Review: Gear IconX (2018) software update brings meaningful additions
Samsung’s original Gear IconX wireless earbuds were driven by solid ideas, but the implementation wasn’t the best. Battery life, in particular, left much to be desired, and the audio quality wasn’t great, either. But like Samsung’s other wearables, the Gear IconX received an upgrade less than a year later, and the new model brought numerous improvements and a few new features. The battery life got a significant boost, Samsung built in support for accessing Bixby (or the voice assistant of your choice) through the IconX for devices like the Galaxy S8, and the already comfortable design was improved further with the second-generation earbuds.
Now, Samsung has gone ahead and released a software update to enhance the value offered by the Gear IconX (2018). The update brings the option to lock the touchpad on the earbuds, adds an equalizer with various modes, and improves on the ambient mode feature (which allows outside noise to filter through even when the IconX is being used for listening to music and other media). We were given early access to the updated software and were able to test the new features and improvements, and this is our quick review of what the update adds to the company’s multipurpose wireless earbuds.
Equalizer lets you customize audio output
Samsung’s smartphones come with an equalizer feature built in (along with many other sound quality customization options), but the Gear IconX isn’t supposed to work only with the company’s devices. That’s where the new equalizer option for the IconX comes in. It’s not a full-blown equalizer that lets you change individual frequencies; instead, it comes with five presets: Bass Boost, Soft, Dynamic, Clear, and Treble Boost.
The Dynamic preset offers a balance between bass-heavy and treble-heavy sound, while the Bass Boost and Treble Boost options maximize the bass and treble respectively (just as their names suggest). The Soft and Clear presets are what you use to get slightly higher bass or higher treble than the Dynamic setting, allowing for sound that isn’t as extreme in either end of the spectrum as the Bass Boost and Treble Boost presets.
Now, while there’s no option to manually adjust frequencies, the equalizer presets offer clear differentiation from each other when it comes to the audio output. These presets also don’t affect the volume output as manually adjusting frequencies does, but at the highest volume level, these presets may not always work too great. For example, in the guitar and drum-laden Summer of ’69 by Bryan Adams, I preferred keeping the equalizer off, as none of the presets were able to make the guitar riffs less uncomfortable to listen to at full volume.
But, again, that’s at full volume, and the not-so-awesome default sound quality of the IconX is also to blame. At a couple of levels below maximum volume, though, these presets make a positive difference. The equalizer option really should have been there from the start, but hey, it’s available now, and it’s possibly the most useful feature introduced by the update.
Ambient Sound mode can focus on human voices
The Ambient Sound mode was one of the IconX’s best features, and it worked pretty well, too. With the update, Samsung is giving the user the ability to decide just how much of the outside sound filters into the earbuds. Also new is an option – Voice Focus – that enhances human voices more than other sounds, which can be very handy when you are, say, at home and want to be able to hear when someone in the family call out your name while you’re listening to your favorite tunes. This doesn’t just enhance human voices; rather, it seems to generally increase the amount of sound that filters in, which is why I can also hear more clearly the sound of the keys on my mechanical keyboard at home as I type this review.
Voice Focus, in fact, lets you partly get around the primary issue with Ambient Sound mode: You have to be listening to music at moderate levels to be able to hear the outside world. At high volumes, the feature naturally doesn’t work that well, so Voice Focus might be a godsend if you tend to go out running with the IconX or ride a bike to work and have been put off by the fact that you have to keep the volume level too low to be aware of your surroundings.
Annoyed by the touchpad? You can now disable it
Here’s another feature that lets you avoid one of the IconX’s pitfalls, one that Samsung didn’t consider important enough to mention in the press release. Having touch control on both the right and left earbud is a great idea in theory, but it can often be a nuisance in practice. It’s easy to touch the touchpad by accident and cause unintended actions, like pausing the music or skipping to the next track when you’re trying to set your hair with your hand, and it was surprising the company didn’t think of adding an option to disable the touchpad in the first place.
Samsung is fixing that with the new update with the Touch Lock feature. Touch Lock disables the touchpad when you need it – you can set the lock to come on automatically after 30 seconds without any touch input or when you are working out. The latter didn’t seem to work very well, so the 30-second timer is the better option here. Once the touchpad is locked, it can be unlocked by tapping and holding the touchpad for a few seconds.
Audio can be transferred over Bluetooth
This is a minor yet significant function that, for some reason, wasn’t introduced to the IconX (2018) despite the increase in battery life over the original IconX. Thanks to the update, you can now transfer music files to the IconX over Bluetooth, removing the need to connect to a PC or use a USB dongle. It’s a slow affair as expected, and the earbuds don’t play anything when the tracks are being transferred, but it’s still a necessary feature since you can’t have a PC or USB connector with you when you’re out for a run. It will also be handy for lazy bums who don’t want to bother with wired transfer at home and want to get things over sitting on your couch.
The Gear IconX (2018) update is a big one, but it’s hard not to wonder why most of this stuff wasn’t available on the earbuds in the first place. If you can set those questions aside, however, the features and improvements included in the update combine to improve the overall experience offered by Samsung’s latest wireless earbuds. It’s too bad the update isn’t being released for the original IconX, though. The battery life on the first-generation earbuds might have been abysmal, but at least the equalizer could have been added as it wouldn’t really affect battery endurance. The same goes for the option to disable the touchpad, and we’re guessing it’s more the fact that the first IconX came out more than a year and a half ago than its ability to handle the new functionality that Samsung has chosen to keep the update exclusive to the second iteration.
In any case, if you happen to own the Gear IconX (2018) and use the earbuds frequently, grab the update straight away from the Samsung Gear app. Let us know what you think of the new features once you’ve tried them out!