Price (RRP): $299
There are nearly as many Bluetooth ear buds as Bluetooth speakers… The key to survival in a crowded market is how the Samsung Gear ICON X 2018 SM-R140 buds are different.
The biggest differences are:
- 3.4GB of free memory for up to 1000 songs to be uploaded and played independently of any smartphone pairing – perfect for gym use
- Touch control works intuitively especially for the music player, hands-free calls, or to read the menu options
- A built-in Coach function provides real-time encouragement and tips.
- When walking or jogging (it has an accelerometer), the auto-tracking feature will log your time, distance and calories burned.
- It links to Samsung Health – one of the better Android health tracking apps
- It can pair with any Bluetooth audio device including a smartphone, tablet, PC or Mac
- Oh, and its sound is quite good.
Out of the Box – Samsung Gear ICON X 2018
- Earbud (L/R)
- Charging case
- Wingtip (3 sets, S/M/L)
- Earbud tip (3 sets Comply compatible, S/M/L)
- USB cable
- USB connector (USB Type-B)
- USB connector (USB Type-C)
- No charger supplied but works on any charger from 5V/500mA to 2A
First impressions are light (8g each), and reassuringly solid – able to withstand a fall from head height – but they won’t come out if properly fitted.
First charge via the charge case. Next pair via the case to an Android or iOS phone via the Samsung Gear app to upload music or stream from the phone.
You select the earbud size for you, then the wingtip to fit into your outer ear, tap and go.
The buds will play independently for about seven hours – I tested this over seven days during one-hour walks, or if paired by Bluetooth for about five hours use.
The 82mAh battery in each bud takes about 60 minutes to charge in the case which holds 340mAh charge capacity – about two complete charges. There is a fast charge feature – 10 minutes in the case for one-hour play.
You can view the charge level from the Gear smartphone app or voice prompts when it is low.
Volume and sound quality
I was unable to measure volume in the ear, but I suspect it is the equivalent of 80dB – loud music or an alarm clock beside your head.
Similarly, it is hard to give it a sound signature as you cannot use the frequency response meter on it. A lot depends on the content played, but I think it’s balanced – (bass boosted, mid-recessed, treble boosted). It was clear without being overly crisp. There is no software equaliser, and it would make a smart addition.
The sound was pleasing and easy to listen to – not too harsh – on the caveat that they must be fitted properly in the ear canal.
Hands-free phone use was clear, and callers commented so.
I did not try Bixby (as I was testing the Nokia 8 at the time) but I did try Google Assistant, and it was adequate – voice commands are still wildly inconsistent.
It uses noise isolation (not noise cancellation) and cuts out much of the background noise. It has an ambient sound feature that uses the microphones in each bud to let sounds through – something I recommend you use when walking.
They were foolproof if you remembered to return them to the charge case and close the lid after use! Don’t lose the case – it is as important as the buds.
If you misplace a bud, you can use Find My Gear as long as it is within Bluetooth range and has some battery left.
At $299 these are by no means the most expensive buds, but in most aspects, they do perform up there with them. Some offer better battery life, some better sound adjustment via an equaliser, some IP67/68 ratings, etc.
I tried the original ICON X about two years ago and while OK the new ones are vastly better all around. Perhaps its Bluetooth 4.2 for the sound, or the improved, better ergonomic, and fall-out-proof fit. Whatever, these buds are ones you can use every day.
If you have a Samsung Galaxy, A Gear Fit2/S3 and want to stay in the Samsung ecosystem, these are the ones to buy.
- Well made
- Good secure fit despite being one of the smallest in-ear devices.
- Allows for single ear use (select mono)
- Comfortable over longer use.
- Eliminates the need for a smartphone in your pocket during exercise
- I like the touch controls, but you need to learn them all
- Music can be transferred via USB/OTG from smartphones via the case or sent over Bluetooth directly to the buds
- Little or no lag in the audio signal so good for watching/listening to video clips
- Has a Windows PC Manager app as well as iOS (not all features enabled) and Android apps
- I like the Coach features and encouragement if a little cheesy!
- There is a very basic play-list function but if not used songs start a number one and go up to 1,000
- Music needs to be manually synced to each bud
- Case is pill-shaped, a little chunky and easily opens if dropped – not a pocket pleaser
- No IP rating – presume its adequate for sweat but not water immersion
- No heart rate monitor as in version one (but that was wildly inaccurate)
- BlueAnt Pump Air
- Jabra Elite Sport
- Jaybird RUN
- Sony WF-1000
- Bose Sound Sport
- Overall: 4.2 – higher if you can bag a bargain
- Features: 4 out of 5 – needs IP waterproofing
- Value for Money: 4 out of 5 – at $299 shop around and knock this rating up a notch
- Performance: 4.5 out of 5 – All sound parameters are good, and battery life is excellent
- Ease of Use: 4 out of 5 – if you take the time to learn the touch commands
- Design: 4.5 out of 5 – a lot more discrete than Apple Pods
$299 but seen online for around $200 – make sure they are the 2018 model SM-R140