Most of the fitness-based wearables we've seen so far have been very different from smartwatches. And one of the few attempts to blend the two, the Fitbit Force, ended up getting recalled (damn those skin rashes). Enter Samsung, which never met a mobile product category it didn't like. Read on, as Gizmag reviews the Samsung Gear Fit, a fitness tracker that also has some smartwatch blood flowing through its veins.
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There's no question what the coolest thing about the Gear Fit is. It uses a curved display that contours along the slope of your wrist. Curved touchscreen displays are pretty new to the world of mobile devices, but the Gear Fit is the first device I've seen that actually makes good use of one. The Fit's narrow design with a 1.84-in curved display makes a lot of sense. If you bred a Jawbone Up with a Galaxy Gear, then their love child would probably look – and act – a lot like the Gear Fit.
I can't get enough of the Gear Fit's smooth exterior. You know how every rumored Apple product gets a Photoshopped render that pops up on the internet? The ones that are so imaginative and amazing-looking that the actual product ends up looking pretty boring by comparison? Well, the Gear Fit looks kinda like a fantasy iWatch concept brought to life. This is one damn sexy-looking fitness tracker.
The one exception is the cheap plastic frame that surrounds the screen. It has a metallic look, and if you don't look closely, you might think it's actually made of stainless steel. But one unfortunate drop was all it took to remind me that this kind of plastic scratches easily. The screen itself is made of sturdy Gorilla Glass, but if you aren't careful, you might find some hairline scratches popping up on that frame. On a device that depends so much on its good looks, that's never fun.
That narrow screen does have a few quirks. You can set it to show your content either horizontally (the default) or vertically. I think the screen looks better in horizontal mode, but if you're wearing it on the outside of your wrist, reading your info that way can be a little awkward. Horizontal mode is great if you're wearing the Fit on the inside of your wrist, but when you do that, the Fit's wake-up gesture doesn't work properly (it normally turns the screen on when you lift your wrist to look at the screen). This is a pretty minor nitpick, but it would have been nice to see an option to set the wake-up gesture for wearing the Fit on the inside of your wrist.
So what does the Gear Fit do? Well, on the fitness side, it can serve as an always-on pedometer, tracking your steps throughout the day. You do have to turn this feature on manually, but once you do that, you can pretty much forget about it. The Fit's tracking automatically separates each day's data, so there's no need to toggle it on each morning. Leaving the pedometer running all day also doesn't appear to hurt battery life.
The Fit can also track the time, distance, and calories for specific workouts (even if the general-purpose pedometer is already tracking your daily steps in the background). The Exercise app lets you set your workout for running, walking, cycling, or hiking. And in the S Health app on your paired smartphone, you can set goals for yourself, and the Fit will reward you (with virtual medals) when you hit those marks.
The Fit also measures your heart rate – both during those workouts and any time you feel like checking it manually. The heart rate sensor sits on the back of the device's main body, and it worked most of the times I tried it. It doesn't hurt to arch your wrist back a little bit when it's reading your heart rate, and you also can't wear the Fit ridiculously loose and expect it to read your pulse. All in all, the problems are few, it seems accurate, and the heart rate sensor is one of the Fit's most handy features.
The Fit does also have a sleep tracker thrown into the mix. You just fire up the Sleep app before you doze off, and the Fit will tell you how long you slept, and how much of that time was spent lying still. It's possible you'll appreciate this feature, but I found it to be of little use. I already have an amazing sleep tracker that tells me exactly what I need to know: I ask myself if I woke up feeling refreshed or not. If so, then I got a good night's sleep. If not, then I didn't. Call me old-school, but I don't need that much data about myself.
The Gear Fit has a more than solid feature list. I'd say it's in the same ballpark as rival trackers like the Fitbit Flex, Jawbone Up, and Nike FuelBand. You could even argue that the Gear Fit's pulse monitor and touchscreen alone put it several steps ahead of those devices.
