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Samsung Gear IconX 2018 headphones review: Now they're worth the price

The quick take

The IconX 2018 headphones don't change in core features or sound quality from the originals, but dramatically improve on battery life and software consistency. So now you get wireless earbuds that sound pretty good and last a long time, without annoying connectivity issues or the requirement that you plug them into a computer for software updates or media transfers. The fitness-focused exercise tracking, heart rate monitoring and workout coaching won't appeal to everyone, but the IconX 2018 are far closer to ideal wireless earbuds than the previous model.

The Good

  • Battery life and charging process improved
  • Pairing and connections work well
  • Media transfers and updates now handled by phone

The Bad

  • Still expensive for "secondary" headphones
  • Not everyone will value the fitness features
  • Battery life less than typical neckbud-style headphones
  • Sound quality isn't great

Samsung Gear IconX 2018 headphones

Big fixes

Samsung Gear IconX 2018 Things you'll love

The Gear IconX headphones released in 2016 were a great first attempt, but ultimately a flop. They were expensive, and riddled with "gen 1" issues including (but not limited to) bad battery life and questionable software. It took over a year, but Samsung has a refreshed version that fixes the glaring problems and lets you focus on what's great about the design.

This release is primarily focused on fixing problems with the original.

First and most importantly, battery life is dramatically better. Samsung rates the new Gear IconX at 7 hours of standalone music playback (from 4GB of internal storage), or a full 5 hours of playback over Bluetooth. They can handle 4 hours of calls over Bluetooth as well. The charging case, which is now smaller and has USB-C, adds one full charge to the earbuds or can give you an hour of use in just 10 minutes. Unlike the original model, I rarely thought about battery life on the IconX 2018 — I just used them, and when I got a low battery warning I used 'em a while longer then tossed them in the case for a bit. I'm not going to say that nobody will need more than 5 hours of continuous Bluetooth listening, but I think that benchmark is plenty high for the majority of people.

Samsung has also made important improvements to the software. Music transfers and software updates can be handled over Bluetooth using the Samsung Gear app now, rather than the super-clunky method from before that required using PC software and a USB cable. That app also lets you monitor battery percentage, manage notifications and more. It's not the prettiest experience, but it works.

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Samsung Gear IconX 2018 headphones

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Samsung Gear IconX 2018 headphones

The freedom of truly wireless earbuds is wonderful — and not just for hitting the gym.

Now that those issues have been fixed for this new version, you can focus on the great inherent features of this style of headphones. Not having a cord dangling around, or a big chunk of plastic resting around your neck, is a fantastic bit of freedom. That's especially true if you're running or hitting the gym, but even if you're just working around the house or doing some yard work. If the earbuds were a bit more comfortable — which is tough considering their relatively large size and weight for earbuds — you'd be able to forget they were there at all because of the lack of a cable weighing you down.

The workout detection and guidance actually work as well. So if you really want to be that person that's untethered when they exercise but still want music or a podcast to listen to, these headphones can get the job done. It's nowhere near as accurate as a wrist-worn wearable — like, say, the Gear Sport — but it's more than most headphones will give you. The touch controls can be finicky until you get used to manipulating such a small surface, but the set of controls is surprisingly robust and the spoken menus get the job done.

The Gear IconX 2018s had no issues staying connected to my phone, or to each other, even as I removed one bud or the other. With the latest software release, I didn't have any issues connecting or disconnecting from my phone upon opening or closing the charging case. And this wasn't just the case with a Samsung phone — this was with the Pixel 2.

Samsung Gear IconX 2018 headphones

Inherent shortcomings

Samsung Gear IconX 2018 Things you'll hate

Being that Samsung has fixed the inherent flaws with is original IconX headphones, the only things left in the negative column on the 2018 version are just inherent problems with truly wireless earbuds.

The earbuds still don't sound great, and they aren't particularly comfortable for hours of listening.

The biggest weakness of these tiny earbuds is sound quality. It's quite amazing that you can get all of these features in fully independent wireless earbuds, but the one thing you lost in the process is just raw sound quality. The IconX 2018s certainly don't sound as good as $200 wired earbuds (or $100 ones), or even as good as other Bluetooth in-ear headphones that connect with a cord. You give up quality to get these advanced features.

