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Samsung Gear Fit review

Originally by Andy Boxall
mwc-2014Rumor had it Samsung would launch a fitness band at CES, but instead we’ve had to be patient until Mobile World Congress, where the Gear Fit was unveiled alongside the Galaxy S5 smartphone. This isn’t an ordinary fitness band though; it contains several functions usually associated with smartwatches like the Gear 2. So which is it, a FuelBand competitor, or a hushed-up, unofficial fourth smartwatch? We’ll come back to all that shortly, but first let’s take a closer look at the Gear Fit itself.

At first glance, it’s a good-looking little thing. Samsung has outdone itself with the display, fitting a curved Super AMOLED touchscreen to its piece of wearable tech – a world first. Keeping with the traditional fitness band shape, the 1.84-inch screen is oblong rather than square, with an unusual 432 x 128 pixel resolution. It looks great, and positively glows on your wrist.

The curve is beautiful, but unfortunately underneath it is a block of almost flat plastic hiding all the components, ruining the lines when viewed from the side. It’s like Samsung was desperate to use the curvy display, but couldn’t be bothered to think about the remainder of the design. It’s the same story with the strap. It’s gym-tough certainly, but it feels cheap and a bit nasty. It clips onto your wrist using two poppers, which felt secure enough.

Because of the Gear Fit’s unusual shape, you can’t pick your own strap, but Samsung will sell you another one in various colors, and the Gear Fit’s screen pops out and squeezes into another easily. The touchscreen’s odd orientation is an issue. To use it, you must keep your arm at an uncomfortable angle. However, it’s incredibly fast and responsive once you’re swiping away, and the fluid motion is good enough to make you smile while doing so.

Left and right swipes navigate you through apps and deeper menus, where you’ll find basic features like a stopwatch and a timer, plus some more interesting exercise options and a heart-rate monitor. The sensor is fitted under the Gear Fit’s main unit, and it’s in contact with your body, so nothing other than opening the app is needed to make it work. It seemed to do the job when we gave it a try, and almost matched the result given by the Galaxy S5. Under the exercises menu, you can pick things like walking, running, or cycling.

It’s like Samsung was desperate to use the curvy display, but couldn’t be bothered to think about the remainder of the design.

If you own one of a selected few Galaxy smartphones, you can install a companion app to control the Gear Fit. From here it’s possible to change the wallpaper, clock design, and background colors, plus activate handy features like a device locator. It does more once it’s linked up to your phone, with the app providing personalized workout advice and training recommendations.

With the app in place, the Gear Fit will receive and display notifications, except from what we were told (and could see from the app), only a select few Samsung apps are compatible. This could change in the future, but at the moment it’ll tell you about a call coming in, the arrival of an SMS, or an appointment on your S-Planner; but nothing to do with social networks, Hangouts or the standard Gmail app.

This, combined with the Fit only being compatible with Galaxy phones, makes it seem unnecessarily restricted. If you’ve bought into Samsung’s world you’ll want to take a look, but if you own any other Android phone you’re out of luck. Samsung may see it as a reason to pick up a new Galaxy S5 at the same time, but it’s just not that compelling. Letting the Gear Fit spread its wings could have made it much more fun.

So is the Gear Fit a fitness watch or a smartwatch? The answer could lie in the fact it doesn’t track your movement all the time, raising questions over who will buy it. Everyone who buys a fitness band wants 24-hour monitoring, but only the hardcore want to know their heart rate. Are they supposed to wear the Gear Fit and something else too? We’ll be checking with Samsung to confirm its functionality and updating here. We could also be questioning who will buy the Fit because Samsung hasn’t done the best job of obfuscating its true identity: This is the Galaxy Gear’s true sequel. This makes it a smartwatch with fitness add-ons, but Samsung just doesn’t want to say it.

Samsung’s Gear Fit is frustrating. The screen is gorgeous, and it operates beautifully, but the overall design is awkward in places. It’s much too “closed,” and we’re not sure it’s really a fitness tracker, despite Samsung pushing it as such. Then we come to the price, or rather we don’t, because Samsung hasn’t confirmed it. Fitness trackers shouldn’t be more than $150 – which is Nike FuelBand SE territory – but if Samsung knows it’s really a badly disguised smartwatch, we fear another $100 will be added, and that’s way too much for this flawed (but pretty) device.

Highs

  • Gorgeous curved Super AMOLED screen
  • Silky smooth scrolling
  • Easy to use software interface
  • Cool heart-rate monitor

Lows

  • Notifications restricted to certain apps
  • Awkward to use while wearing it
  • Nasty plastic strap
  • Bulky main unit
  • No 24-hour activity monitoring