Considering that it’s one of the world’s biggest electronic makers, it was only a matter of time before Samsung hopped aboard the wristbandwagon.
The $199 Samsung Gear Fit is a new activity-tracking wristband — or, as my boss Walt Mossberg calls these devices when they are particularly clunky, celibacy band.
In all seriousness, the Gear Fit measures steps, some exercise activities and also your heart rate. The band will store some of that data, but it’s really meant to be used with an app or apps on Samsung mobile devices.
I’ve tested a lot of wearables over the past couple of years — iterations of Fitbit, Jawbone Up, the Basis B1 Band, smartwatches (including Samsung’s Galaxy Gear), running watches and more. I liked some much more than others. Right now, it’s a hot topic, and a growing area of consumer technology, but the general consensus is that wearables are still … nascent, and there is a lot of room for improvement.
So, where does the Gear Fit fit in? For one, it’s arguably more attractive than some others, with its bright multicolored display. I was genuinely surprised by the number of compliments I got while wearing it, from friends, colleagues and even the woman behind the register at the market.
The Gear Fit also has an optical heart-rate sensor. Unlike heart-rate monitors that require you to wear a chest strap, this type of sensor works by shining a tiny light through your skin to measure blood absorption, from which it infers your heart rate.
And I was impressed by the Gear Fit’s battery life, considering the size of the display.
That said, this is not a be-all wristband for fitness purposes — which sort of defeats the purpose, since it’s the Gear “Fit.” Right now, it records four types of activities, and some of those require a connection to a GPS-ready Samsung smartphone. (I used it with the Galaxy S5, which Walt Mossberg reviewed in full here.)
During my testing, the device had even more serious flaws. In my experience, either the Gear Fit didn’t accurately record my workouts, or its compatible app showed “0″ steps on its main page, even when I had walked thousands of steps. Samsung has just released a fix to the app that is supposed to improve the pedometer logging, but I haven’t had a lot of time to evaluate that.
There are actually two apps you’re supposed to use with the Gear Fit — the Gear Fit Manager app and Samsung’s S Health app — which can get confusing. In the S Health app, there are no options in the app for manually logging another type of workout, like yoga, swimming or weight lifting. And currently the Gear Fit band doesn’t work with third-party health or fitness apps, though the company says some app partnerships are in the works.
At some point during my tests, I started to feel as though the Gear Fit is the pretty girl at a party who doesn’t speak to anyone: It’s nice to look at sometimes, but without the ability to play nicely with other apps or communicate effectively, it ends up being somewhat ornamental.
Let’s say you’re still considering it. The Gear Fit, which is made of plastic, comes in six different colors. The bands are interchangeable. Also, the Gear Fit is waterproof up to a meter, but this is more preventative; it’s not meant for water sports.
It has a gyroscope, an accelerometer and Bluetooth 4.0, also known as low-energy Bluetooth. It works in conjunction with 18 different Samsung mobile devices.
The rectangular display on this thing is quite nice. It’s a slightly curved, super-AMOLED touchscreen display. It’s responsive. It’s bright. You can change the wallpaper on it.
The main screen shows the time of day. You swipe from right to left to go through menu options like Notifications, Settings, Timer, Stopwatch, Exercise and Heart Rate. When you tap on one of the options, a virtual “back” button appears onscreen, so you can go back to the main menu. You can also do this by pressing a very thin physical button that’s on the top side of the band.
There’s also a Find My Device option to help you find your lost smartphone and a Media Controller for playing locally stored music files straight from the Fit.
To test Notifications on the Gear Fit, I connected my email and Facebook accounts. This was the first time I actually liked getting notifications on my wrist. I found it helpful not to have to pick up the phone to see calendar reminders, emails and Facebook comments. More importantly, the text on the display was crisp and easy to read.
But then came the fitness stuff. Unlike most activity-tracking wristbands, which track your steps and other things by default, you have to manually tap Pedometer and activate step counting with the Gear Fit. The band will then reset itself at zero each day.
Then this Pedometer is supposed to wirelessly sync your step data to the S Health mobile app. Detailed activity logs were really buried in the app — I couldn’t even find them for the first couple of days — but again, the most recent app update is supposed to make these more prominent.
When it comes to Exercises, you can only track walking, running, cycling or hiking with the Gear Fit. Cycling and hiking require that you have your Samsung smartphone in range, because those activities utilize GPS. Walking and running do not require the smartphone.
With or without the smartphone, the Gear Fit gave me some inaccurate readings. I completed a three-mile run last week without the Galaxy S5 in hand, and the Gear Fit band told me that I only ran .82 miles. Even when the Gear Fit band was connected to the Galaxy S5 during a 1.5-mile bike ride, the Gear Fit once told me that I only biked .48 miles. Samsung believes this to be an anomalous incident.
But in general, the Gear Fit and the S Health app didn’t help me keep an accurate log of my activity last week. There was no way for me to log a couple of hour-long yoga classes. Even though I logged it in the Strava app, I couldn’t share that data to the S Health app. My intense, sweaty, really-freaking-early spin class? It’s like it never happened, because the Gear Fit couldn’t record cycling on a stationary bike, and I couldn’t manually add it to the S Health app.
The Gear Fit’s battery did last from Sunday through Friday evening, before I was prompted to recharge it.
And I liked checking my heart rate periodically, though I couldn’t figure out how to get a continuous reading during my outdoor bike rides.
Samsung has taken some steps in the right direction by making a sleek-looking band that has a heart-rate monitor, but overall I found this limited and limiting. It’s more expensive than other activity-trackers, it works only with Samsung mobile devices and the compatible app needs to be more comprehensive, and less confusing.