Samsung Gear Fit
11th Apr 2014 | 16:25
The band with the bendy face
Introduction and design
So with that in mind it's also pushing out a third Gear sibling in the form of the Gear Fit, a wearable band that aims to be big on style but a little less function-heavy than its brothers - no camera, no remote control, no storage for music - leaving it as a halfway house between fitness device and smartwatch that comes in at $199/£180 (around AU$212).
The question of how to combine these two categories is one of the most interesting in wearable tech right now. No one really knows what wearables will or should look like in five years time, but it feels like Samsung is achingly close to the truth with the Gear Fit.
That's not to say this device isn't without its faults, but with a few extra adjustments Samsung could have a winning wearable on its hands. The potential is clearly in there.
First things first - you'll need a compatible Samsung device in order to use the Gear Fit, of which there are currently 18 including the new Galaxy S5. It's frustrating but Samsung's probably not going to open it up any time soon, so we'll just have to suck it up.
The good news is that if you do have a Samsung device, the Gear Fit is a beautiful companion. Samsung has bestowed a curved 1.85-inch AMOLED screen on the Fit that can't actually be flexed but looks gorgeous nonetheless.
In fact, I probably spent most of my first hour with the Gear Fit changing wallpapers and messing around with the home screen layout, just appreciating how nice it all looked.
As someone who usually has some sort of gizmo on my wrist these days, the other thing I immediately noticed was how incredibly comfortable the Gear Fit feels on the arm. I have pretty small wrists and the Gear Fit is a tad more chunky than the likes of the Garmin Vivofit and the Nike Fuelband.
But even with both those factors considered, I find the band surprisingly more comfortable than a lot of its competitors, if a tad bigger than I'd ideally have it. It's actually less than half the weight of the Gear 2 - so light that after an hour of wearing it I forgot it was even there.
Plus, it's water resistant (up to one metre for 30 minutes) and dust resistant so you won't have to worry too much about ruining that oh-so-nice screen.
The adjustable hypoallergenic wristband is nuanced enough to ensure you'll always get a comfortable fit with the two-prong buckle, and this greater flexibility means Samsung can have a 'one size fits all approach' where more rigid fitness bands (like the Fuelband) come in different sizes for different wrist girths. You can, however, remove the band altogether if you want to swap it for another colour.
Initially, the Fit was locked at a horizontal display but Samsung has since issued an update that gives you the option of a vertical rotation instead. Having tried both, the vertical mode has an undeniably more ergonomic feel to it.
I'll get into the Fit's 'smart' features later, but it's worth pointing out that the screen proportions (horizontal or vertical) means space is limited when it comes to things like notifications.
Reading SMS and emails is a neat addition but most people will find scrolling on the tiny screen in horizontal mode a bit fiddly considering that the screen height is little more than the diameter of the average finger.
But for the odd "Gary has retweeted your picture of a dog in a sombrero" it's perfectly suited.
Move to the top of the device and you've got a single button to turn the screen on or off. One little feature I'm particularly fond of is Double Press which lets you assign a function of your choice that can be instantly opened from sleep by tapping the button twice.
Useful for seeing your notifications in a flash or getting a quick update of the amount of steps you've taken so far that day.
Knowing all too well that the screen gives off a lot of glare, Samsung lets you dial up the brightness from 1 to 6 - 6 being "Outdoor mode" - so you're guaranteed to always have a clear reading and a nice vibrant screen in the daylight. After 5 minutes at maximum brightness the Fit will turn the dial down to 4, which helps keep the battery going for longer.
On the downside, the screen isn't always on - as obviously that would obliterate the battery - but the Fit can be woken up to check the time with a turn of the wrist.
It's a nice addition but you'll probably find yourself more frequently using the button. I often found that I had to turn my wrist slightly in the opposite direction before turning it all the way back around in order to get enough 'twist' to wake the display up. More effort than it was worth.
While I was pleased (though not majorly impressed) to get a good three days of use out of the battery, charging the Fit requires a small accessory that clips onto the back and creates a bridge between the band and the Micro USB charger.
It's something you could easily lose, and if you do you'll have to pay for a replacement before you can juice up again. It's also an extra thing to carry around.
Interface and fitness
The interface is quite different to the Garmin Vivofit (which opts for a much simpler always-on, mostly monochrome LCD) and the Jawbone Up24 (which doesn't have a display at all). It's beautiful, vibrant, and allows you to change the background colours and watch faces to suit your mood.
In order to get the Fit working, you'll need to download the Gear Fit Manager on whichever of the 18 compatible Samsung devices you're using, after which point you'll be able to customise your Fit through said app.
You'll also need to pair it with Samsung's new fitness app, S Health, and enter a few personal details such as your height, weight and a few other personal details (oh, and set up a Samsung account if you don't already have one).
From then on your Fit and phone will sync all that juicy data between them whenever they're in Bluetooth range.
Samsung hasn't gone for Android or Tizen for the Fit. Instead it's opted for the much more simple Real Time OS (RTOS), its own proprietary wearables platform, which means you won't be able to download apps in the same way you can on the Gear smartwatches.
