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Review: Is Samsung’s Gear Fit A Good Fit For Your Exercise Needs?

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When Samsung released the first generation Galaxy Gear watch, I was not impressed. At all. Cool idea, but horrible execution. Another cool idea? A fitness watch/tracker with a beautiful rectangular, curved Super AMOLED display that lasts a few days on a charge. That’s the Samsung Gear Fit. Yep, another cool idea but this time, the execution part… pretty darn good.

I have to admit that I didn’t have high expectations for the Gear Fit based on my prior experience with the Galaxy Gear but I attempted to approach the review with an open-mind and as few preconceived notions as possible. After all, it is their first foray into the fitness tracker wearables market whereas the Galaxy Gear was a smartwatch. This time around I was not disappointed. The Gear Fit is comfortable, the display is gorgeous, I found the controls on the watch simple and intuitive and I enjoyed wearing the device. Being a traditional watch lover, I actually love the modern look of the Gear Fit. Visually, it stands out from other fitness trackers on the market that have displays.

Samsung's Gear Fit Specs

Samsung’s Gear Fit sports a sub-2”, 128 x 432 pixel display on a curved body with silver bezels surrounding the screen. The Fit is dustproof and IP67 water-resistant which means it can be submerged in up to 1 meter (3ft) of water for up to 30 minutes, so you don’t have to worry about sweating it up, or washing your hands while wearing it. That said, I’d love to see better waterproofing so you can wear this in the swimming pool since they’re focused on the fitness market. The battery is a 210mAh Li-ion rechargeable that they say will get you 3-5 days of wear depending on how much you use it. In my own use with the device I’ve gotten as much as 5 or 6 days on a week when I didn’t work out much but did still use the pedometer and sleep tracking nightly. In addition to the accelerometer (needed for that nightly sleep tracking I was doing), you also get a heart rate sensor, gyroscope and bluetooth radio, utilizing the BT 4.0 specification which is an important feature. Bluetooth 4.0, also called BT Low Energy, is an important feature because the spec allows for that constant connection to your phone to be as easy on your battery as is currently possible since it’s leaching power to push notifications to your watch and keep information in sync between the watch and the watch’s companion app on the phone.

The Gear Fit is ultimately a rectangular puck that can be popped out of the band and used with different color bands if you so desire. The bands themselves are a moulded plastic affair with ridges on the inside which help with air circulation. You wear the Gear Fit by popping two metal posts into the holes in the watch band. The metal posts are at the end of the watch strap so when you put it on, there’s no need for watch loops to keep excess band managed. No need to worry about the display and which wrist you wear the Fit on as the display settings allow you to set the orientation based on whether you’re going to wear the Fit on your left or right wrist along with the ability to choose whether the display is oriented portrait or landscape. Because of the way it sits on the wrist, I chose to go with the portrait orientation. It just seems more intuitive and easier to read that way, for me.

So, It "Tracks Fitness." But What Does It Do?

Beyond the obvious, tracking steps with the pedometer and heart rate with the HRM, the Gear Fit has quite a bit of extended functionality when paired with your phone and various apps. Directly on the watch you can start and stop tracking: “steps” (running/walking/hiking/cycling), sleep movement and heart rate. It’s a fitness device, right? And what fitness wearable would be complete without a timer and stopwatch? You get both as well as a wireless leash that allows you to find your phone if you’ve become disconnected from it and can’t locate it. The features for the running/walking/cycling/hiking tracking are fairly robust! You go to the Exercise menu to choose which of the four activities you’ll be engaging in and can set goals for each. Those goals are: distance, time and calories burned. Everything is kept fairly accurate with the ability to monitor your heart rate, measured against the profile information that you set up on the watch (your age, height and weight) at some point. My only gripe here (and I think it’s a major one for a fit tracker) is the fact that the heart rate monitor is on demand or, nearest I can tell periodic checks during activity which has many users experiencing lag when it comes to accurate measurements. Unlike the MIO Alpha which is a persistent monitor, you may start out your workout with one heart rate measured and it may take some time before you get an accurate reading at speed. If you're into short, intense workouts, this could be a problem for you. It’s a fitness tracker Sammy. I’ll need that HRM to be a persistent HRM next generation. It needs to provide real-time feedback during those HIIT workouts. I need to spend increasing amounts of time in my anaerobic zone so I can increase my V02 max. Ok? Thanks!

