Samsung is aiming straight between Apple’s eyes and launching an opening salvo in the battle between these two consumer tech heavyweights. The Gear Fit smart watch is a companion to several Samsung smartphones including the new flagship, the Galaxy S5. I’ve been road-testing it and am impressed by what it can do. But is it enough to abandon my current running watch?
The Gear Fit is another entrant in the increasingly crowded wearables category. It’s intended as a companion device for a smartphone. Unlike the Pebble, which can be used with any iOS or Android phone, the Gear Fit is part of Samsung’s mobile ecosystem.
If I was to summarise the Gear Fit’s appearance in one word it would be “understated”. With the black band my review unit could have passed for one of the many similar devices on the market such as the Nike FuelBand or Garmin VivoFit.
After going through the simple set up process, which used Bluetooth LE to pair the Gear Fit with the Samsung S5, I was ready to go.
Pressing the single button on the side of the Gear Fit turns on the display to reveal the watch face. But flick the small touch screen and it reveals several options.
- Notifications – for reading text messages and other alerts from the phone.
- Media Controller – so you can play/pause and do other things with the S5’s media player applications
- Settings – for changing watch faces, wallpapers and other customization
- Find my Device – handy for when you misplace your phone. Using this makes the phone play its ringtone so you can find it
- Timer – so you can count down
- Pedometer – for tracking how many steps you’ve taken
- Stopwatch – unsurprisingly, a stopwatch!
- Sleep – putting the Gear Fit in sleep mode will track how long you’ve slept and how still you were
- Exercise – so you track various forms of exercise such as running, cycling and walking
- Heart Rate – this uses the infrared light on the back of the watch to check your heart rate.
Gear Fit Road Test
I’ve been wearing the Gear Fit for several days. I keep the pedometer running constantly so I can track my steps through each day. For comparison, I’ve been continuing to wear my Jawbone UP24 on the other wrist.
Interestingly, the Gear Fit has been counting me as walking more steps than my UP24. The difference is about 7% – or 700 steps more for each 10000 steps. After some thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that the difference is not a big deal. But I have found that some activities can add to the step count. For example, doing up my shoe laces added seven steps. Sure, it is technically a calorie burring activity but I’ve never seen “Tying Laces” in any get fit books!
The Gear Fit is a kind of visual motivator to be more active. If you set your step goal to a reasonable level like 10000 steps per day, a few hundred here or there is not likely to make a huge difference to your general fitness.
I also wore the Gear Fit on a couple of runs, over 12km and a 5km. Although the Gear Fit took my pulse at the start of each run, it didn’t give me all the information I want. Although I’m an enthusiastic runner, I’m not a professional. But that doesn’t mean I’m not trying to work hard and improve. That means being able to track things like heart rate through a run, basic split information such as time per km or distance travelled.
In contrast, I run with a Nike SportWatch which has an integrated GPS and works with a chest strap heart monitor. Being able to put that data together is a huge value add. And, if you’re a real daw junkie, Garmin’s watches like the Forerunner 620, provide vast swathes of data.
Even though all the data from the Gear Fit syncs wirelessly and without any intervention to the Galaxy S5 Smartphone, the amount of data it captures is limited.
Battery life is a critical feature with any smart watch or wearable technology. As I work at a desk a lot of the time, I was easily able to connect the Gear Fit to it’s charging cradle, which was connected to a spare USB port on my computer, every couple of days for an hour or so. The battery level rarely fell below 40% when I did this.
One of the other features I found useful was the ability to read and reply to text messages. The reply function is limited to a list of quick replies such as “Yes”, “I’ll see you soon” and other short responses. That was helpful when discretely answering messages when in meetings.
Part of the Gear Fit’s appeal is the way it works with Samsung Health, an app that comes with many of Samsung’s newest smartphones. Intended as a central gathering point for health related personal data, much like Apple’s new Health Book, it collects data from the Gear Fit, allows you to manually enter data such as food consumption and integrates with third party health and fitness apps..
In general, the app works well but we did encounter a few hassles. When we were on a plane flight and wanted to check something, no data was available as Samsung Health doesn’t seem to store any data locally on the phone. It required Internet access to show synced data.
I’ve been using the Jawbone UP app on and iPhone and on the S5 and entering meals is reasonably easy. But the options in Samsung Health are more limited. For example, we had poached eggs for breakfast one morning. With the UP app, we could easily specify whether the eggs were large, medium or small, or we could enter what we ate by weight (tricky in a cafe!). But the Samsung Health app only had large eggs or weight as options. We hit similar annoyances several times.
Do you want one?
If your a semi-serious runner then the Gear Fit is not going to replace your running watch. This isn’t criticism per se but rather an acknowledgement that the Gear Fit is targeting a specific need for general health rather than specialized exercise.
If you’ve been using a Pebble, then the Gear Fit is a significant step up in our view.
But ultimately, the Gear Fit is a useful accessory if you’re getting more serious about tracking your general activity. Its ability to integrate with the Galaxy S5 smartphone for alerts, notifications and alarms is very handy. And the pedometer is a useful way to track your activity.