Review: Can Samsung’s Gear Fit 2 keep up with rival fitness trackers?

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Gizmag reviews the Samsung Gear Fit2 GPS sports tracker(Credit: Simon Crisp/Gizmag)

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The Gear Fit 2 is Samsung's second fitness-focused watch, and one it hopes will emerge from the shadows and give the likes of Fitbit and Garmin a run for their money. The updated model adds GPS tracking and built-in music storage to its already impressive roster of features, meaning it's pretty much got all the hardware features you can hope to find on a fitness wearable. We recently spent a bit of time putting the Gear Fit 2 through its paces to see what's what.

There's only so much space on your wrist. Therefore it's not surprising that smartwatches and fitness trackers are converging. Smartwatches are getting better at logging sporting endeavors, while fitness-focused devices are gaining basic smart features. The Samsung Gear Fit 2 arguably falls into the latter category with its fitness features edging out its smartwatch ones in terms of appeal.

Sporting credentials of the Gear Fit 2 include heart rate monitoring, GPS logging, and tracking a range of activities and sports. The built-in music storage also means it will suit fitness fans who like to work out without their smartphone, and the distractions which go with it. On paper, this pits the well-stocked watch against devices like the Garmin Vivoactive HR, Fitbit Blaze, and TomTom Spark Cardio + Music.

However, its smart watch features still go beyond those found on most fitness trackers. For example, you are not only able to receive notifications on your wrist, but are also able to reply to them, albeit with pre-written messages. It also makes a good replacement for a standard watch with a nice selection of animated watch faces, and a natural wake-up gesture (ubiquitous on most smartwatches) means if you move your wrist to look at the watch, the screen is activated.

Physically, the 30g (0.066 lb) Gear Fit 2 is lightweight and stylish, especially for a GPS-toting and IP68 water resistant watch. It looks darn good, we'd say it's even more of a looker than the original Gear Fit, the looks of which we were smitten with the first time we laid eyes on it. Then again, it's not too hard to look good compared to the majority of fitness trackers which only look right if you're decked out in sportswear and sweating profusely.

The Gear Fit 2 comes in black, blue and pink color options, and its plastic band (which can be removed) is comfortable to wear for long periods of time. One problem we did run into during our test was that the clip-in fastening on the strap came loose on a couple of occasions. This caused the watch to wobble about, though luckily without falling from the wrist to the ground.

The business section of the Gear Fit 2 features a curved Super AMOLED screen, which is used in portrait orientation rather than the landscape setup the original Gear Fit could also do. The 216 × 432 pixel screen is bright and sharp, and the updated interface on the Tizen OS makes it a joy to use with no need to twist your wrist to read it.

Indoors the screen looks simply glorious compared to those on the majority of fitness trackers, to the point it can make newly-released devices feel outdated. However, once you venture outside, the reflective nature of the screen can make it difficult to read, particularly if you are moving at the time. This is not what you want if you're glancing down while running at speed.

The Gear Fit 2 is able to display a good array of information on its screen, but it's arguably not always presented in the most logical way. While it's easy to check a summary of activity data for any day, looking in more detail at a workout involves going through a "view log" button at the bottom of the screen used to log an exercise.

This leaves you using the companion app (or apps) to do most of your reviewing of fitness data. Unfortunately it isn't anywhere near as slick as Fitbit, Jawbone or Garmin. First off, it requires you to use two apps, Samsung Gear and S Health, and they feel clunky compared to rivals. Again the layout and process of reviewing and comparing data seems illogical. It's also worth noting that you'll need to be using a device running Android 4.4 (or 4.3 for Galaxy devices) and with at least 1.5 GB RAM.

This brings us to the fitness and sports modes of the Gear Fit 2. The logging of daily steps, active minutes, floors climbed and calories burned, and working towards a daily goal is almost a given at this point, and the watch does a solid job of this thanks to its accelerometer, gyroscope, and barometer. During our tests the numbers it produced were comparable to those from a Fitbit Charge HR we donned alongside it.

The Gear Fit 2 has 15 sports/fitness tracking modes which include core sports such as running, walking and cycling, along with the ability to track activity on indoor exercise equipment like treadmills, rowing machines, bikes and elliptical trainers. There are also settings for yoga, pilates, and a generic "other workout" as well as its guided modes for lunges, crunches and squats, which work a bit like the Moov Now and will count what you've done.

When logging distance exercise such as running, users are given the option to turn on GPS tracking, and set a target distance, time, or pace (allowing you to burn more calories of build endurance). Given the Gear Fit 2 has built-in heart rate tracking it seems odd that it doesn't use this data in the same way as many other trackers to ensure you are working out in the right heart-rate zone to achieve you goals, though it will at least tell you what zone you are in.

