Samsung Gear Fit review

Samsung launched its flagship Galaxy S5 smartphone earlier this year and alongside it came a trio of smartwatches: the Samsung Gear Fit, as its name suggests, being the more sporty device than either the Gear 2 or more affordable Gear 2 Neo.

The Fit is essentially an activity tracker that comes with a few of its smartwatches cousins' functions. It's also the smaller device of the three, but it's bigger than many other fitness trackers available. We've been living with it for a few months to see whether it offers the perfect compromise or if it struggles to fit in.

Great design

The smartwatch market is only really just taking off and, from our experience with most so far, no manufacturer has quite perfected the design and aesthetics just yet. In the Gear Fit's case the design is one of its more admirable assets, if its rigid band-like form takes your fancy.

The metal frame surrounding the display gives it a premium feel and, although it still sits almost 12mm off the wrist, its approximate 57 x 24mm face dimensions make it is easier to hide than a smartwatch, meaning wearing your normal watch on the other wrist feels perfectly acceptable.

It is a little bulkier and bigger than many other activity trackers like the Jawbone Up24 or Nike FuelBand SE but, in its defence, the Gear Fit does more when it comes to being a phone companion. That's the key difference in this device and what separates it from the smart band market.

READ: Jawbone Up24 review

In terms of controls there is just one button on the Gear Fit that sits at the edge of the display. Its primary function is to power the device on or off but you can also set your favourite loaded app to appear on screen via a double tap of it. We really liked this feature as, for us, it's made getting to the pedometer very simple - and what's what we've used the most. We also found ourselves using this button to wake up the display as the flick of our wrist wasn't always reliable, and sometimes it would illuminate when we didn't want it to - a problem we found with the Gear 2 Neo.

READ: Samsung Gear 2 Neo review

The Gear Fit offers a textured strap that is fastened to the wrist with two metal pins that push into the respective holes, providing a one-size-fits-all approach. There are other strap options available too.

Although it's easy to put on, it's also easy to take off; too easy at times. We found ourselves catching it every now and then, pulling the pins out and, consequently, finding the Gear Fit on the floor or, if we were really quick to react, in our hand. Either way it was not on our wrist where it should have been and we suspect it could have ended up in all sorts of unwanted places.

By comparison the Gear 2 smartwatches offer a much sturdier clasp, but while the same would probably be too much for the Gear Fit's slimmer build, a more secure fastening would be preferable - especially as this is designed to be used for keeping fit. The inside of the strap is ridged, much the same as the other Gear 2 smartwatches, and we found that to get a little uncomfortable during hot weather. Again, arguably at odds with its Fit name, although the tightness can be adjusted.

Having interchangeable straps is a great idea too, and there are now crystallised accessories available to make the Gear Fit that little bit more feminine for those who want to. The black strap is classic but it looked harsh against pale skin so we would prefer a brighter colour like the orange. If we're going to make it stand out then might as well do so in style.

Also key to the design is IP67-rated dust and water resistance. That means a casual sweat bath is no problem, but you can also submerge the Gear Fit in a metre depth of water for half an hour without worrying about it. Run, swim, do as you will. Or even take a bubble bath.

Beautiful display

The 1.84-inch curved Super AMOLED touchscreen display is beautiful and another one of the Gear Fit's best features. The colours are vibrant and punchy to look at, while the information the display presents is sharp, detailed and a pleasure to look at.

There are numerous options available when it comes to wallpaper background, clock face options and what you want the home screen to display - much like the Gear 2 smartwatches, but in a very different format ratio. If you want the time in written form rather than numbers then you can, or opt to have the pedometer, calendar, or date and weather running alongside a digital clock, among other options.

The wallpapers are good fun too, ranging from bright colours to more understated options. That means you can change the display to suit what you are doing or what you are wearing as it's quick and easy to do and we found ourselves changing it quite a lot.

But there's a major omission: no auto-brightness. This presented a few issues with viewing the display. When we were trekking in the Outer Hebrides the conditions were especially bright and we had already set our Gear Fit to a lower brightness setting to conserve battery, making it impossible to see at times. You can adjust the brightness within the Settings but, of course, if you can't see the display to do this then it makes it a difficult task. There is an Outdoor setting which is particularly bright (set at level 6) but the Gear Fit will automatically dim it (to level 4) after five minutes to conserve the battery.