On the other hand, you could argue that the Gear Fit has a pretty conservative list of workout-based features. After all, isn't Samsung trying to brand itself as a master innovator in the wearable space? If it wants to really innovate – rather than just running commercials that make its products look innovative – then it would have been nice to see a few surprises thrown in there.
What about hydration levels? Blood oxygen measurements? Some kind of breathing rate monitor? Or maybe just an option to remind you to get up and move if you've been sitting too long? I'm no exercise guru, and it's possible those sensors aren't practical on a device this size. But it seems like a mega-company like Samsung could have been at least a little more creative and ambitious with the Gear Fit's feature set.
Though the Fit might not have a mind-blowing set of fitness-based features, it is one of the rare fitness watches that also has some smartwatch features thrown in. On that side of the fence, it gives you notifications from your smartphone (it supports notifications from any app, and lets you customize which ones you receive). You can also create a list of canned text message responses that you can reply with on the Fit. It also lets you control the media output from your phone, so you can leave your phone docked in a speaker or sitting on a charger – and still play/pause, adjust the volume, or skip tracks.
... and that's about it for the smartwatch features. No voice control, like in the Galaxy Gear and Gear 2. No Google Now-like contextual information, like in the upcoming Android Wear platform. It doesn't support third-party apps, there's no camera, and you can't use it for phone calls (though you can reject calls or reply with an "I'm busy" canned message).
The Gear Fit has very good battery life, and I think Samsung's estimate of three to four days is more than sound. On a typical day, I have the pedometer running in the background non-stop, with intermittent notifications flying in, a few random heart rate checks, and about an hour's worth of exercise tracking. With this kind of use, it only dropped around 25 percent each day. That's pretty damn good. Only the pickiest customers will be let down by the Fit's battery life.
The Gear Fit's charging mechanism is a little clunky. You have a standard micro USB cable that connects to a small clip-on cradle. The cradle snaps onto the back of the Fit, where its charging coils can draw in some juice. But finagling the cradle onto the device, so that it actually stays on, can be a minor pain. Nearly every time I've charged the Fit, I've had to slide the cradle around for a few seconds before it snapped into place. And sometimes when it looked like it had snapped on, it then popped off just enough to stop charging. It's a little thing, but sometimes customers appreciate – and are annoyed by – the tiniest details the most.
Like all of Samsung's other wearables, the Gear Fit is only compatible with Samsung phones. Or, more specifically, Samsung Galaxy phones running Android 4.3 or higher (the full list is at the very bottom of Samsung's product page below). There are already some unsupported hacks out there that let you pair the Fit with non-Samsung Android phones, but since Samsung could potentially break that compatibility with a future software update, I wouldn't recommend buying the Fit without also owning a supported phone.
The Gear Fit is water resistant, rated IP67. That means it's approved for "temporary submersion," and was tested sitting in 1 meter (3.3 ft) of water for 30 minutes, coming out as good as new. I dunked it in a glass of water, and poured another glass on top of it, and it was none the worse for wear. The water resistance is a nice bonus. If you get caught in a rainstorm, accidentally drop it in a sink, or just can't bear to stop your fitness tracking while you're in the shower, your investment should come out unscathed.
So there you have it. The Gear Fit is one of the most intriguing wearable devices I've used. It gives you several key pieces of the fitness tracking puzzle: distance- and step-tracking, estimated calories burned, and a heart rate sensor. Then notifications and music controls bring a little smartwatch flavor to the party. Four-day battery life doesn't hurt either. And best of all, it's wrapped in a slick-looking package with an oh-so smooth curved display.
Is the Gear Fit worth its US$200 asking price? For many customers, I think it will be. Most of the Gear Fit's rivals ring up for lower than that, but some of them don't even have screens – much less touchscreens. Just being able to see all your data on the band itself, rather than on your smartphone, should be worth some extra dough. Again, I would have liked to see Samsung look beyond just the most obvious workout-tracking features. But, on the whole, I think the Gear Fit still makes for a pretty compelling package.
The Samsung Gear Fit is available now for $200. For the other side of Samsung's new wearables, you can read our full Gear 2 smartwatch review.
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