Hands-on review: Samsung Gear Icon X

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In a lot of ways, Samsung and Apple provide a parallel to each other. Both companies make laptops, phones, smartwatches and headphones. But with the new Gear Icon X, Samsung is now one step ahead.

The $199 (global pricing to be announced) Samsung Gear Icon X are a set of completely wireless headphones, meaning that not only has the cable between the phone and the headphones been snipped, so has the cable linking the two buds together.

Samsung isn’t the first to release wireless buds in this fashion, but it’s definitely the biggest player to give it a shot to date. Even so, cutting the introduces in its entirety introduces a slew of challenges that even the biggest companies will have a tough time sorting out.

Samsung Gear Icon X

We had a chance to try out the Icon X ahead of its late 2016 release window. We’ll have a more definitive word on whether they are worth your money closer to release, but here are our early thoughts.

Design

The Gear Icon X arrive packaged in an unassuming cylindrical charging case that can fit easily into a pocket or purse. Popping the case open reveals the two earbuds, each designed with a minimalistic touch and nestled into their respective charging docks. As indicated by the inside of the case, there’s one for your left and right ear and corresponding LEDs to indicate when they are charging.

Samsung Gear Icon X

The units release with minimal effort and, just like that, are ready to go. There are no on or off switches located on the Gear Icon X. In fact, there are no buttons whatsoever. The heart rate monitors built into each of the earbuds can sense when you’ve put them into your ears and power on. Creepy, yet very cool.

Once inside of your ears, the Gear Icon X automatically connect to each other, then establish a Bluetooth connection with your smartphone. You can also store and play music on the buds, should you want to leave your phone at home.

Controlling the Gear Icon X will feel familiar if you’ve used any set of headphones with an inline remote. Except, again, there are no buttons here. To mimic those button-pressing actions, you simply tap and swipe on the touch-sensitive section of the buds within the colored rim.

Samsung Gear Icon X

To turn up music, press and then slide a finger upward. To skip tracks, tap twice. Want to answer a call? Give the Gear Icon X a tap when you have a ring coming through. It’s all intuitive and easy to execute, even when you’re jogging.

Performance

Though there is still work to be done on polishing the overall Samsung Gear Icon X experience, we had the chance to give them a shot at a recent press event. And there’s already a lot of promise here.

The solid hardware is, in part, to thank for that. Though it may fall into rather experimental territory compared to Samsung’s other, more established ventures, it feels surprisingly well realized.

Listening to music with the Gear Icon X, although our time was brief, was an enjoyable experience. That said, it was apparent that these weren’t made to replace your audiophile-quality gear. Instead, they are geared to be a more generalized and versatile set that you can take anywhere. Daily drivers, if you will.

These headphones can operate like your current set, acting as an amplifier for the music, movies and games stored on your smartphone, or you can use its standalone app to load music onto the Gear Icon X.

Samsung Gear Icon X

If you choose to do the latter, you have 4GB of space to take advantage. Samsung shared that, interestingly, instead of storing the music onto one bud and beaming it over to the other to play in stereo, each bud actually has 4GB of onboard storage. When you trigger a song, it plays said file on both and syncs it up. It’s Samsung’s attempt to minimize the pesky signal cut-outs that are all-too-common with products like this, and based on our first impressions, it really works.

Aside from entertaining you, the Gear Icon X can, as you may have guessed, do a bit of fitness tracking by way of the built-in heart rate monitors and accelerometers in each bud. We look forward to spending more time with the finalized app to see how deep the fitness rabbit hole goes, but it seems to be rather robust as far as headphones are concerned.

In case you want to go out on the streets for your exercise, these headphones also have a safety mode that allows you to hear the world around you. By pressing and holding on either of the Icon X units, you’ll eventually hear the external microphones kick on. This is super handy if you need to keep an ear open to traffic, but still want to listen to your music.

Samsung Gear Icon X

We look forward to spending more time with the Gear Icon X to see how the battery fares in real world use. Samsung stated that the projected battery life for these buds varies whether you’re using them with your phone or by themselves, but that the charging case can top them off a few times.

Early verdict

Samsung has clearly caught onto the buzz created by early movers and have crafted something that could end up being a hit. While we still need more time to develop a fair opinion, the Gear Icon X could be an essential piece of tech for fitness-focused people who want to cut the cord out of the equation.

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