Teeny Tiny Earbuds Cram Loads Of Functionality And Never Burst Into Flames

 

At a casual glance it looks like Samsung’s Icon X 2018 earphones haven’t changed much over the last year, but digging a little deeper reveals battery life improvements and loads of other incremental refinements.

The big thing with the Icon X is that Samsung managed to cram an impressive amount of functionality into such tiny wireless earphones. For a start they’re industrial strength fitness trackers that can do exercise and heart rate tracking, and they sport a voice coach for workout guidance. As if that isn’t enough, they also come with 4GB of storage, which handily means they’re also very capable standalone music players as well as being able to work with Bluetooth.

They’re stylee too. The Icon X 2018 earphones sit in a small bean-shaped carry case that’s about the same size as a box of matches, which also doubles as a portable charger. Rumour has it that the Icon X 2018 designers were overheard uttering,“We don’t need no stinkin’ wires!” when brain storming the Icon X’s. There’s no cables at all, and this is a huge part of their appeal.

With no wires trailing out of your 10-speed gears and nothing wrapped over the top of your noggin, the feeling of freedom is great. You could say it is the ear gear equivalent of going commando.

Their petite size also means that people often can’t tell you’re wearing them, and saw me getting more than a few odd looks when taking a phone call.

The ear buds themselves are tiny, with each bud about the same size as a watch battery. Putting them into your Apple and Pears sees them staying put thanks to a snug fit.

So how well did their fitness tracking chops work? Jogging might not be my thing, but in the interests of ensuring you, the reader get all the facts, I put them to the test. This got done by tearing open chip packets and lifting a few pints. I don’t know if the integrated coach was all that impressed, but the Icon X’s stayed put in my ear holes the entire time. My step count to the pub was duly recorded in the Samsung health app.

These Icon X’s look near identical to last year’s Icon X ear-wear, but under the hood there’s been some big improvements. The originals looked good, but their battery life wasn’t flash. Transferring music also required they got hooked up to a PC ,which was at best a clunky undertaking.

Using their own built-in music player, Samsung say that this year’s Icon X can deliver up to seven hours of music playback. Using Bluetooth playback sees this time drop to a still-reasonable five hours, and with phone-calls they’ll run for four hours.

Its charging case has shrunk, and it now supports USB-C too. As it has an integrated battery, plunking the Icon X’s into it charges them, with 10 minutes of charging giving an hour’s use.

Five hours is a good benchmark for battery life. Most of us are rarely going to need to have the Icon X’s stuffed into our lug holes that long. Knowing you’ve five hours of use also means you can enjoy music instead of stressing about batteries.

The Gear Management App for IOS or Android runs everything. It handles music transfers as well as software updates over Bluetooth. The Gear manager also keeps you informed on battery charge levels.

The lack of a big plastic strap over my loaf of bread (or draped over the back of my Gregory Peck) was quite liberating. With no bits flapping about, the Icon X 2018’s are ideal for running or the gym. As mentioned earlier they also worked a treat for pint-aerobics and chip bag crunches. About their only downside is their weight. While they were a comfortable fit their weight meant I never quite forgot that I was wearing them.

From what I could tell, their fitness tracking worked. It’s hard to say how accurate the Icon X’s are versus the Gear S3 or Fitbit Ionic. Either way, it still impresses that all this fitness tracking stuff happens on earphones the size of a grape. Their touch controls took a bit of getting used to and but got helped along by beeps and spoken guides, which meant that their learning curve wasn’t all that steep.

Maintaining a stable connection to your phone can be a challenge for many Bluetooth cans. Additionally, keeping left and right audio channels synched without wires is tricky too. That said, the Gear Icon X 2018s stayed connected to my phone, and each other. They were even smart enough to pause if I removed one and re-inserted it. Wandering about town resulted in a stable connection with only a few drop outs.

Pairing was also easy. Using the Gear manager app, I looked for Bluetooth gear with their charging case open, and was rewarded within 30 seconds. This worked with both a Samsung Note 8 and Huawei’s Mate 10 Pro.

In short, there’s a lot to like with the Icon X 2018 ear-gear, despite a few minor gotchas. Audio output felt limited compared to larger over-ear cans, but the Icon X 2018 audio output wasn’t exactly dire. There was a gap at their bottom end, but then they’re tiny earbuds so that’s no surprise.

Audio aside, no other buds I’ve tested come close to matching the functionality of the Icon X 2018. Their appeal is bound to be strong for gym bunnies and runners, and if you’re wanting phone and cable-free tunage while working up a sweat, the Icon X 2018’s are hard to beat.

So, should you buy? The big questions for buyers are these:

Are you looking for high end headphones?

Is wireless a biggie?

What about fitness tracking and coaching?

If two out of three of these answers are a yes (and you’re keen to avoid wires and ear-gear detritus), the Icon X 2018’s are solid choice.

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