Even though the battery life is much-improved on the IconX 2018, it certainly isn't long enough for these headphones to be your all-day, every-day wear. 5 hours of Bluetooth listening is good, but having to carry around the case to pop them in when you're done to make sure you have another 5 hours waiting for you next time is a bit of a pain if you're going to be doing it every day. Larger headphones will offer you multiple times that, meaning you only have to charge every few days or so.

And that's probably alright, because I didn't find the IconX 2018 earbuds to be comfortable enough to wear for 5 hour straight. The rubber tips are decent and the ear hooks to hold them in place are good once you select the right size, but these are still bigger and more imposing than typical earbuds. There's more weight in there and more pressure points on your ear than you'd ideally want — again, a trade-off for having the freedom of truly wireless earbuds.

Some people won't pay $199 for a secondary pair of headphones.

The only other significant downside to the IconX 2018s is the price. If you plan to use the fitness features and local storage for music, they're absolutely worth the money now. But if you're looking at your headphones simply as a Bluetooth conduit to whatever's playing on your phone, you'll feel like the $199 price is too much for that function alone.

Samsung Gear IconX 2018 headphones

Worth the money now

Samsung Gear IconX 2018 Should you buy it?

With the second generation IconX headphones, Samsung has fixed two of the biggest issues with the buds: they now last longer (and charge faster), and the software experience has improved markedly. That means you don't have anxiety about battery life every time you wear them for more than an hour, and you don't have to think about connecting them to a computer for updates or music transfers any longer.

They're finally worth the money — but that doesn't mean everyone will pay $200 for secondary headphones.

With these core functional problems fixed, you're left with a solid experience. The IconX 2018 headphones handle pairing and connections well, swap between using one or both buds seamlessly, and include useful (if tough to get acquainted with) fitness functions for certain types of users. The earbuds don't sound fantastic, but nobody's buying this style of headphones for top-notch sound quality — they want all of the associated features and freedom that wireless headphones provide.

Choosing whether the IconX 2018 headphones are the ones for you is a pretty simple decision. First, you need to be in the market for ~$200 headphones. Next, you need to be willing to spend that kind of money on headphones that aren't designed for daily listening, but for more specialized times when you need the benefits of truly wireless headphones that don't have clunky cables, straps or attachments. As a second set of headphones for working out or times when you need music or podcasts without any encumbrances, the IconX 2018s deliver.

Still, these headphones feel like a bit of a missed opportunity. By offering fitness-focused features like local music storage, heart rate detection and workout guidance, the IconX 2018 headphones kind of stand alone in their own niche segment. I can't help but think that a "standard" version without these advanced features, and an associated price drop to around $129, would compare quite favorably to the Apple AirPods and even other Bluetooth headphone segments.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