Gliding around the OS is as smooth as butter and the UI is noticeably cleaner than anything we've come to expect from the Korean company.
Swipe left or right from the clock screen and keep swiping to move through the different applications: Notifications, Media Controller, Settings, Timer, Sleep (tracking), Pedometer, Exercise, Heart Rate. Selecting any is just a gentle tap on the display.
Some of the smartwatch functions I'll come onto later, but the most important features here should be the ones that revolve around fitness. So just how good is the Gear Fit as an exercise companion?
Inside the guts of the device is an accelerometer and a gyroscope but the Fit's biggest feature is the built-in heart rate monitor, which you can access from the menu or enable when you start a run.
Building it into the device (something TomTom also decided to do this year for its Cardio Runner) was a welcome decision from Samsung and means you'll no longer have to worry about strapping any monitors to your chest.
The main thing to note about the Fit's monitor is that it's incredibly sensitive. This means that moving or even talking will usually prevent it from picking up an initial reading, at which point the device will tell you off for not staying still.
Out on a run, with the monitor tracking my heart rate in real time, I found that the extra sensitivity means it fluctuated a lot more than other monitors (usually with a reading that was around 10 BPM higher), which made me question its accuracy when checking at a glance. However the it would sync up after a few seconds when I'd stopped to take a breather.
In Exercise, the Gear Fit lets you select what kind of activity you're about to embark on from walking, running, cycling and hiking (the last of which we're not sure qualifies as its own 'thing'). Cycling and hiking require you to have your Samsung device paired for capturing GPS data but you can head out without your phone for the other two. It seems an odd decision to not use GPS for all activities considering that you're often likely to have your phone in your pocket anyway.
Because of this the Fit falls down on accuracy, and the lack of one basic function: pausing. Most of us find the need to stop for a brief period when out on a run, be it to cross a road, take a breather, or even reply to a text.
The Gear Fit doesn't offer this option; you can only stop your session completely. Given that it's a feature consistent in most other fitness bands (and within the S Health app itself) its omission seems rather odd. Again, something that could easily be fixed with a software update.
Perhaps less easy to resolve is the accuracy problem. Over the course of running, I found that the Gear Fit was a little inaccurate when measuring my overall distance. For example, one jog came in at 4.1km when the reality was closer to 4.3km. Samsung says it's working on improving the Fit's accuracy but for now it's not brilliant and something that could be greatly improved with GPS.
At the end of your run, all that lovely data will go straight to S Health. This is where you'll be able to see all of your fitness statistics, set goals and enter your food intake. You can even run certain exercise tracking features on the phone without the need for the Fit at all.
But S Health is a very closed-off application. I understand this is part of Samsung's drive to create its own ecosystem (as is the limitation of the Gear Fit to Samsung devices only) but as I'm someone who likes to pool all of my fitness data from various devices, usually on something like Map My Fitness, it's frustrating that information from the Gear Fit goes and stays in S Health right now.
There's also a basic pedometer feature on the Fit which you can keep ticking along in the background to track your movement throughout the day. Annoyingly, you do have to turn it on manually, which isn't something I'm used to doing with fitness wearables.
Also, the steps taken during exercise won't be added to the pedometer, which is annoying given the fact that's where you'll be getting a bulk of them. Samsung is aware of this problem and has promised a fix.
Samsung has also added a sleep tracker to the Fit, although the effectiveness of sleep monitoring (common in fitness bands) is up for debate. Nike says it's completely pointless tracking sleep at all outside of a lab environment.
On the Gear Fit, sleep tracking is disappointingly limited. You'll need to tell it when you're going to sleep and when you wake up. It will then tell you how long you slept for (which is just the difference between the two set times) and what percentage of what was "motionless".
There's also no way of transporting that data to the S Health app so you can only see it on the Fit itself. In sum, it feels like a bit of an afterthought from Samsung.
Though it doesn't have the kitchen sink of features like the Gear 2. The Fit still packs its own mini arsenal of smartwatch functions.
Chief among these is notifications. Being able to read my emails and SMS messages on the display without checking my phone is handy, and made all the better by the Fit's uncluttered interface.
The lack of a built-in mic for calling won't disappoint many people, and to me suggests that Samsung has got a better hold of the 'smartwatch' here than on the Gear 2 or the Gear 2 Neo.
In fact, my only real criticism here is that due to the proportions of the screen, a fair bit of scrolling is involved when the device is used horizontally, as I've already mentioned.
But while you can't type or dictate a response without getting out your phone, the Fit offers a selection of "quick reply" messages that you can fire back (which you can write yourself), although it's not an idea I've ever been keen on - very rarely do I find that a generic response will suffice.
Another nifty addition is the Find My Phone function, which will get your paired Samsung phone singing if you lose it, so long as it's within bluetooth range.
One extremely welcome smartwatch-common feature that Samsung has thrown in is a media controller. As someone who needs music on a jog, I'm all too used to the the pains of having to get my phone out to change tracks/search/change the volume. So I'm pretty thankful to Samsung for throwing that one in, especially as it also works with third party apps such as Spotify.