We would have loved an auto-brightness feature like many smartphones offer as this would have helped us keep track of our mileage, rather than make us think we had broken it. After we had learnt our lesson and increased the brightness before we set off on our next trek, we had no trouble seeing the display but it is a point to bear in mind before you leave the house - and something that will cost battery life too.

Gear Fit Manager

The Gear Fit Manager is what makes your Gear Fit and any of a number of Samsung devices pair. And when we say Samsung we mean it: if you have an iPhone or even another brand of Android smartphone, then the Gear Fit will be all but useless to you. It works in much the same way as the Gear Manager does for the Gear smartwatches, requiring you to confirm a passcode to pair your device with the Fit, after which you can manage a range of features and functions from the Manager.

The options are a little more limited with the Gear Fit than with the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, but the layout is the same and it's easy to sift through. Most importantly the Manager is where you can decide what notifications you want coming through and from which apps, meaning the Gear Fit is similar to a smartwatch but a few steps ahead of the activity tracker competition if you are looking for this level of functionality.

You can also manage your primary contacts, edit text templates and edit a call-reject message so when you are too busy to take an incoming call, the person contacting you receives a generic text that you have set up.

Additionally, you can also change the order you want apps to appear as you flick through your Gear, which is handy as if you are anything like us and will use certain functions more than others. There are nowhere near as many apps available for the Gear Fit as there are for the Gear 2 smart watches though, because the operating system is different and therefore doesn't support the same apps. What it offers as standard is enough to see you through.

Device software and experience

The Gear Fit runs on Samsung's own wearable platform known as Real Time OS (RTOS) - not Android or Tizen as initially and still utilised in other Galaxy and Gear products - meaning downloading apps for it is slightly different to the rest of the Gear family. It's still extremely easy to navigate though, running smoothly and switching between tasks and settings without any lag.

We had no problems finding what we were looking for and the scrolling up and down, or left and right - depending on how you opt to have the screen orientated - was simple and quick. It's clean, smooth and so easy to use that your Nan could manage without struggling.

To launch an app, all you have to do is tap the virtual icon once. There is no fiddling around and accessing the various sections - Notifications, Settings, Timer, Sleep, Pedometer, Exercise, Heart Rate and Media Controller - is a piece of cake.

The Gear Fit is sensitive though and you don't need to tap hard for a touch to register - so be mindful of that when you are near the Media Controller as once it's open all it takes is one more tap for music to start blaring out from your phone. Justin Timberlake is not appreciated by all in a quite cafe.

The Gear Fit is set to a horizontal display by default but we found this awkward so we changed it to the vertical option, an update Samsung introduced just after its release (but that lacked initially).

Notifications

We touched on notifications earlier in the Gear Manager section but these are really what sets the Gear Fit apart from other activity trackers on the market. In the Manager you will find the notifications section, that hosts all of the apps you have downloaded on your smartphone: whether that be WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter or a game. As with the Gear 2 smartwatches, you can decide which apps you want to be notified about on your wrist, so it can be as intrusive or discreet as you like.

You might want the Gear Fit as simply an activity tracker, in which case you can opt to have no notifications, but if you want a slightly smaller version of a smartwatch that will still let you know when you have received a message or are receiving a call so you don't miss any, then the Gear Fit is in its element.

It's worth noting that if you have the display set to vertical, reading emails or long texts is a little more effort than when it is in horizontal mode. The slender width means you have to scroll more, but it is just about workable - your finger and eyes just have to work a little harder.

When it comes to receiving a call you have to rely on your phone though. Although the person calling you will flash up on the Gear Fit display you can only reject it with a pre-written text message back to the caller via the Gear Fit or pluck your phone from your pocket to accept the call.

Fitness

The fitness aspect of the Gear Fit is where it wants to stand out from the smartwatch crowd but while it does some things well, it has its some flaws in this department.

Under the hood you'll find an accelerometer and a gyroscope plus the Gear Fit also boasts a built-in heart-rate monitor that you can either opt to launch independently or when you start an exercise. It's sensitive to say the least and if you so much as talk when it's trying to read your heart rate while you aren't exercising, it will tell you to keep still.

The Fit's purpose means no switching between smart devices, so it's one less thing to strap on when you go for a run. It will track your heart rate in real time, although its sensitivity sometimes meant it fluctuated a little at times, making its accuracy questionable.