22 Comments
  • That's a shame i was hoping for better results. Can you connect to pc device by any chance? There's not too many truewireless earbuds allow you to connect to pc as well strictly with cell phone device or tablets. Also there's no mention of this being waterproof or water resistance.
  • I'm a gym-a-holic and have gone through several pairs of bluetooth headphones. I usually go with a style that has hooks that go over my ears. I would love to have something with no cord but so far the compromises haven't been worth the price for me. With the apparently crappy sound quality I'd say these Gear IconX 2018 still won't do it for me. Jabra Sport Pace - Pretty decent sound quality, relatively unobtrusive cord. The cord comes out the tips of the ear hooks, and placing it behind the ears helps keep it out of the way. Controls are on a relatively small/light plastic thing on the cord. But the ear hooks didn't like to keep the buds positioned well in my ears, and their water resistance sucks. I went through 2 pairs that each only lasted about 3 months. Thankfully I had gotten them on sale at Target and was able to get a refund for them. PowerBeats 2 - They lasted through 14 months of sweat, until the metal inner piece of one of the ear hooks decided to pierce the silicone outer piece. The ear hooks were a little better than the Jabras at staying in place, but that rigid inner metal piece doesn't run the full length of the hook. So the end of the hook is just floppy and doesn't really grip the ear. The sound quality was only ok. Lots of bass but mids and highs were sorely lacking in detail. SoundPeats Q9A - These are cheapie 20 dollar Amazon headphones and honestly they're my favorite so far. Better sound quality than the Jabra & Beats, with 95% of the bass of the Beats but much more precise, and the mids and highs have so much more detail. The ear hooks are a more rigid plastic that still has good grip on the ear while being comfortable. The cord is nice and thin and the microphone is integrated into the buds themselves, not an extra piece on the cord that weighs it down. Still relatively new so can't report on sweat resistance. Yes, no cord would be nice, but honestly I'm very happy with my cheap SoundPeats, so I can't justify any of the still-expensive true wireless earbuds. I don't need audiophile quality sound at the gym, but over time I became more and more disappointed with the rather crap sound from the PowerBeats. It was a nice surprise when I switched to the cheap SoundPeats and they were that much of an improvement in sound. Not sure I'd want to go back to something that sounds mediocre, especially for the price.
  • My big question is whether it has heart rate monitoring or not. That's the big thing for me.
  • Got rid of the HR monitoring in these so they could increase battery life.
  • I've never really felt much need for constant heart rate monitoring in a phone, headset, fitbit, etc. I lift and do cardio on machines. My heart rate doesn't get super high when I lift and the cardio machines have heart rate monitors. No, it's not a constant monitor, but I grab the handles every once in a while and see where I'm at. There's nothing new I'm going to learn by plotting out a graph of my heart rate over my whole workout.
  • I have the Soundbeats and the IconX. The IconX are a much better product. The sound quality is quite a bit better. However, they are not 20 times better. However, I do love that the IconX fits so well in the ear and doesn't sweat out. Plus it looks a hell of a lot cooler. Battery life is also much better. But, no, its not 20x better, so that's a decision you gotta make.
  • How good is the call quality? Can I present on a work bridge line at my desk without sounding like I am talking into a tin can?
  • One thing that was horrible from the 1st Gen is that the buds will drain the charging case after a day or two of no use. I wonder if that was fixed
  • What I do to increase my battery life is, once the case is charged and the buds are charged, crack the lid so the case doesn't attempt to keep charging the buds.
  • Is it possible to activate and use just one of the earbuds at a time to "double" battery life? Like say for listening to podcasts or audiobooks where stereo sound generally isn't encoded into the files or necessary for listening enjoyment?
  • Just ordered these babies.. can't wait to try them out in the gym. I've gone through multiple bluetooth headphones , all suffering various problems..
    These look to be the best (for me) - I'm ok with sacrificing a bit of sound quality.
  • I'm still struggling to see how you reached the conclusion that $199 was justified when sound quality isn't great. That's kind of core to nail down, right?
  • exactly, sound quality is a top issue - as long as they connect.
  • Using my Bluetooth for communication while working, I find the behind the neck style the most comfortable. Keeping earbuds in your ear while not on a call or listening to music is not comfortable. It is not convenient reacher for your pocket to put earbuds in your ear when your phone rings. I find using the behind the neck with the retractable cord to be the best compromise. I can easily pop it in when my phone rings, pop it out when I am done. I may try the LG Tone with the true wireless buds. I believe that will give me the cleanest setup but I am hesitant for fear of losing them. The little retractable cord does not really bother me so I may leave well enough alone.
  • Pre ordered a pair. They will be here tomorrow 👍
  • "The earbuds still don't sound great, and they aren't particularly comfortable for hours of listening." So how the heck are these finally worth the money???????????
  • I would like a review comparing the IconX to the Bose Soundsport Free.
  • A reviewer on Amazon says unlike last year the case charges the earbuds until they are fully charged then quits charging. Thus not like last year where they kept on charging until battery depleted.
  • I have just got these and I'm pretty happy with them. I disagree with the reviewer on the two key issues: sound and comfort. I think they sound pretty good, and they fit in my ears very comfortably. The fitness instructions are a bit bizarre - on my run they did nothing but tell me to slow down. I am finding the manual taps and swipes to control them a bit hard to master. Maybe it will come in time.
  • they are still too costly!
  • Nice earbud. But still costly compared to it's features. I prefer my Rowkin earbuds. Check out the reviews too.
  • FYI --
    SM-R150 =2016 version
    SM-R140 =2018 version be careful when searching