Wireless Earbuds Showdown: Samsung Gear IconX versus X2T

Probably your first thought upon reading the headline was “Okay, I know about Samsung and their Gear ecosystem of peripherals. Who the fuck is X2T though?” Indeed, who the fuck? When I went looking for wireless earbuds, I didn’t want to spend a bundle.

The last time I checked on the price of the Gear IconX, it was $300. I was not about to drop that kind of dough so I could listen to music without wires. I have the same capability built into my head, it’s just too quiet for music unless I’m in an empty room. Consequently, to make me part with my hard earned Steemit money, a set of wireless earbuds would have to be both cheap and excellent quality.

Unfortunately those two traits are like oil and water. I didn’t want to believe it though, as usual I had to learn the hard way. First up, the enigmatically named X2T:

Wondering where the second earbud is? Me too. A few days after it arrived, I dropped the charger/case on the ground. One of the earbuds popped out and rolled under furniture or something, everything I own is black so I can’t find it as it’s perfectly camoflaged.

It’s no big loss, though. At ~$26, I didn’t spend enough that it was worth the money to return it all the way to China. I wanted to like it, and nearly did. The build quality is actually very good, and I dig the minimalist industrial aesthetic. However, it has a fatal deal-breaking flaw.

The audio skips. Constantly. The connection between the earbuds and my phone is so weak and fragile that even passing my hand (or any other object) between my head and the phone while using these earbuds causes a brief interruption in the audio stream. Sometimes it also happens for no apparent reason.

Worse still, sometimes the interruptions last a good 5–10 seconds. Again, no obvious reason why it had to be this way. They nailed everything else, yet shit the bed on the sole function that these things were supposed to be able to perform: Letting you listen to music from your phone wirelessly.

Lesson learned. Feeling forlorn, I went looking to see how much Gear IconX earbuds are now. Apparently, IconX 2 is out. As a result, the original IconX earbuds have fallen immensely in price. I was able to snag mine for $65, including shipping.

These required a little more assembly than I’m used to. The silicone rubber parts like the outer skin and the ear plug bit needed to be manually put on. There’s also an app they need, as well as a PC companion program to update their software and manage the songs onboard each earbud.

That’s right. You can store MP3s locally on each earbud. I assume the onboard memory (4 gigs) is why these don’t skip. They have the local storage needed to buffer the audio stream coming from the phone over bluetooth. No skipping whatsoever.

This is all I ever wanted from wireless earbuds. But the features don’t end there. Using IR sensors, the earbuds know when they are inserted and turn off to save power when removed. Each one acts like a thumbdrive when docked to the charging carrier case and plugged into your PC.

They can monitor your pulse. They can passthrough ambient audio so you can hear people speak while your music is paused without removing them. The list of features on these things is insane, but that’s to be expected given what they originally cost.

I appreciate the features but honestly don’t need them. I just needed a basic rock solid set of wireless earbuds that do one thing, but do it reliably. It’s a shame the X2T didn’t quite deliver on that. I won’t pinch pennies so tightly again on something as apparently difficult to get right as a wireless audio streaming device.

There are minor downsides. Run time is a paltry hour or so due to the tiny batteries, but that’s unavoidable given the small size of the earbuds. They are smaller than they look in pictures, likewise with their charging case. It snaps shut, so you won’t lose an earbud by dropping it like what happened to me with the X2T.

The X2T didn’t actually secure the docked earbuds with anything but the friction of the silicone rubber plugs. Some day I’ll find that lost earbud but by then I will be beyond caring. They just didn’t measure up. Curiously the reviews don’t mention the skipping problem. It’s possible that it’s specific to my unit, or that my implant is causing interference.

I doubt it though, more likely the reviews were astro turfed (though they looked believable to me). Whereas the X2T has individual LEDs in each earbud to indicate whether they are charging, the Gear IconX case has individual LED indicator lights for both earbuds that are red during charging and green when finished. There’s also an indicator LED in the rear to let you know when the battery inside the case itself is charged:

$26 isn’t quite enough to get full on mad about, but it is an expensive mistake in my book. My blunder was trying to cheap out on something that is still pretty new technologically speaking and difficult for engineers to get right. All I had to do was spend a bit more to get something from a major trustworthy brand that I could be sure would do what I wanted it to.

Samsung gets a lot of shit for that S7 battery fire debacle, but then it was the battery supplier’s fault, not the S7 engineers. Consumers also demand more and more processing power from smartphones every year, while simultaneously demanding longer and longer battery life.

They don’t realize how those two desires conflict. They don’t care how it’s achieved, only that it is. But because it requires packing more and more energy into a smaller smaller space at a rate faster than battery tech naturally improves, eventually something had to give…and it did.

When this happens to smaller players in the smartphone market, because they sell way less phones, if there’s a defect afflicting 1% of their phones, that’s a much smaller number than when it’s 1% of Samsung phones. Consequently it doesn’t make such a big story and the recall is over with before anybody in the media hears there was even a problem.

When you consider how Samsung has created a whole ecosystem of seamlessly intercompatible ‘Gear’ peripherals that play nice with their Galaxy and Note phones like the Gear VR, Gear IconX and Gear line of smart watches, it’s easy to see why people like me stick with them in spite of that extremely rare battery fiasco.

Outside of the Apple prison, what other product line offers the same kind of smooth, easy interoperability between different products? When you buy a Samsung phone you’re not just buying that phone, you’re buying your way into that whole family of gadgets that use your Galaxy or Note as the nucleus and brains of your little personal area network.

Samsung doesn’t even pay me to say this shit. I am just a big fan of their products and it says a lot about how they differ from Apple that you can use their Gear products with any Android phone. The companion app they rely on isn’t locked to Galaxy or Note phones like you might expect.

Anyways, rant over. Verdict: Spend a little more for something from a reputable manufacturer. It costs you less in the end than taking a risk on some no-name mystery gadget that isn’t even branded, which turns out to have been money tossed in the fire. Like me, you’ll just wind up having to buy the nicer version anyway, so you may as well just do that from the start.

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