There is only 4GB of internal storage within the Gear Fit so you'll need to pair it with Samsung's S Health app to ensure you don't lose the data you have gained as the Fit will only keep track of the current month, and not in any detail. It would be useful to see at least three months on the Gear Fit itself as at the beginning of the month the graphs look a little empty, especially the pedometer if you work from home like we do. It would also be good to be able to add the data you gain to apps like Map My Run and Runkeeper as, at the moment, the Gear Fit's data is restricted to S Health only. We get that Samsung is attempting to create its own fitness realm but that doesn't stop it being potentially frustrating to users who have already carved out activity with other platforms.

The data you do get within S Health is good though, with details including duration, distance, calories burned, average speed, average pace, maximum pace, average heart rate and maximum heart rate all recorded and visible when you click on the listed activity in the exercise log. When you go to the exercise app in the Gear Fit, it will also ask you for some of your personal data such as gender, height and weight in order to provide more accurate data.

There are then four fitness options within the section comprising of walking, hiking, cycling and running - but there is nothing for activities such as weight training or swimming. If you are someone who wants to track these sort of activities, you will find it falls short. Even some of its given activities are questionable: when it comes to the cycling there are so many additional factors to consider that the lack of cadence, altitude and wind measured make it more of a guide than anything.

During our Outer Hebrides trek we found the GPS (global positioning satellite - which is sourced from your Samsung smartphone) useful for speed. Although as you would expect, constantly capturing GPS location on your device drains the battery - so if you finish your hike with 20 per cent battery then don't be too surprised.

It's also a little odd that GPS isn't required for walking and running - these seem to predominantly surf on heart-rate monitoring - but we found the fact that you couldn't pause a run more of a problem than anything. It meant either stopping a run entirely, or having to just let it tick over when you needed a breather.

As a motivator the Gear Fit does well too. We were constantly checking how many steps we had done and the buzz on our wrist when we had achieved our daily goal gave us an awesome feeling. But a smart band can do exactly the same as that.

The Gear Fit also offers sleep tracking, which requires you to open the Sleep app on the device and press start when you settle down to sleep. You then have to press stop when you wake up and it will let you know how long you were "motionless" for. We aren't entirely sure whether we think there is any benefit to tracking your sleep in this way, but the option is there if you are interested.

Battery and charging

The Gear Fit comes with a 280mAh battery capacity that Samsung claims you will get between two and three days battery life with heavy use and up to five days with light use. We got a little less than that. We found when we were running the hiking and cycling tracking apps constantly throughout the day, we were reduced to around a day and three quarters - similar to the LG G Watch - but without those on, we got around two to three days.

READ: LG G Watch review

The screen brightness affects battery life but not as much as running those particular apps so it is worth remembering to bring the charger if you want the Gear Fit to record your week-long hiking holiday.

Speaking of the charger, the Gear Fit comes with the same cradle-like one as the Gear 2 smartwatches do. It's quite fiddly and it means bringing an extra part with you when you go away. It's also small so finding a safe place for it to make sure it doesn't get lost is a wise idea - otherwise you won't be tracking anything.

Verdict

The Gear Fit offers a slim design, beautiful display and a fluid interface that's quick and easy to navigate. As its name suggests, it's a device focused on fitness, but here it's Samsung's way or the highway: the Gear Fit is only compatible with some Samsung devices, utilising Samsung's S Health rather than any other system you may already use. That will attract some and alienate plenty of others.

We see the Gear Fit as a successful enough compromise between a smartwatch - for alerts to appear on your wrist - in a smaller, more compact build, coupled with activity tracking elements. The heart-rate monitor is a good feature to have on board, and we've found the pedometer and ability to set goals to be motivating.

But it has issues. As it's not an out-and-out smartwatch it lacks the breadth of apps of the other Gear devices, battery life is so-so when using many of the features, there's no auto brightness feature which can render the display redundant in certain conditions and some of the tracking has questionable accuracy.

Overall the Gear Fit is a tricky one to place on the scoreboard. If you're after an activity tracker and less bothered about receiving notifications from your Samsung phone, then you will find some other activity trackers will offer more when it comes to fitness. But in terms of striking a balance, we've found the Fit to deliver what we've wanted the most from it: step tracking and notifications right on our wrist.