While you’re working out, you’re probably listening to some jammin’ tunes, amiright? One of the smart functions of this fitness tracker is media controls. I’ve used them with Google All Play and Amazon Prime Music to control the soundtrack to my workout. Unlike devices like the Pebble, there is no menu to select which music services the Gear Fit will work with, but I’ve found that it just works. My experience is by no means exhaustive but it seems that if your device is streaming, the Fit will catch it and allow you to control it. From the Media Controller app you’re able to see the current track title, play, pause, skip backward/forward and control the volume in an intuitive interface. You can even make it easy to access media controls during your workout by setting the power button to automatically launch them by double-tapping it. You can, of course, assign other functions to the double-tap feature but that one made the most sense to me. When you’re finished working out, you can track your progress in various areas via the Samsung Gear Fit Manager and the accompanying Fitness with Gear apps. The Fitness with Gear app keeps track of your stats for that day and over time in the following areas: Pedometer, various Exercises, Heart rate and Sleep. To see what types of graphs and info the fitness app tracks and measures, check out the screen grabs in the gallery at the top of the page.


Is This Gear Fit For The Market?

Battery life is the biggest drawback to most of these watches and the Fit is no different. The battery is not bad and should get you through approximately three days if you’re using it for gym time and regular wear but I think that needs to be better. The only reason I’ll give the Fit a bit of a pass, over it’s sibling the Gear 2, is because this device is marketed specifically as a fitness tracker. With that in mind, it’s use case may be more niche and the type of product that you may stash in your gym bag until it’s time to hit the gym, track, or trail. For charging the battery, the Fit comes with a wall charger and separate charging cradle. The little, plastic cradle is pretty easy to lose, given its size so I’d be prepared to buy some extras as a backup. You’ve been warned. Where I won’t give it a pass is on waterproofing. The Fit is IP67 rated, which means that it is water-resistant to 3 feet for up to thirty minutes. If I want to do some lap swimming and use the Fit to track that workout, I wouldn’t feel comfortable using it with only an IP67 certification. Beyond better battery life, I think it’s imperative that these wrist worn devices, whether they be watch or fitness tracker, are water-resistant more like most traditional watches. They don’t need to be water-resistant like conventional divers’ watches, but a 5 ATM rating (water-resistant to 50 m) means I wouldn’t have to worry in the pool or shower. Heck, I could go on a camping trip and not worry if I wanted to do some white water rafting with a 5 ATM rating. When I think fitness watch/tracker, I’m thinking of something that can handle my exercise regimen whether that’s indoors or out. This being a first generation product I can understand some of these shortcomings but I look forward to seeing Samsung release future versions which will be more durable should the Fit find a market.

My other issue with the Fit is the sleep tracking. I’ve been using some sleep tracking apps and I’m finding that the Fit shows that I’m getting a lot more deep sleep than some of the other apps I’ve been using. This leaves me wondering how well it is registering my movements during the course of the night. In the images below you’ll see that the Morpheuz app I’ve been using with my Pebble shows that I spent approximately 60% of my night in either deep or light sleep. Deep sleep (REM) is characterized by a lack of movement. Samsung’s fitness app consistently shows that I’m spending upwards of 80% of my night motionless. Without some sort of professional equipment (EEG preferably) or being a part of some sleep experiment to establish a baseline, I don’t know which is more accurate to be honest. I tend to think that the Pebble might be more on point as its accelerometer has a reputation for being a tad more accurate but I have nothing empirical to back that up. Especially given the fact that during my time with the Fit, it received an update which increased the accuracy of the pedometer - though my sleep tracking readings pretty much stayed the same as before.


Is The Fit, Fit For You?

To answer the question of whether or not the Gear Fit is fit for the market, you have to look at the competition and the use case. If you’re a heavy swimmer or need a device that works with your iPhone, you may want to look elsewhere but I think for the majority of people who are more casual in their fitness, those hitting the gym, or hiking, Samsung’s Gear Fit hits the mark quite nicely. It’s beautifully designed, looks great, the companion apps are strong and the accessory band options give you more color choice to personalize the Fit. No need to worry if it isn’t always connected to your phone either, because it records workout data and can sync back to your phone on-demand at a later time. Speaking of connecting to your phone, beyond not working with the iPhone, the Fit only works with a select group of Samsung phones. The list is pretty healthy and Samsung only lists the phones it doesn't work with here.  For any of the caveats I’ve listed, devices which don’t suffer from those issues will tend to run you $100 or more above the cost of Samsung’s Gear Fit which is currently listed at $199.99 on Samsung’s website though you can find it on Amazon for approximately $50 less at the time of this writing.


Full disclosure: Samsung provided me with a demo unit for the purpose of this review.
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