When Samsung launched the Galaxy Gear alongside the Galaxy Note 2 in 2013, there were more criticisms than praises for the smartwatch. A few months on, Samsung launched the Galaxy S5, and with it, an update to the Gear, known as the Gear 2, as well as a fitness tracker in the form of the Galaxy Gear Fit. Samsung’s aim here was to blend the fitness tracker and the smartwatch, to combine the best of both worlds. It may seem an obvious solution, but the combination is quite rare, with no apparent market having existed previously. Samsung previously ignited the phablet market with the Note, and looks to repeat the success with the Gear Fit. But will it catch on? And more importantly, will it provide the required information and functionality that will make it a worthwhile purchase?
Build and Design
The most noticeable difference of the Gear Fit over both the Gear and Gear 2 is its size. The Gear Fit is more or less half the size and weight of the original Gear, including a new, curved design template. There is a definite move toward the curved screen, as seen on the Galaxy Gear Round and LG G Flex smartphones. The curved, touchscreen, Super AMOLED display fits snug around most wrists, which is an important aspect with the heart-rate monitor fitted below the device. This, main body, is fitted inside a rubberised plastic band that wraps around the edges. The bands are easily interchangeable. This means you can just as easily replace it with something that looks and feels more premium. While the main unit comes across as premium and a little futuristic, the plastic band it anything but. It is important for the device to be fairly tight on your wrist in order correctly read. This, however, causes some issues at times, as the band has lost its grip and popped off, even on my skinny wrist.
The 1.84-inch curved Super AMOLED display is both bright and crisp, and users will have no difficulty in viewing the diminutive screen, even in direct sunlight. The only issue caused by the curved design is the fact that the direct sunlight on occasion reflects back into users’ faces. There are two viewing options, ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’, which gives users the option as to what is easier viewable. The ‘horizontal’ layout makes viewing notifications, emails, and fitness apps much easier, whereas viewing in ‘vertical’ mode provides a more stylised view of the different clock layouts. While there are a few preloaded backgrounds on the device, as well as additional backgrounds when paired to your Samsung smartphone, users can create a few backgrounds of their own by selecting images on their smartphones.
One very useful feature of the Gear Fit is that it has an IP67 dust and water resistant certification, allowing it to be submersed in a metre water for up to 30 minutes. This means you can just as easily do the dishes, take a shower, or have a swim without needing to remove the unit. It is worth mentioned, though, that you shouldn’t attempt to use the device under water, as the touchscreen struggles to pick up any touch when combined with even one drop of water.
Performance and Software
So far, the Gear Fit has managed an above par score in terms of its build, design and display. The most important factors, however, are obtained in its performance and functionality. The Gear Fit comes with a host of features, including a pedometer, heart-rate monitor, a few specific exercises, as well as a calendar, weather and time zone apps. Setup of the unit is completed through the Gear Fit Manager on your Galaxy smartphone. Once you’ve setup the unit, all these features become available, even the clock. The Gear Fit is separated into two categories: a fitness band, and a smartwatch.
As a Fitness Band
To utilise any of the fitness features, you can simply scroll through the menu on the touchscreen. Once you’ve selected your app of choice, simply activate it and you’re off. Apps such as the pedometer are always recording, which means you don’t have to activate it to take effect. Other apps work in conjunction with one another, as with the exercise app, which also tracks your heart-rate while you’re jogging, for example. The exercise app also provides additional feedback to meet your set targets, prompting you to speed up, or even slow down, during your run to maintain your goal. Although I have not managed to reach this point, the device will also warn you if your heart-rate may be too high during any exercise. Exercises to choose from include walking, running, cycling, and hiking. Unfortunately for swimmers, the waterproof status doesn’t mean that a default swimming regimen included. Playing other sports also don’t reflect well in exercise mode; interpreted as a lazy runner as opposed to the stop/start nature of team sports.
As a Smartwatch
As a smartwatch, the Gear Fit performs slightly better, but, again, with its own set of limitations. Viewing notifications are simple enough, since it only provides the heading and a part of the message body. When attempting to read more than just the notification portion, you’ll be scrolling awkwardly through either orientation; a difference between offering one or two lines of text per scroll, the other splitting even those words that are too long. Apart from receiving simple notifications and reading through text-based mails, the Gear Fit also provides call monitoring, which offers quick responses if you’re unable to answer. You can also receive alarms for meetings, as well as setting your preferred wake up time. Putting the phone into sleep mode both monitors your sleep pattern (to some extent), as well as turns off all notifications and alarms, apart from those you’ve specifically set to alert, including your wake up alarm.
Other features include a stopwatch, timer, and a “find my device” option for those who often misplace their smartphones. One feature I found using more than others was the music control option. The Gear Fit can control the default music player on your Samsung Galaxy smartphone, which, in turn, can be connected to your speaker system. It is possible to use this same feature on your in-car system, but becomes increasingly difficult flicking through songs while your hand is on the wheel. [FoS promotes safe driving, so rather don’t attempt this feature while driving]
One of the concerns is that the software isn’t run on your standard Android or Tizen OS, but rather on a Samsung-optimised OS, which means that no third party apps can be installed on the device itself. Even applications installed via the smartphone are a rarity. While the S-Health app integrates some third party applications that assist with your workout program, sporting activity, etc., it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Gear Fit unit is of any use when using this app; most often not.
In theory, the idea of the Gear Fit as a smartwatch and fitness tracker provides an enticing appeal for all tech enthusiasts. All the ingredients are there on the Gear Fit to provide just such a device, but unfortunately loses its appeal after a few days of real life usage. Telling time and viewing mail and message notifications are carried out with the utmost ease. Tracking your daily steps and morning jogs are also carried out with relative ease, although not as accurate and as easy. Many of the shortcomings of the Gear Fit are as a direct result of immature software. This, however, shouldn’t be a long term issue, since software can always be updated. A testament to this is the fact that Samsung keeps pushing out firmware updates every month to fix bugs and make minor adjustments. This is also evidence that the device was rolled out to market prematurely, perhaps in fear of other manufacturers catching on.
At the end of the day, the Gear Fit does enough to be considered as part of your next Samsung smartphones purchase, but not if you’re in the market for any other OEM; due to the obvious limitations. It also does a lot more in terms of what it has to offer than the Nike Fuelband and the likes. When starting this review, I really wanted to enjoy the unit and convince myself to purchase one. At a cost of around R3,000, it becomes harder to sell. A few Rand more affordable and we have a deal.