But it does, once again, highlight the stupidity of not allowing you to have GPS for running, as a few people will want to have their phone with them when running anyway - and music control feeds well into that.
Overall, Samsung has got a good balance of smartwatch features to the fitness ones. I don't feel like I'd ever want to use my Fit as a phone, nor would I realistically be able to type a message on it either. Samsung has kept this very much as a notification device, aligning it closer to something like the Pebble.
Samsung is entering a pretty crowded market here. There are a lot of competitors offering different features, designs and ideas of how wearable tech should behave. So how does the Gear Fit stand up against its rivals right now?
Looks-wise, the Jawbone Up24 is almost the total opposite of the Gear Fit. It's very understated, but the activity tracker is accurate and sleep monitoring is more in depth than on Samsung's offering.
Yet the lack of display means it's lacking the smartwatch-isms that make the Fit about more than the fitness. It also won't draw as much attention when you're out and about (for better or worse).
But considering it's a bit cheaper at £129 ($150, about AU$163) and packs a battery that'll keep ticking for over a week, it may be a better option if you're looking for a fitness tracker that's less hassle.
Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo
Samsung's full-blown smartwatches are competition to the Gear Fit themselves, especially the Gear 2 Neo which comes in closer price-wise. Opting for the higher-end Gear 2 will gain you the addition of a built-in camera, while both are able to run apps and work as standalone music players to pair with a bluetooth headset.
Like the Fit, both devices also have a pedometer, built-in heart rate monitor, accelerometer and gyroscope. So in terms of fitness, you're getting everything on the Fit plus all the added smartwatch extras.
But where the Fit stands out from these two (apart from in price) is in design. With fewer features, the Fit can afford a sleeker look while the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo have a larger, square shape that some of you might find offputting.
The Fitbit Force has been in a bit of hot water since Fitbit recalled units, following thousands of complaints of skin irritation from the device. But with that (rather big) problem aside, the Force is an obvious rival to the Gear Fit that should be taken pretty seriously.
For one thing, the band also throws in some smartwatch features on top of the fitness, and while its display pales in comparison to Samsung's, it still packs all the necessary information. Plus, the Force is compatible with both iOS and Android.
Like the Fit, it requires a proprietary charger and there are some inaccuracies when measuring sleep, but this remains one of the best fitness trackers out there. Let's hope Fitbit sorts the whole irritation problem out pronto.
When someone finally nails the smartwatch, it won't be a far cry from what Samsung has done with the Gear Fit.
Not only does it look great on the wrist, it's also got a decent selection of features that make it work as a good companion to your Samsung phone. Where it falls down is in the substance of some of its fitness capabilities.
For the serious runner, the Gear Fit just doesn't offer enough yet, nor does it feel accurate enough to rely on as your sole exercise device. But the trade off is the included set of smartwatch features that do give the Fit more of a day-to-day-gadget appeal. So it really depends on what you're looking for here.
Having a pedometer that doesn't need starting manually, the ability to use GPS for running, the option to pause during exercise and upload data to third part platforms are all on our wish list - and hopefully all things that Samsung can resolve via software updates.
Because with these fixed, Samsung would have a killer wearable that would be as appealing for the serious runner as the person who wants to more casually gamify their day-to-day activities.
As it is right now, it's not a device I'd recommend to the more hardcore fitness fiends out there. But give it time - Samsung is on the case - and once the kinks have been worked out it won't feel like we're paying a premium for a gorgeous display that lacks real substance.
At that point, Samsung may actually have come closer than anyone to nailing the wearable.
The Fit is a gorgeous piece of tech, possibly the best-looking out there right now. It's also packed with a good balance of fitness and smartwatch features, and given more attention, Samsung could have a winning wearable on its hands.
It's definitely a strong indication of where wearables should be headed right now, and let's just reiterate: the screen is a thing of beauty. Notifications are a really nice touch, it's just a shame that Samsung won't open it up beyond its own devices.
Most of the problems arise from limitations in the software: the inability to upload data to third party platforms, the lack of a pause feature, the lack of GPS tracking for running.
The accuracy needs improving too, and hopefully that can be done via updates. The heart rate monitor is also a little bit too jumpy which can make for some innacurate readings when you're out on a jog.
The Samsung Gear Fit is perhaps the best example of one of wearable tech's biggest challenges right now: reconciling the fitness band and the smartwatch. It feels like Samsung is very close here but the software still has some way to go, especially as cheaper competitors are better at some of these aspects.
Nonetheless, the Gear Fit still has a lot to offer and is certainly the most beautiful wearable I've used to date. Samsung's RTOS interface is wonderful and impressively clean - shame the Fit is limited to Samsung phones, really.
But if you do have a compatible Samsung phone and don't quite want to shell out for the Gear 2 or Gear 2 Neo and their full parade of features, the Gear Fit is a decent-enough fitness wearable that could be a lot stronger once Samsung's given it a few more tweaks.