The Gear Fit might just be the first piece of wearable technology we actually looked forward to putting on. Ever since getting our first look at the device at the Samsung Galaxy S5 launch event, we couldn’t wait to see if there was a smart watch success behind that beautiful screen. Now that we’ve got one, it was time to find out if lived up to our expectations.
LIGHT ME UP
In many ways, the answer is an emphatic yes: that screen is undeniably gorgeous and is the Gear Fit’s highlight. The 1.84in OLED has a slight curve to better fit your wrist and, with a 432×128 resolution, it looks incredibly crisp. It’s large enough that you can clearly read notifications at a glance, but nowhere near as chunky as the Galaxy Gear or Gear 2. Viewing angles are excellent and we could easily read the screen in bright sunshine, although you may want to manually lower the brightness in the evenings or at the cinema, as the screen is extremely bright as its maximum level.
We expected this brightness to come at a detriment to battery life, but we lasted several days without needing to recharge the device. Unfortunately you’ll need to use the proprietary docking clip when it is time to refuel the Fit. This small clip takes power via a standard microUSB cable, but lose it and there’s no other way to charge the Fit.
The screen automatically illuminates when you raise your wrist, so you can tell the time at a glance without having to press a button. It’s fully touch-sensitive too, with the only physical button used to turn the screen on and off manually. Everything else is controlled with a tap or swipe.
The biggest issue is orientation. You either have to turn your head or your wrist to read the screen when in horizontal mode. You can switch to a vertical layout through the settings menu, but the screen isn’t particularly wide so text is forced to scroll or is rendered in a much smaller font.
STRAP IT ON
The device itself sits in a removable wrist band, which is made from water-resistant rubberised plastic and is available in six different colours. According to Samsung it’s also hypo-allergenic, so shouldn’t cause problems for anyone with plastic or latex allergies. The notched clip is far easier to adjust for a tight fit than other fitness bands we’ve used, and a lot cleaner than ones you have to cut to fit.
As a whole, the Fit it light and sits fairly flush to your wrist, so it easily slips underneath a shirt cuff and won’t force you to take it off when typing at a desk. It even looks attractive, thanks to the minimal styling and front face that’s almost all screen, although some of the people in our office said they still wouldn’t wear one.
The Gear Fit doesn’t run Android, or even the Tizen OS like its bigger brothers the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo. Instead it’s something of Samsung’s own creation, and it works all the better for it. The company has stripped out all the non-essentials, leaving you with a smart band that does the basics incredibly well.
Swiping left or right from the main clock reveals a selection of features, each separated by their own icon. Notifications, Music control, Pedometer and Heart Rate are arguably the most important, but you’ll also find a stopwatch, timer, exercise tracker and settings.
There’s also a useful Find My Device alarm, which activates your smartphone’s ringtone at the maximum volume, even if you’ve set it to silent or vibrate, although the phone has to be powered on and you have to be connected to it (so within Bluetooth range) for it to work.
You’ll also need to download the Gear Fit Manager app to your phone in order to sync it with the Fit; this isn’t in the Google Play Store and will only show up through Samsung’s own Samsung Apps store. It’s also entirely separate from the Gear Manager, which works with the Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo and Galaxy Gear.
Through this app you can customise the main clock screen, putting a step counter, weather report or upcoming meetings underneath it, although we would have liked a scrolling clock that included all three on a rotation. You can also change the order of the icons and swap the background wallpaper, letting you alter the Fit to suit your own personal preference.
What makes the Fit more than a fitness band is its comprehensive notifications system. Emails and text messages are automatically pushed to your wrist, with a brief preview of the contents of each. You can also reject calls, or respond with a canned message for when you aren’t able to talk.
You can also add any third party app through the Gear Fit Manager, so its notifications will also be pushed to your wrist. We used Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ to great effect and, although you can’t respond to them, you can dismiss them or set them to display on your handset.
The Fit is smart enough to know when you’re using your phone, so it won’t send any notifications to your wrist while the screen is on. Turn your phone on after a long flight, however, and the sudden influx of email notifications all get sent to the Fit at once.
You won’t be browsing through your music library or queuing up playlists, but music control is a godsend for anyone used to a cramped morning commute. You can play, pause, skip tracks and adjust volume from your wrist, without having to pull your phone out of your pocket. It works flawlessly with Samsung’s default music player, but will happily control third party music apps and Google Play Music too. The last music app you used takes priority automatically, so you can continue listening where you left off without having to touch your smartphone.
Given the name, it’s unsurprising the Gear Fit has a real fitness focus. It has both a pedometer for counting steps and an integrated heart rate monitor for measuring your pulse, along with an exercise mode for walking, hiking, running and cycling. A firmware update has also added sleep tracking, but the accompanying S Health app doesn’t yet support the feature.
Unfortunately, we feel as though Samsung have only gone half way towards replacing a dedicated fitness band or exercise tracker. You have to manually turn on the pedometer, rather than have the band automatically count your steps as soon as you get out of bed in the morning.
Thankfully, following a software update soon after launch, Samsung has altered how the Gear 2 and Gear Fit report step tracking to S Health. When we originally wrote this review, the data was buried in the Exercise menu rather than putting steps counted on the device towards the total shown on the main Pedometer page. That has now been fixed, letting you choose to view either the phone’s step counter or the Fit’s last synced data. The shortest length of time between synchronising intervals is three hours, so it isn’t always up to date, but it’s a definite improvement over the original system. Steps counted by the Fit now appear on the S Health homescreen widget, as well as on the lock screen, so you have multiple ways to check on your level of activity.
The heart rate monitor can only measure your pulse once every time you activate it, rather than plot a graph of your workout to see where you peaked and where you could have pushed harder. You have to remain still and quiet to get a reading, applying more pressure to your wrist than during normal use, and even then it will sometimes fail to get a reading. Use the exercise mode and it takes a reading every minute, which is much more useful.
S Health in general is rather vague, with none of the detail of some of the more serious fitness bands from the likes of Jawbone, Fitbit or Garmin. The range of exercise activities is also rather small, so if you prefer rowing or yoga to running there’s no way to get accurate tracking.
Samsung will eventually incorporate some big third-party apps, such as Endomondo, MapMyFitness and RunKeeper, into S Health and let them take data from the Gear Fit, but at the moment you’re forced to use S Health over your existing app. If you’re serious about exercise then a dedicated fitness tracker will be much more focused, although there’s at least enough here to get people walking and thinking more about their health.
Unfortunately Samsung hasn’t learnt its lesson from the Galaxy Gear; the Gear Fit can only be used with a limited selection of Samsung smartphones, meaning anyone with an Android handset from another manufacturer, or indeed an iPhone or Windows Phone smartphone, is out of luck. Considering how much else the Fit gets right, it’s a shame that comparatively few people will be able to use it unless they spend a significant amount more on a Samsung smartphone. Thankfully Galaxy S4 owners won’t have to make the expensive upgrade to the new Galaxy S5 just to use the Fit, as older handsets are compatible.
Now that Samsung has tweaked the firmware, the Fit comes a lot closer to matching a dedicated fitness band when it comes to exercise tracking. Overall, it’s one of the most comprehensive wearables we’ve used. Notifications and music control work brilliantly, the screen is simply gorgeous and, although fiddly, it can accurately track your movement and sleep. It’s a real shame you have to own a specific smartphone to use it, as otherwise it would earn our firm recommendation, even with the limited fitness features and slightly convoluted tracking system. Samsung smartphone owners should definitely consider this over other fitness trackers, but we don’t suggest swapping your existing smartphone just for this.