Samsung Gear IconX 2018 review: Samsung wireless headphones now a stronger rival to AirPods

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The Good Samsung's Gear Icon X 2018 is a small, comfortable-to-wear, totally wireless earphone that has improved battery life and a smaller charging case than the previous model's. They fit discreetly, sound decent for this type of headphone, and have touch controls as well as some extra fitness-oriented features. Charging case charges via USB-C and has a quick-charge mode.

The Bad Some of the features don't work with iOS devices; touch controls are a bit hit or miss.

The Bottom Line Samsung has improved the second-generation Gear Icon X to become one of the better totally wireless headphones, especially for Galaxy phone owners.

7.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Sound 7
  • Value 7

The Gear Icon X 2018 is available in three color options.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Samsung beat Apple to the punch when it unveiled its first "truly wireless" headphones back in June 2016, six months before the now-iconic AirPods. And unlike Apple, Samsung's original Gear IconX headphones included heart-rate monitoring, too. But those first-gen models had a serious drawback: Battery life was a meager 90 minutes between charges in the included battery case.

For the second-generation Gear IconX 2018 ($200, £200, AU$300), Samsung removed the heart-rate monitor. Doing so not only improved battery life, it made the headphone smaller and more comfortable than its predecessor. I still like the Airpods better, but the IconX is now a very good choice too, especially for owners of Samsung phones who can take full advantage of its features.

The new IconX measures 21.8 by 18.9 by 22.8 mm, compared to the 2016 version at 18.9 mm by 26.4 mm by 26.0 mm. With the extra room, Samsung was able to go from a 47mAh to a bigger 82mAh battery. 

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Samsung also shrunk the charging case, which incorporates a 340mAh battery vs. the 315mAh battery found in the previous charging case.

Both the case and the buds have a smooth, soft-to-touch finish with just the right amount of grippiness. The buds fit snugly -- I got a tight seal from a medium tip -- and the included fins, which are easier to get on and off, help keep the earphones securely in your ears.

The IconX 2018 can do double-duty as everyday headphones and sports headphones, whether you're just working out at the gym or running outside (they're sweat-resistant). They have a noise-isolating design -- you jam the tips into your ears -- but there's an Ambient Sound mode that lets you hear the outside world, a good safety feature for runners.  

You access that mode from the earphones' touch controls, which are a bit hit or miss, particularly when it comes to raising and lowering volume with a swipe down or up (it doesn't always work). You tap on a bud to pause or play music and double-tap to advance tracks forward. Tap and hold and you call up Google Assistant, Siri or Samsung's Bixby assistant, or toggle through a few other audible menu options.

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