(Pocket-lint) - Samsung is in an interesting place with wearables. It's been making them for years and, since switching to making exclusively Tizen-based watches and wrist-worn bands, is making some of the best smartwatches around. The Gear S3 from earlier in 2017 was arguably its finest moment so far.
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Following on from such a great all-round watch was always going to be tough though, so instead of out-and-out replacing the S3, Samsung added a new model to the range with new focus on sport tracking. It's smaller, lighter and can survive better under water. Enter the Gear Sport.
- 42.9 x 44.6 x 11.6mm
- Quick-release 20mm strap
- Waterproof to 5ATM/50m
- MIL-STD-810G compliant
Samsung wowed us all with its approach to hardware design in its Gear S3 series smartwatches. The devices looked and were built like proper watches, complete with an incredibly useful rotating ring around the display, plus handy buttons on the sides.
While the Gear Sport shares some of those features, it doesn't quite have the same aesthetic appeal of the S3 Classic and Frontier models. Rather than have an ultra-stylish large round metal case, the Gear Sport is more square. Its edges are still rounded but joined by corners at the top - rather than being completely round - appearing almost like a bulging cube.
It might not look like it, but the Sport does feature the same high-quality 316L Stainless Steel that its bigger siblings have, while adding a couple of advantages.
Firstly, it's waterproof to 50 metres, putting it right up there with some of the more dedicated sports watches, like those in the Garmin range. That means you can take it swimming without worrying that it'll die halfway through your record-breaking breaststroke.
Secondly, it's noticeably smaller than the S3, which is a rather large watch. The Sport is not so small and light that you can't feel it, but you can definitely tell the difference. It's less off-putting to have on your wrist while you're running, which befits its sportier stance.
The metal casing is finished in a dark, smokey chrome, with small wrist band lugs to keep the overall footprint compact. The two buttons on the side are neatly designed too. They're tapered and covered in a grippy, textured silicone layer and give a subtle yet satisfying click when pressed.
As with previous Samsung Gear watches, the most satisfying element of the design is the rotating bezel. The textured ring around the display can be turned to move through menus and we think it's the most intuitive and convenient control method implemented on any smartwatch to date.
Underneath, the Sport is a fairly basic affair. It's a black, flat surface with a slightly protruding optical heart-rate monitor built in.
The strap is nothing special, but it does its job adequately. It's a relatively thick silicone band with a clasp finished to match the metallic case. It also happens to have diagonal grooves all along the underside, adding some grip that stops the watch sliding around too much.
Just because our review model came with a standard black colour strap doesn't mean there aren't more colourful options. As it's a standard 20mm strap with quick-release toggles it's super easy to swap it out for something else, like in the colourful gallery above.
- 1.2-inch Super AMOLED
- 360 x 360 resolution (424ppi).
Samsung makes great OLED panels for mobile devices, and the 1.2-inch round screen on the Gear Sport is no different. It's bright, punchy, with lots of colour and contrast. Specifically, it's Super AMOLED and so capable of displaying up to 16 million colours.
Its 360 x 360 resolution may not sound much, but it's more than what you'd get in other average smartwatchs, however, as this number of pixels is crammed into a relatively small screen. What that means to the real, every day user, is that details look superb at arm's length. Samsung has been able to build watch faces with really fine details that look good. The thin second hands and fine second markers all look great at a glance.
Bring the watch closer, however, and you'll start to see on-screen edges and details aren't quite as fine as a high-end smartphone display, but it's far from terrible, and you certainly can't see any individual pixels at any distance.
One minor complaint is that being a small screen, some of the text and data on show during a run is too small to really see clearly at a glance. Those times we raised our wrist to see our stats , it took us a little while longer to find the information we wanted than it would on an Apple Watch or Garmin. This is partly down to the information layout, but also has something to do with the size of the text.
User interface and apps
- Tizen OS 3.0
- Compatible with iOS and Android
- Samsung Gear app required
We've previously lauded Samsung's approach to its smartwatch user interface (UI) for its intuitive layout and overall attractiveness. That continues in the Gear Sport: it's loaded with Samsung's very own Tizen OS, and is compatible with most Android phones and iPhone (albeit it's a little more limited with the Apple option).
As with any watch, the main screen is the watch face. By default, the screen is off most of the time, activating when you receive a notification or when you raise your arm to check the time. You can activate an "always on" mode, which shows the time with limited animation, but this does reduce the battery performance.
Like a smartphone, you can drag down from the top of the screen to access quick settings. Here you can activate features like the Water Lock (for when you're swimming and you need the screen to be unresponsive), activate the power saver feature, Do Not Disturb to block notifications, adjust screen brightness, activate airplane mode or go into the settings menu.
Rotating the Sport's watch bezel clockwise from the watchface takes you through your active widgets which are, by default,= individual screens to either show you information that it has tracked, or for launching a function quickly. Rotating anticlockwise takes you to your notifications, which you can then tap to interact with, or you can rotate right to the "clear all" screen that wipes all the notifications from the watch.
Of course, you can change the watch face by tapping-and-holding the panel, then swiping through the available options. Those with the option to change colours and "complications" have a "customise" tab beneath them. You can also download and install any watch faces available in the Samsung Gear app.
Third-party apps have been a sticking point for Samsung's watches for a little while now, and there's not much improvement here with the Gear Sport. You'll struggle to find native apps for a lot of popular services that are actually built by the service providers themselves. Instead, you will find other, small third-party developers which have built their own apps for services like Hue, WhatsApp, Google Maps and others - but the quality is generally not great, and they're rarely free to download.
