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You've heard of Apple's AirPods ($147 at Amazon), right? Announced last September, they offer totally wire-free audio. And no doubt you've also heard of Samsung's Gear IconX ($105 at Amazon), a similar product announced roughly six weeks earlier?
Yeah, me, neither. Guess Apple is better at getting people to...wait for it...listen when it announces new products. Eh? Listen?
The IconX went on sale last August with a retail price of $199, but reviews were decidedly mixed. And that brings us back to a question I raised recently: When there's a deal to be had on a flawed product, is it easier to overlook those flaws?
Because, for a limited time, TechRabbit has the Samsung Gear IconX cord-free fitness earbuds for $79.99 shipped when you apply promo code CNETSG70 at checkout. Yep, it's another Cheapskate exclusive, my friends!
These are new, not refurbished, and sell elsewhere (like at Amazon) for at least $145. Apple's AirPods, incidentally, run $159.
Let me note straight away that although the IconX can pair with an iPhone, only Android users can leverage the heart-rate monitor and fitness-tracking features. Yep: These earbuds are like a Fitbit for your ears.
Because of the aforementioned reviews, and because CNET hadn't contributed an opinion, I asked TechRabbit to loan me an IconX to test. Which I did, primarily with a Galaxy S6 ($270 at Amazon). Sure enough, this is a flawed product. It's also a great one, at least in some respects, and well worth considering at this price.
First, the flaws:
- Initially, they sounded weak and tinny, largely because the medium-size eartips didn't make a good seal in my ear canals.
- The range is poor. I walked two rooms away from the phone and experienced serious dropouts.
- The earbuds' touch controls are very sensitive and easy to graze by accident.
- Battery life is a paltry 1.5 hours, though that's if you're streaming from your phone and using the fitness features. Leave the phone and fitness out of the equation and you can get closer to 4.5 hours.
- As with many Bluetooth audio devices, there's a slight sync delay with video sources. So these aren't great if you're planning to, say, watch Netflix on the treadmill. (Actually, I don't have this issue with my Shadow Wireless ($68 at Walmart) earbuds.)
- Some kind of wired connection (to either your phone or your PC) is required if you want to copy music to the earbuds.
Now, the good stuff:
- Once I swapped the medium eartips for the large one, I got a perfect seal, and the audio quality went from "meh" to "excellent."
- Like Apple's AirPods, the IconX comes with a travel case that's also a charger. Similarly, the earbuds automatically turn on and connect when inserted into your ears, and pause playback when removed.
- With 4GB of onboard storage, the IconX can hold up to 1,000 songs. That means you can enjoy music even without your phone.
- If you do bring your phone, built-in microphones allow you to take calls. Cooler still, you can activate them to allow ambient sound to pass through. I tried watching TV while listening to music; there was no delay at all between the onscreen images and what I was hearing.
- Heart-rate monitoring! And activity-tracking! I didn't have time to test either feature at length, but I did verify that they work. Whether or not you're better off with a fitness band of some kind -- something you can wear full-time -- is open for discussion.
- They're splash- and sweat-resistant. (Don't wear them in the shower.)
- These don't look nearly as goofy as the AirPods. Just saying.
So there you have it: My sort-of review of the IconX. Would I pay $199 or even $149 for it? Definitely not. But $80? If you're in the market for completely cord-free earphones, this is worth a look. Do your homework, though, and read other reviews.
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