambient audio over the top of what you're listening to, allowing you to be more aware of your surroundings.
As for music controls, Samsung has implemented a tap-based system for changing tracks without using your phone or another wearable. Tap once play or pause, twice to skip forwards and three times to skip back. Meanwhile, a swipe up or down controls volume levels. So there are no voice controls built, in but integrated mics let you use the Icon X to answer calls.
Samsung says its new earbuds will land in the third quarter of the year for $199, which on the surface seems a fair price for a product with a pretty expansive feature set. Two major factors — real world battery life and audio quality — remain unclear, but if Samsung can take advantage of the hooks into its fitness ecosystem to sell Galaxy phone owners on a pricey but feature-packed pair of buds it could be onto a winner.
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