Samsung Gear Fit Review: Beautiful Watch, Not Geared for Fitness

The Samsung Gear Fit looks amazing and is something I want to love, but it has so many shortcomings that I simply can’t recommend this device to anyone that’s looking to use it as part of a fitness plan. There are a lot of gadgets that you can wear on your wrist and the Gear Fit looks better than any other and is advertised as doing more than the competition. Unfortunately, the Gear Fit just doesn’t work and has too many limitations for its $199 price tag.

The Samsung Gear Fit is half smartwatch and half fitness band. Smartwatches typically display app alerts from users’ phones and  control their music players. They can also do what you’d expect any watch to do like sound alarms and display the time and date. Fitness bands typically count steps, measure activity and encourage users to get off their behinds with flashing lights or other alerts.  The Gear Fit is a lot better as a smartwatch than a fitness band.

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I’m on a mission to improve my health this year and am trying a number of wearable gadgets, working out more and changing the way I work as part of that process. After using the Gear Fit for a few days I don’t think the Gear Fit is going to play a meaningful role my fitness and health routine. If Samsung marketed the Gear Fit as the Gear Mini Smartwatch perhaps I wouldn’t be so disappointed in it. Read and watch my full review below to learn why you should probably pass on the Samsung Gear Fit.

Gear Fit Looks Amazing

Some gadgets look so good that they can sell themselves on appearances alone. The Gear Fit is one of them. Its bright and colorful curved AMOLED  touchscreen makes other smartwatches like the Pebble Steel look archaic and boring. There’s a black bezel around the display and faux chrome edge around the entire face. It matches new Galaxy S5′s design which isn’t surprising since the two devices were announced side by side.

There are 19 wallpapers to customize the Gear Fit with including seven colors and a  dozen solid colors.  If none of those fit your mood you can set a photo from a Galaxy phone as the wallpaper.

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The device comes with a plastic watchband that has ribs on the inside to help keep it from rotating. While the main part of the Gear Fit looks great, the watchband looks and feels cheap. There’s a big Gear Fit logo etched into it and the metal clasp has a Samsung logo on it.

There’s a lone button on the side of the Gear Fit that brings up the home screen with a single press. Double pressing the button brings up your choice of screens. I set my Gear Fit to bring me to the notifications screen.

The display is small and narrow, which means a lot of tapping and swiping is necessary to navigate between menus and options. By default the Gear Fit is set up to be read horizontally, which is difficult to do since it’s all but impossible to bend your arm to a point where the Gear Fit is lined up horizontally with your eyes. Samsung’s recognized this problem and updated the software so the Gear Fit can be setup to be read vertically. The vertical layout makes it much easier to read and navigate on the device, but text is limited to just 10 characters per line.

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The Gear Fit comes with a small charging dongle that snaps onto the bottom of the device. Any micro USB cable can plug into the port on the dongle to charge it.

Samsung Forgot to Include Fitness in the Gear Fit

You would think Samsung would put a lot of effort into making sure the Gear Fit would actually be a useful tool for people trying to get or stay fit. Unfortunately, the Gear Fit simply can’t track activities except for a handful of activities.

The Samsung Gear Fit can serve as a pedometer like just about every other fitness device out there. Unlike the FitBit Flex and other fitness bands, the Gear Fit doesn’t always track steps. Instead, the user has to manually turn on the step counter. A wearable fitness device should always be measuring steps and activity, not just when the user remembers to enable it.

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A much more serious problem with the Gear Fit is that it failed to accurately record my test 1.1 mile walk from AT&T Park to the parking garage after a Giants game. The Gear Fit logged just half a mile of walking over the 21 minute walk. I didn’t expect the reading to be perfect, but it was off by more than half the distance.

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I also wore my FitBit Flex today and wore it on the same walk. It recorded my 1.1 mile walk accurately as always. The FitBit Flex isn’t as flashy as the Gear Fit and it doesn’t have nearly as many features, but it’s better at measuring activities than the more expensive device.

