Since 2013 Samsung has been making Gear smartwatches. At first, we didn't think they were that smart - but since 2017, with the introduction of the excellent Gear S3, the Korean giant has found its groove.
The next step in the journey is the Gear Sport: a fitness-focused watch that's slightly smaller than the Gear S3, fully water-resistant, and comes with an optional innovative hybrid leather and rubber strap to appeal to fashion-focused sports fanatics.
Samsung Gear Sport review: Design
- 1.2-inch circular AMOLED display (320 x 320 resolution)
- Interchangeable straps (20mm quick release fitting)
- 42.9 x 44.6 x 11.6mm; 50g (without strap)
- 5ATM water-resistance (to 50m pressure)
The first thing that strikes about the Gear Sport is its considered size: in a world where fashion watches are growing to achingly huge wrist protrusions, we think Samsung has found the sweet-spot here - a sensible size for all manner or wrists.
The 1.2-inch screen that defines the design is a little smaller in diameter than the 1.3-inch screen found in the Gear S3. That might not sound like much, but it makes the overall product notably smaller to handle and wear.
Even the wrist strap size has dropped from the S3's 22mm to a standard 20mm fitting, including easy-to-use quick-release should you wish to switch the strap out for an alternative to what comes in the box.
And there are plenty of options to choose from. Samsung is releasing its own 20mm straps in fabric, leather and hybrid leather-and-rubber finishes. The fabric ones aren't to our taste, but the coloured leather (as photographed in teal and brown) looks great. Perhaps best of all is the hybrid solution: with rubber against the wrist, it'll defend against sweat, while the exterior leather component looks rather swish for a sports watch.
Despite its good looks, the whole device is military grade tough and weather-resistant to a pressure of 50m (5ATM). That makes it good for pool or open-water swims without fear of everything going into meltdown. Given the various Samsung Health provisions for swimming and other activities - as we'll get to later - that's a very sensible solution indeed.
Samsung Gear Sport review: Operation
- Two buttons, front rotational bezel and touchscreen controls
- Tizen operating system (for Android and iOS)
That circular touchscreen screen is surrounded by a rotational bezel, which can be used in conjunction with the two operational buttons to the side to start/stop activities, scroll through widgets and make selections.
To look at, you might think it's an Android Wear 2.0 device - but that's not the route Samsung has gone down, instead opting for Tizen. Like the history of Samsung's smartwatches, it's taken some time for the jump into Tizen to make profitable usability steps. But, in our view, as we said of the Gear S3, we think it's the more robust solution in the market - and preferable to Android Wear 2.0.
There's not constant reason to touch the screen and dirty it with fingerprints either: a press-and-hold opens up the ability to change the watch face, complications and widget customisations. Some widgets and icons will need to be selected, swiped or dismissed with a finger - which is potentially great when running or exercising - otherwise the combination of rotational bezel and physical buttons works logically.
Interestingly, Samsung says the Gear Sport will be both Android and iOS compatible. We've not seen the device running in companion with an iPhone, however, so anticipate that this functionality will be more limited than its Android equivalent.
Samsung Gear Sport review: Health tracking
- Updated Samsung Health app
- Built-in heart-rate monitor
- Built-in GPS tracking
- Samsung Connect & Samsung Pay
The clue's in the name as to the Gear Sport's purpose: this smartwatch is all about fitness and health tracking, sports fans.
It's the first Samsung device following the announcement of the Note 8 to capitalise on the updated Samsung Health app, which can use Samsung Connect to sync to a recent Samsung TV (if you have one, of course!) to show on-screen fitness programmes/tutorials, with count-down timers, live heart-rate display and other relevant information. A bit like Nintendo's Wii Fit, if you remember that.
Heart-rate tracking is one crucial part of the Gear Sport's makeup, with the optical sensor to the rear designed to protrude slightly more than previous Gear products for a more accurate read. It can also capture once a second to provide more accurate continuous heart-rate readings than earlier Samsung Gear products.
S Health has had calories burned calculation in its software for a long period of time, but the latest version also introduces calorie consumption - i.e. you can input details about the food you're consuming for a calorie count, which may make it easier to achieve your personal goals.
Samsung Gear Sport review: Spec
- 4GB internal memory for music playback
- Dual Core 1.0GHz processor, 768MB RAM
- 300mAh battery capacity; wireless charging
- Android 4.3 or later compatibility
As the Sport handles various sporting activities via S Health, but also a whole range of apps - there's a Spotify, Under Armour and Speedo integration, for example - the ability to customise which widgets show for quick launch ensures it doesn't become too bogged down with "smart" stuff and can be used quickly and efficiently as a running watch.
Tucked under the Sport's skin in a 300mAh battery which ought to last for more than a day, if the Gear S3's larger capacity battery's (380mAh) two-day life is anything to go by.
That'll depend on how you use the watch, we suspect, with Bluetooth 4.2 (not 5.0, for whatever reason) a great way to pump tunes direct from the watch's on-board 4GB storage.
When it is time to recharge a wireless charging cradle comes in the box, meaning there's no need to fiddle around with the watch itself to plug cables in directly. How fast this recharging process is, however, we don't know yet.
That's the Samsung Gear Sport in a nutshell. It's one good-looking smartwatch that makes all the right design choices to please those who want to focus on sport, but do so in style (well, depending on which of the 23 initial strap choices you select).
If the Gear S3 was too big and too expensive for you then this step-down in size and step-up in sports focus is a well considered proposition. And off the back of the S3's success, it looks as though Samsung has finally forged its own successful wearables pathway to compete with the likes of Apple, while keeping the Android Wear competition at bay.
The Samsung Gear Sport doesn't have an official price or release date just yet - but we'll be updating this information from the company's Unpacked press conference at IFA 2017.