One the plus side, there is now a Spotify app. When installed, and you have Spotify playing on your phone, you can launch it to have more fine-tuned remote control over your playing music. Rotate the Sport's bezel to skip tracks, or press the three dots at the bottom of the screen to access controls for saving, shuffling, adjusting volume repeating songs, albums or playlists.
Fitness tracking and Health
- Built-in GPS
- Samsung Health required
- Insights help you focus on goals
- Some third party service support
Credit where it's due, Samsung's own Health app is actually good. If you want somewhere to keep a log of all your sleeping and daily activity habits, what you eat, what you drink, and somewhere to store all of your tracked workouts, it's a decent all-round app. It's perhaps not as in-depth as the likes of Garmin Connect, but it gets all the basics right and, if you're not an all-out athlete, that's enough.
The first screen in the Health app shows you easy-to-digest snippets of information, like last night's sleep, your current daily steps and a few selected widgets at the bottom. These show details like your last recorded weight, floors climbed, heart rate and elements for quickly inputting information like caffeine intake.
Any individually tracked activities can be brought up, too, so you can see which routes you ran in an easy-to-use map, with key elements like average heart rate, pace and distance on display. As with most fitness apps you get little rewards for reaching milestones too.
As you'd expect, pretty much all of these can be activated and viewed on your watch widgets as well, so you get a consistent experience and feature list on both devices. And a fitness watch wouldn't be complete with the regular "get up and move, you've been still for too long" notifications.
Health also has a Together section, where you can join challenges along with thousands of others across the globe, or read up on related articles and tips for getting in shape in the Discover section.
Within the settings you can choose to have some specific third-party fitness services gain access to your data to share them. For instance, you can export your data automatically to any of Under Armour's suite of apps, including MapMyRun, Endomondo, MyFitnessPal and Under Armour Record, as well as a plethora of others. You can also activate connected services to Fitbit, Jawbone, Strava, Misfit, Runkeeper and Microsoft Health.
Performance and accuracy
- Dual-core 1.0GHz processor
- 4GB storage
- 768MB RAM
If you're on Android, you'll be pleased to know that our experience with this paired to both a BlackBerry Motion and a OnePlus 5T has been flawless. We never had any instances of the automatic sync failing. When the Samsung Health or Gear apps were launched, data updated immediately.
We experienced similar consistency when tracking specific activities. Running our regular 4.5km route a few times showed data that was pretty much what we'd seen on other fitness devices we've tested this year. It was interesting to see that data was virtually identical to the same route we'd tracked on an Apple Watch. As a side-note to this, both measured around 50 metres longer than a Garmin.
Heart-rate monitoring was similar. Data collected was within around 2bpm on the low- and high-end of what we've measured on other devices.
Overall then, all is well, right? Sadly, not if you're an iPhone user. Although, chances are that if you use an iOS-powered smartphone and you're looking for a smartwatch for daily use and fitness, you've already decided on an Apple Watch. Which is fair enough.
On iPhone, trying to setup the watch to pair quickly became a nightmare. We couldn't tell if it was the watch's problem or the phone's, but no attempt to pair and connect the Gear Sport with an iPhone 8 Plus would work for us, so sadly we didn't manage to test it with an iOS device.
- 300mAh battery
- 48 hours mixed usage
Samsung claims 48 hours of mixed usage from the Sport, which matches up closely with what we experienced during testing. Typically we found ourselves docking the Gear Sport in its cradle once every other day when the battery reached the levels at or below 20 per cent.
Once it gets to below 15 per cent a notification appears onscreen to ask if you want to activate the power-saving mode. In this mode it limits the screen to greyscale colouring, and limits the features so that it only delivers notifications and does nothing else.
As soon as it's dead, or at an unacceptably low battery level, you charge the watch by simply resting it on its convenient wireless charger. We mostly charged it at night, but being a small battery it doesn't take long at all to get maxed out.
If you're looking for a smartwatch to go with your Android device that also happens to be a great fitness and activity tracker, the Samsung Gear Sport is a very compelling device to consider.
It might not have all the apps you can get on Android Wear, but it does let you interact with your notifications, has a reliable GPS and heart-rate monitors, and can go two days between charges.
What's more, it's not a super-sport-looking number that looks out of place with your daily attire.
Alternatives to consider
Apple Watch Series 3
For iPhone users it makes little sense to go with anything other than an Apple Watch for a fitness-focussed smartwatch, unless what you really want is a high-end sports watch, the Apple Watch gives the best all-round experience thanks to the tight integration between devices. With Series 3 you get LTE too, so you can use your watch phone-free.
Read the full article: Apple Watch 3 review
Garmin Vivoactive 3
Garmin has long been a maker of fine sports wearables, and the Vivoactive 3 is another, except much more affordable and with a more every-day activity tracking approach. It's small, lightweight and has a battery that lasts a full week. It's platform-agnostic too, so you can use it with Android or iPhone, although Android users are the only ones that can benefit from its more enhanced notification interaction.
Read the full article: Garmin Vivoactive 3 review
Fitbit's smartwatch-meets-fitness-watch finds itself sandwiched in-between the Garmin Vivoactive and Apple Watch proposition. It's got a beautiful screen similar to the Samsung, although square, while including the built-in GPS and swim functionality that the company's earlier Blaze was lacking.
Read the full article: Fitbit Ionic review