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Here is a screen capture from Google Maps with the route I took in blue. As you can see in the above image, Google was very accurate in estimating how long it takes to walk this route. Even the Gear Fit agrees that it took me almost 22 minutes to make the trek. Unless I was walking twice as slowly as Google estimates an average walker walks, there’s no way I could cover just half a mile in 21 minutes.

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There’s a heart rate sensor on the bottom of the Gear Fit. It can measure your heart rate at any time with a dedicated app. It took me several tries to get the heart rate monitor to work on my wrist. After a lot of experimenting I’ve gotten it to work most of the time by sliding the Gear Fit a couple of inches up my arm from where I would normally wear a watch. When it works, the heart rate monitor is accurate. I compared the Gear Fit’s numbers with the results from an Oximeter I bought at a pharmacy a while back.

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Besides walking, the Gear Fit is also set up to be able to measure running, hiking and cycling. The heart rate monitor can be activated before starting any of these activities, but the Gear Fit struggled to continuously monitor my heartbeat during my test walk. In running mode you can activate a virtual coach that nags you to pick up the pace or get your heart rate up.  Cycling mode requires a smartphone connection as it uses the phone’s GPS to track your distance.

Another problem I have with the Gear Fit is that it’s virtually useless in measuring activities outside of walking, running, hiking and cycling. Other fitness bands like the FitBit Flex and Nike FuelBand track movement during any activity. They aren’t perfect in measuring the difference between lifting weights and simply raising empty hands over your head, but they do at least give users credit for being active. There’s no way to log an activity such as working out on an indoor cycle or going out on a paddle board. I like how the FitBit app allows users to log activities that the FitBit Flex can’t measure accurately, such as weight lifting and rowing.

Samsung S Health is a Mess

gear-fit-review-s-healthThe Samsung Gear Fit synchs to Galaxy devices through an app called S Health. This app is pretty rudimentary compared to other apps like Run Keeper and FitBit. There’s no built-in communities so friends can encourage each other to keep working out. There’s no social media sharing so you can brag about beating your best times. There’s no way to log missed activities or sleep cycles.

This app can be used on its own without the Gear Fit on the Galaxy S5 since the new phone is capable of measuring steps and distance. The Galaxy S5 can also be used to measure your heart rate. In other words, the Gear Fit duplicates a lot of the fitness capabilities already built into the Galaxy S5.

The Gear Fit can also log how much you sleep and what percentage of that time is quality time. There isn’t any sort of meaningful use of this data as it isn’t charted out anywhere on the Gear Fit or in the S Health app.

Samsung promotes Run Keeper under the ‘Other Apps’ tab of S Health. That’s because Samsung partnered with the makers of Run Keeper to make some of its other Gear smartwatches work with the app. The Gear Fit doesn’t have a Run Keeper app, which means the presence of the ‘other apps’ simply serve as a reminder of why you should use other apps and devices to monitor your health besides the Gear Fit.

I received the above error message several times when trying to sync data from the Gear Fit. You’d think that the Galaxy S5 and Gear Fit would be able to consistently communicate considering they’re both made by Samsung.

Info at a Glance Might be Worth $199

As much as I hate the Gear Fit as a fitness gadget, the device does a few things quite well. Samsung would have set my expectations much lower for the Fitness features if it marketed this device as a smartwatch that happened to do a couple of fitness tricks rather than a fitness device/smartwatch combo.

The Gear Fit vibrates every time I get a Facebook alert, incoming email, text message or call. I can quickly get a gist of what the alert is about and then tap on the display to read the rest of the message on my Galaxy S5. The device allows me to reject calls or send them to voicemail without taking my phone out of my pocket. It also lets me reply to text messages using a few preset replies. There’s also an app for skipping  songs and pausing music.  None of these are revolutionary, but it’s a nice convenience to not have to pull my phone out of my pocket every few minutes.

I don’t recommend buying the Gear Fit unless you’re the kind of person that likes to tinker with technology and have a few extra dollars to spend. Keep in mind that the Gear Fit does require a Galaxy device, so it won’t work if you decide to switch to a different kind of smartphone in the future.

  

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