The Samsung Gear Fit looks great, but is underwhelming as a fitness aide. There are a lot of perfectly good wearable devices that can track your activity levels throughout the day and while working out. Unfortunately, the Samsung Gear Fit falls flat on its face at doing the most basic fitness-oriented tasks.
Samsung started selling the Gear Fit for $199 today through its wireless partners today. I picked one up at an AT&T store in San Francisco to go along with the new Samsung Galaxy S5, which also sells for $199 with a two-year contract. Although the Galaxy S5 is subsidized by wireless carriers, it does feel very odd to pay the same price for an accessory as a phone. It’s like paying the same price for a drink to go along with a steak dinner. This kind of pricing raises expectations and sets Gear Fit buyers up for nothing but disappointment.
If you want a good fitness tracker there are plenty of good ones available from companies like Nike and FitBit. The Gear Fit is exactly what you should buy if you like the fancy display, don’t mind paying twice as much as a good fitness tracker and dealing with half-baked software. The messaging. caller ID and app notifications are nice, but Samsung should have focused more on fitness if it’s going to market this as a fitness device.
It really feels like the Gear Fit was rushed to market without anyone at Samsung actually trying to use the device out in the real world. The least the company could have done was hire some personal trainers or people who are used to wearing fitness bands. Any one of them could have told Samsung that the Gear Fit isn’t designed for the real world.
Here are five reasons why the Gear Fit won’t be a good fit for most consumers:
All fitness bands have their limitations and don’t do a very good job at figuring out intensity of certain movements. For example, the Nike FuelBand and FitBit Flex don’t know if I’m raising my empty hands up in the sky repeatedly or if I’m holding heaving weights. The Gear Fit takes this kind of flaw a step further and doesn’t even attempt to record activities outside a handful of pre-determined ones. The Gear Fit can record walking, running, hiking and cycling. The first three activities are virtually the same and cycling is something that just isn’t for everyone. If I take my paddleboard out for an afternoon on the water the Gear Fit will be worthless. Same goes for calisthenics or any other form of training. It’s almost as if Samsung just didn’t care about tracking fitness activities with this product.
Gear Fit Doesn’t Count All Your Steps
The Samsung Gear Fit only counts steps and distance when you tell it to. Other wearable fitness devices like the Nike Fuelband, FitBit Flex and Jawbone Up count each and every step users take and automatically alert users when they hit their goals. The most basic function of any wearable fitness gadget is to encourage users to get off their rear-ends and moving around. As a longtime Nike Fuelband user and new FitBit user, I’m painfully aware of the days where I barely moved at all. Those days are just as important to record as my active days. By not recording each and every step the Gear Fit isn’t going to record inactivity or moderate activity, which is a big part of anyone’s fitness picture.
Heart Rate Monitor
The Gear Fit’s heart rate monitor is pretty accurate…when it works. I had to experiment quite a bit to get the thing to work. The instructions say to position the Gear Fit on your wrist, but not over your wrist bone. I did just that, hit start and got an error message telling me to clean the sensor. The sensor was perfectly clean since I’d just unboxed the device and I made sure that the device was tight against my wrist. It continued to fail until I moved the Gear Fit onto my right wrist. Then it worked like a charm. I was finally able to get it to work on my left wrist by moving it up a couple of inches towards my elbow.
Unfortunately, the Gear Fit can’t measure heart rate while tracking a workout. Samsung prompts users to be quiet and still while taking heart rate measurements, two things that are pretty tough to do when you’re cycling or running. Want to find your maximum heart rate while exercising? You’re out of luck unless you’re doing one of the four prescribed excercises and remember to swipe once to the left, select “hear rate monitor” and then check the “Heart rate” box before starting. When Samsung introduced this device at Mobile World Congress in February, a spokesperson described the Gear Fit while a video of a lady working out played in the background. As she worked out, graphics showed her heart rate increasing as she jumped around and decreasing as she paused to check an alert on the Gear Fit. I’m not sure why Samsung is advertising that kind of functionality if it’s not anywhere close to reality. There simply isn’t an exercise class or cross training mode.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the heart rate monitor is that it only records a single heart rate each time you hit start in the heart rate app. It’d be much more useful if it could take continuous measurements or periodic measurements to graph heart rate over time.
Only Samsung Apps
Samsung’s S Health is the only Android app that can talk to the Gear Fit as of today. That wouldn’t be a problem if it was a good app, but just not that useful compared to more mature fitness apps. The S Health app is yet another example of how Samsung just doesn’t get it. Clicking on ‘More Apps’ leads to an error page since there simply aren’t any apps that tie into S-Health and the Gear Fit.
Samsung says that developers are going to join in, but I’m skeptical. In its current state, fitness enthusiasts and those just looking to lose a few pounds have better alternatives and I doubt the Gear Fit will build up a critical mass developers will think is worth going after. Chances are that anyone who cares about tracking their health and fitness on a smartphone’s already installed one of the numerous apps available and there’s little incentive to switch to S Health.
Unique Charging Dongle
The Gear Fit comes with a small dongle with flat pins that connect to the Gear Fit on one side and to microUSB cable on the other. It’s a tiny dongle and I guarantee you that I’ll lose it sometime soon. I really wish Samsung could make the Gear Fit charge with a standard microUSB cable, especially considering that all of the Fit-compatible Galaxy phones could be charged with the same kind of cable. The Nike FuelBand tackles the charging adapter problem by integrating a USB charger into the band itself, allowing it to charge in any standard USB slot.