Truly wireless earbuds are having their moment this year: we've seen numerous startups launch or announce headphones that have no wires to your phone or between the two earbuds themselves. The Bragi Dash have been the most promising ones we've seen, but even those have major compromises that demonstrate the early nature of this product category.
Samsung is today throwing its hat into the ring with the announcement of the Gear IconX. The $199.99 IconX are the first truly wireless headphones from a major manufacturer, though they echo many of the same features and design of other models we've seen already.
As you'd expect, the Gear IconX connect to the phone wirelessly and have no wires connecting the two earbuds — they are truly independent of each other. The earbuds are stored in a pill-shaped case when not in use, which provides up to two full charges. That's a good thing, because the battery life on the IconX is by far its biggest compromise. Samsung says that the headphones will last about an hour and a half when streaming music from your phone, or just over three and a half hours when playing music stored on their 4GB of internal memory.
Each IconX weighs just a little more than a US quarter and has hooks to lock it in the cartilage in your ear. It's a surprisingly comfortable and easy-to-use design — my ears don't often work well with in-ear headphones, but I was able to pop the IconX in my ears and have them lock in place easily. They are also pretty good at blocking outside noise — Samsung has a special mode on them that passes through outside noises if you want — and the sound is full without being too bassy. I'll reserve final judgement on their audio quality until I'm able to spend more time with them. They did manage to stay connected and in sync in the few minutes I tested them out, which is where we've seen other headphones struggle the most.
Controlling the IconX is very similar to the Dash — you tap and swipe on the earbud to skip tracks, navigate menus, and control volume. The IconX has voice confirmations for each action, and it is managed by an app on the phone. At launch, the headphones will work with most Android phones (running at least Android 4.4 and with 1.5GB or more of RAM), but they will not work with iOS devices.
Streaming music to your earholes without any wires getting in the way may be a dream of many people, but Samsung's actually pitching the IconX as a fitness tracking device first and personal music product second. The IconX has sensors to monitor movement, heart rate, and distance traveled, and can calculate calories burned, just like a wrist-worn fitness tracker. It syncs all of that data to Samsung's S Health app, which can export to a handful of other fitness apps.
The Gear IconX will be available in white, blue, and black when they launch later this year. We'll reserve final judgement on them until we've spent more time with a production-ready version, but if Samsung's able to deliver with the IconX and do so at its aggressive price point, it may very well eat the lunch of all the startups trying their hands at truly wireless earbuds.