In addition to the reflective screen, the inability to set the display to show only the data we wanted (many trackers let you customize data screens) made monitoring a workout difficult. However, post-run it was nice to be able to glance at maps of where we'd been and continuous heart-rate graphs. On the flip side, those graphs were more smoothed out than we'd have liked. While this is fine for things like yoga, it can be frustrating if looking at data from some running and HITT workouts where quick spikes and dips are important.

A couple of times during our test the Gear Fit 2 logged erratically high heart rates, clocking our ticker at a scary 220 bpm, when it was actually much closer to 140 bpm. It's also worth noting the standard heart rate monitoring of the Gear Fit 2 is on-demand (or automatically at intervals), rather than continuous. It also cannot be paired with external ANT+ or Bluetooth heart rate monitors.

If the activities you normally take part in aren't on the list of included exercises, you may have to question whether the Gear Fit 2 is right for you. And while 15 fitness/sports modes sounds like a lot, a number are there simply to count reps as guided exercises. This lets you work towards a total number of reps or a timed duration of lunges, crunches and squats. While this works well, it feels like a much more basic version of the Moov Now, or the FitStar workouts on the Fitbit Blaze watch.

While there is an "other workout" setting for tracking exercises which aren't specified on the list, this mode doesn't allow users to select what metrics to log, which is a real shame. It would be nice to be able to select whether you want to log things like heart rate or GPS data. Instead you just get duration and an estimated calories burned. This made tracking activities like tennis and football seem almost pointless.

If you don't manually track a workout, the Gear Fit 2 will automatically log running, walking and cycling (as well as elliptical trainer and rowing machine sessions in the gym). While this is great for the memory-challenged, or logging walks you wouldn't think of tracking, you again end up with less metrics being logged. It won't automatically turn on GPS or heart rate tracking.

While you don't get a full array of smartwatch features with the Gear Fit 2, it does offer more in this regard than most other fitness and activity trackers. Users can receive notifications from a range of smartphone apps, and these arrive nice and quickly, if not quite instantaneously. You can also reply, though because there's no microphone or on-screen keyboard, this is limited to canned responses (which can be edited on the phone) and emojis you can scroll through.

When TomTom added music storage with the Spark (Cardio + Music) sports watch, it made a big deal about it. Rightfully so given how many fitness fans prefer to go out without a phone. However, the 4 GB internal memory and music controls of the Gear Fit 2 could easily go unnoticed. This is a shame given how well it works. Music can be transferred wirelessly from your phone, and listened back to via Bluetooth headphones. If you'd still rather use your phone for music, you can control it from your wrist.

Another feature of the Gear Fit 2 worth a quick shout-out is the inactivity warning which can constantly remind you to get up off your butt. However, if your watch is already buzzing and vibrating with too many notifications this can be easy to ignore. Battery life is rated up to 3-4 days, though we'd say that's best case scenario. With occasional GPS and heart-rate monitoring, we got an average of just over 36 hours. Used purely as an activity tracker and with notifications enabled we still only got two and a half days (maybe three at a push) use out of it.

As such, we preferred to pop the watch on its magnetic charging dock each evening so we knew we'd get through the next day even if using GPS to track a run and listen to music. This meant we didn't use the Gear Fit 2 to track too much of our shut-eye, but that's no great loss as we've yet to find a wrist-worn sleep tracker which gives us much more insight into our kip.

On paper Samsung's Gear Fit 2 looks like it should be up there with the best fitness trackers, and rivaling the likes of the Fitbit Blaze and Garmin Vivoactive HR. It's got all the right hardware including heart rate monitoring, GPS tracking and built-in music storage. It also boasts both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and looks better than most, if not all, of its rivals, meaning you're more likely to be wearing it when you are doing something you want to track.

Indeed, the watch could well be a good option for many users. It offers a mix of fitness tracking and smartphone features which is going to appeal to a lot of people. The budget friendly US$180 price tag will also hit a sweet-spot for potential buyers and seems very reasonable for such well-stocked hardware.

However, the limitations of which activities it can track with relevant data, and the software shortcomings for people who want to do more than glance at their activity data, mean it's probably best suited to casual exercisers. Hard-core fitness fans who do a wide range of regular activities might still be better served by something like the Garmin Vivoactive HR, Fenix 3, or Fitbit Blaze

That said, the Samsung Gear Fit 2 has all the hardware in place, and with the right software upgrades could give the more established fitness trackers a run for their money. Unfortunately "with the right software upgrades" has become a routine, perhaps overly optimistic, clause we find ourselves using when reviewing Samsung wearables.

Product page: Samsung Gear Fit 2

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