When I got to test out the Galaxy S5 smartphone, I also had the opportunity to spend the past week with the Samsung (SSNLF) Gear Fit, part of that company’s second generation of smart wearables and its take on the fitness band.
The Gear Fit is part of Samsung’s strategy to tackle the health and fitness market. It incorporates sensors to measure activity and heart rate, uploading that data to Samsung’s S Health app — basically, Samsung’s take on Apple’s (AAPL) forthcoming iOS8 Health app.
While everyone is waiting for Apple’s “iWatch” to make its debut, likely completing the fitness loop for iOS, the Samsung Gear Fit is here now.
Will Samsung be able to take advantage of its head start to build a lead over Apple and take down other fitness bands like the Fitbit Flex and Nike (NKE) Fuel Band in the process? Read our Gear Fit review to find out.
Gear Fit Review: Nice Display, Deep Functionality, Some Shortcomings
The first thing you’ll notice about the Gear Fit is its display. In short, it’s beautiful. An elongated and curved 1.84-inch Super AMOLED at 124 x 432 pixels, it’s bright, sharp and colorful. Other fitness bands have lower resolution LCD or even black and white ePaper displays — the Samsung Gear Fit really stands out.
You can even change the background on that display to suit your mood or dress, with a dozen or so included wallpaper options to choose from.
Functionality is surprisingly deep. There’s a heart rate monitor, sensors to track motion (with all sorts of settings including walking, running, hiking and cycling), a media app for controlling music playback on a smartphone, stopwatch, sleep tracker, a huge range of notifications from the smartphone, a “Find My Device” button that helps to find a misplaced smartphone or tablet and, of course, a watch.
Unfortunately, there are a few misses in all this.
The wide but short display is awkwardly positioned on the wrist for reading notifications. You can switch the display to vertical which means much less arm twisting, but then those notifications display a word or two per line and may require scrolling, which looks ugly. The wristband is not a standard one. Samsung will sell you a replacement (they even offer multiple colors), but on my 8-inch wrist I was on the last set of holes for the clasp. Any larger and you won’t be able to wear this wristband.
The relatively slim form factor comes with a compromise. A dongle snaps onto the bottom of the Gear Fit to add a USB port for recharging. This piece could easily be lost and then you can’t recharge any longer.
Perhaps the greatest problem (depending on what smartphone you use) is covered off in the next slide.
Gear Fit Review: You Need a Galaxy
This isn’t really a knock specifically against Samsung. Many smart wearables require pairing to a smartphone for most functionality to work. Sony (SNE) only supports its Xperia devices for its SmartWatch wearable, and I have no doubt Apple will only support the iPhone and iPad when that time comes.
But it’s worth knowing that you need to own a Galaxy device — a Galaxy S3 or newer or recent edition Galaxy tablet — if you expect to get much out of the Samsung Gear Fit.
Many of the Gear Fit settings, notifications, uploading of your fitness data and even firmware updates for the Gear Fit (and there was one during my test period) require the fitness band to be paired to a compatible Galaxy device.
So if you want a fitness band that offers standalone functionality or the ability to display notifications from an LG smartphone or a Google (GOOG) Nexus, the Gear Fit is probably not the device for you.
Gear Fit Review: Specs
- 1.84-inch, 128 x 432 curved Super AMOLED touchscreen display
- Bluetooth 4.0
- Vibration alert
- Heartrate sensor, accelerometer, gyro sensor
- 210 mAh Li-ion battery rated for 3-4 days of typical usage
- Micro-USB port for recharging, requires included attachment
- Weighs 0.95 oz
- IP 67 certified Water resistant and dustproof
- Main case is charcoal black plastic, additional interchangeable bands sold separately (Gear Fit review unit was standard charcoal black band)
- Only compatible with select Samsung Galaxy devices
- MSRP $199
Gear Fit Review: Conclusion
If you already own a recent Samsung Galaxy device — especially a smartphone like the Galaxy S4 or Galaxy S5 that you’d be carrying around with you — and you’re in the market for a fitness band that also offers notifications, then the Samsung Gear Fit is a logical choice.
So long as you can live with some of its shortcomings and the $199 price tag, you’re getting a fitness band that looks pretty nice, integrates with Samsung’s S Health app and provides the discrete notifications, reminders and alerts that many people look for in a wearable.
If you’re looking for a full featured smartwatch you can load up with third party apps, then keep looking — the Gear Fit is not that device.
Apple iPhone owners and anyone with an Android smartphone that doesn’t have the Samsung label will also want to take a pass on the Gear Fit.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.